RECOGNISING that ASEAN-China relations are among the most dynamic, substantive and mutually beneficial partnerships between ASEAN and its dialogue partners, which have become a good example of regional cooperation and contribute significantly to peace, stability, development and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region;  Speech by H.E. Wen Jiabao, Premier of the State Council of the People`s Republic of China: “Vigorous promotion of a comprehensive strategic partnership between China and the European Union”, 6 May 2004, webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:pwWRUXFH_AIJ:www.chinamission.be/eng/zt/t101949.htm+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=sg. ASEAN leaders who attended the summit welcomed the formal establishment of a comprehensive strategic partnership between ASEAN and China, saying it was an important milestone of great historical significance. There was also a motion within ASEAN to combine the establishment of the CSP with China`s explicit support for the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP).  This may not be easy in the face of China`s unwavering opposition to all that is “Indo-Pacific,” which Beijing combines with a strategy by Washington and its allies/partners to counter and contain China. However, with the introduction of the ASEAN-China CSP, China overcame its instinctive aversion to the term “Indo-Pacific” and welcomed the AOIP in the most explicit way. The Joint Declaration of the Commemorative Summit “reaffirmed the principles of AOIP, recognizing that it is an independent initiative of ASEAN” and agreed to “advance cooperation in the relevant areas identified in AOIP in order to develop enhanced strategic trust and win-win cooperation”. In his speech, Xi Jinping spoke of a “prosperous home together” that includes cooperation between the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the AOIP.  In adopting the AOIP, China has demonstrated pragmatic flexibility that both pleases ASEAN and serves China`s enlightened interests. The Outlook, in fact, offers the most comprehensive and China-friendly view of the Indo-Pacific.
It also contains practical avenues for economic and functional cooperation that are accessible to China`s development-based approach.  There are different levels in the China Partnership System that correspond to the importance Beijing attaches to each partner, the content of China`s relations with that country/organization, and other contextual specificities. The “CSP” is considered the second highest level of bilateral relations, even before the “strategic partnership” and below the “comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership”.  However, these terms should not be read in strictly hierarchical order. As Table 1 shows, there are different titles that describe China`s relations with the ten ASEAN member states, but they do not necessarily mean a hierarchy of meaning or substance. For example, China`s “comprehensive cooperative partnership” with Singapore is not necessarily below its “strategic cooperative partnership” with Brunei or its “comprehensive strategic cooperation” with the Philippines. To maintain peace and stability in the region, Xi called for dialogue rather than confrontation, building partnerships instead of alliances, and concerted efforts to address various negative factors that could threaten or undermine peace. Singapore – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has agreed to forge a “comprehensive strategic partnership” with China, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah said on Thursday, just a day after announcing that ASEAN would build a partnership at the same level with Australia. With the ASEAN-China PESCO, China can now claim another title in its partnership system and a new achievement in its active neighborhood diplomacy. Nevertheless, the importance of the CSP must be put into perspective.
ASEAN has adopted this new open nomenclature without giving it a higher priority than the other dialogue partners. China`s PESCO initiative and ASEAN`s nuanced response reveal its different visions of the regional order. ASEAN remains faithful to an inclusive multipolar order in which all major powers coexist and compete with each other, allowing states in the region to diversify their options and maximize their autonomy. For Beijing, this should be an exclusionary and hierarchical order in which China`s central role in regional leadership is restored and the influence of outside powers is marginalized. Interestingly, in his speech, Xi Jinping spoke in the highest tones of “inclusiveness” and “open regionalism” as common values of ASEAN and China.  Xi`s emphasis on “inclusiveness” and “open regionalism” can be interpreted in two ways. First, these values – which Xi says “draw wisdom from East Asian civilization” – are placed in the closer context of ASEAN-China relations. Second, it could be China`s tacit criticism of the more exclusive minilateral groupings led by Washington, particularly the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) and the recent Australia-UK-US Security Pact (AUKUS). China has gained a first-mover advantage over ASEAN over various foreign policy initiatives, including establishing a strategic partnership, negotiating the free trade agreement, and signing the TAC.
But ASEAN has also a proven track record of disseminating these initiatives to other dialogue partners. AsEAN`s “strategic partner” club started in 2003 with China, followed by Japan (2005), the Republic of Korea (2010), India (2012), Australia (2014), New Zealand and the United States (2015), Russia (2018) and more recently the EU (2020). With the exception of Canada (and the United Kingdom, which only became the 11th ASEAN Dialogue Partner in August 2021), the “Strategic Partnership” has been applied to all dialogue partners despite varying degrees of regional engagement and cooperation with ASEAN. Once multiplied, the term began to lose its particular luster.  Hoang Thi Ha, “Southeast Asians` Declining Trust in China,” ISEAS Perspective 2021/15, February 18, 2021, /articles-commentaries/iseas-perspective/iseas-perspective-2021-15-southeast-asians-declining-trust-in-china-by-hoang-thi-ha. ASEAN`s navigation through Sino-US competition in Southeast Asia is now being put to the test, with China`s comprehensive strategic partnership here offering something like the legendary sword of Damocles. At the 23rd ASEAN-China Summit, held by videoconference in November, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang continued to urge ASEAN countries to elevate China-ASEAN relations to a higher level, promising that “China will stand in solidarity with ASEAN countries to resolve difficulties directly. Together, we will open up even better prospects for the China-ASEAN strategic partnership and further contribute to peace, stability, development and prosperity in the region. On the 24th.
ASEAN-China Summit In October 2021, the establishment of the ASEAN-China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) was announced, which adds a new nomenclature, but not necessarily a new category, to ASEAN`s dialogue relations.  The ASEAN-China PESCO was officially launched at the commemorative summit to celebrate the 30th anniversary of ASEAN-China dialogue relations in the presence of Chinese leader Xi Jinping.  Prior to the CSP, the two sides had a strategic partnership since 2003 – the long-standing strategic partnership between all ASEAN dialogue partners. Does the CSP mean anything new for ASEAN-China relations and does it mean the same for both sides? This article unpacks the term “PESCO” and examines the prospects of China and ASEAN in setting up an ASEAN-China PESCO. .