China now trades more with Southeast Asia than both the EU and US, according to Chinese export data from the first quarter of 2020.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) accounted for close to 16% of the PRC’s exports in the first quarter of this year, totaling over USD140 billion. ASEAN overtook the EU this quarter, however, analysts expect the European trade bloc to regain its position as China’s largest trading partner after the pandemic subsides, according to ASEAN Briefing. There are 10 members in the ASEAN trade bloc, including Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Meanwhile, only around 14% of exports from China in the first three months of the year were shipped to the US. Quartz reports this quarter was “by far the US’s lowest share in the past 15 years,” with the country accounting for nearly 20% of Chinese exports in 2018. However, the US is still China’s largest single-country export market.
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the cooperation between China and the Southeast Asia trade bloc even increased despite the pandemic, with China-ASEAN trade in goods growing by over 6% in the first quarter, as reported by Xinhua. Wang said, “What does not kill us makes us stronger,” referring to the ongoing economic challenges while paraphrasing an oft quoted line attributed to German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
Wang also stated that China will always view ASEAN as a key aspect of its neighborhood diplomacy.
It’s little surprise that Chinese exports to the US are on the decline given the higher tariffs placed on a swath of goods during the trade war. In January, the two countries agreed on a phase one trade deal that cut tariffs on some Chinese goods in exchange for China agreeing to increase its purchases of American products and service by USD200 billion over the next two years. Although with the public health crisis crippling the global economy, China may be unable to meet the target.
While work and school have largely resumed across China, the country’s economy is still reeling from the shutdown of many businesses following the coronavirus outbreak. Last month, China reported its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contracted by 6.8% in the first quarter of 2020, the first decline in quarterly GDP since the country started publishing its data in 1992.
Even more concerning, the PRC’s top brass decided not to set a target for economic growth for 2020. According to Ning Jizhe, deputy head of the National Development and Reform Commission, this is the first time China’s GDP growth target has not been set since 2002.
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