The 20th China-ASEAN Expo (CAEXPO) has shone the spotlight on south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, a border region with strong ties with Southeast Asia.
Guangxi has risen to the forefront of China's trade and cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in recent years, thanks to the establishment of a pilot free trade zone (FTZ) dedicated to China-ASEAN cooperation.
Guangxi is often described as China's gateway to ASEAN countries. The region's trade with ASEAN grew from 74.75 billion yuan (about 10 billion U.S. dollars) in 2012 to 281.11 billion yuan in 2022. ASEAN had been Guangxi's top trading partner for 23 consecutive years by the end of 2022.
The China (Guangxi) Pilot Free Trade Zone was established in 2019 to promote China's opening up to ASEAN and to pilot new mechanisms in China-ASEAN cooperation.
The pilot FTZ comprises the Nanning area in the region's capital city, the Qinzhou Port area along the coast and the Chongzuo area bordering Vietnam.
Over 90,000 enterprises had joined the zone by June 2023, according to the pilot FTZ office.
The zone's Nanning area focuses on the development of modern finance, the digital economy and modern services.
It is pioneering innovation in cross-border finance and renminbi businesses, especially those working with ASEAN nations.
By the end of June, a total of 463 financial institutions and enterprises had settled in the area -- 22 times the total in 2018 -- and the area's digital economy companies had surpassed 5,500 in number.
As the zone's only coastal area, the Qinzhou Port Area is building Qinzhou into a high-level gateway port to facilitate the transportation of cargo between China and ASEAN.
In the first seven months of this year, the port's cargo throughput hit 107 million tonnes, up 10.3 percent year on year. The port handled 3.3 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of containers in that time, up 15 percent year on year, according to the region's development and reform commission.
The Chongzuo area is home to Youyiguan Port, one of China's busiest land ports for the trade of fruit. In the first half of this year, a total of 381,000 tonnes of ASEAN fruits were imported into China through the land port, up 130 percent year on year.
Youyiguan Port has in recent years pushed ahead reforms in customs clearance and other operations to raise passage efficiency.
Taking advantage of its proximity to Vietnam, the Pingxiang Industrial Park in Chongzuo focuses on processing farm products imported from ASEAN countries, as well as industries covering new materials, electronic information and small household appliances.
Since the establishment of the country's first pilot FTZ in Shanghai in 2013, China has established a total of 21 FTZs, as well as the Hainan Free Trade Port. Located everywhere from coastal areas to inland regions and border provinces, China's FTZs have become pacesetters for the country's high-standard reform and opening-up endeavors.