Nov 18, 2012

China - Cooperation is key to Asean meetings

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A top Chinese diplomat yesterday urged the upcoming regional summits for East Asian leaders to focus on cooperation, as China will take part in negotiations on the initiative called Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

It is not only in line with the interests of all countries in East Asia, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying said, but also important for the stable recovery and growth of the global economy and for the common development of the region.

Fu made the remarks on a briefing ahead of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit from November 18 to 21 to Cambodia to attend the series of meetings held in the country's capital Phnom Penh. He will also pay a visit to Thailand on November 21.

It is the first foreign visit for Wen after the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.

Experts said it shows the importance China has attached to East Asia and its dynamic economic development, especially when most developed economies lack of strength for growth.

East Asia is facing continued pressure from the global economic downturn. China hopes the summits can help sustain dynamic development in East Asia, which is the engine of the world economy, Fu said.

As China attaches new importance to its relations with neighbouring countries, it is through cooperation rather than conflict that the problems in the region can be solved, said Wang Junsheng, a researcher on East Asian studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The meetings include the 15th summit between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (10+1), the 15th summit between Asean, China, Japan and the Republic of Korea (10+3), and the seventh East Asia Summit.

According to Surin Pitsuwan, Asean secretary-general, Asean's five existing free-trade agreements with six countries (China, Japan, ROK, India, Australia and New Zealand) would be brought under one umbrella agreement through the RCEP initiative.

RCEP will make Asean a stronger leader of regional cooperation, said Yang Baoyun, a professor on Asia-Pacific studies at Peking University.

The new mechanism will provide a cooperation platform for countries whose cooperation in a free-trade framework is not practical, he added.

At the 10+1 summit, China will unveil initiatives to establish a China-Asean maritime partnership, set up industrial parks, make an action plan for public health and build a common tourism market, Fu said.

Despite the mission to cooperate among regional countries, some countries have played up maritime disputes between China and some Asean members.

But the fact is, China and the countries involved have managed to take South China Sea disputes over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters under control, Fu told reporters.

Asia has avoided large-scale conflict and remained peaceful and stable in general since the end of the Cold War, so that the region can focus on economic development, Fu said.

Fu said all parties should value this experience and make it a basis for the future.

China and the parties involved have held many rounds of dialogue on the South China Sea issue. All parties pledged not to play up the issue on international occasions and break the cooperative atmosphere, she added.

"Although the South China Sea issue is complicated, the disputes do not dominate China's relations with Asean," Peking University's Yang said. It should not be ignored that factors beyond the region wield influence over the region, he added.

Since dialogue relations were established in 1991, China-Asean ties have blossomed in various fields including trade, mutual trust and people-to-people relations.

The trade volume between China and Asean reached $36.29 billion in 2011 - a new high and a 24 per cent increase compared with the previous year.

Zhou Wa

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