Good omen for regional peace, prosperity

Updated: 2013-08-31 08:15

By Wang Hui (China Daily)

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The two-day China-ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in Beijing, which concluded on Friday, has sent positive signals to the region and beyond. By pledging to take new initiatives to consolidate their strategic partnership and resolve territorial disputes through consultation and cooperation, the two sides have shown their determination to take their interactions to a new height.

China and ASEAN have agreed to upgrade their free trade area (FTA) by accelerating regional economic integration, further opening their markets to each other, and deepening trade and investment liberalization, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Thursday after a special meeting with his counterparts from ASEAN member states and ASEAN Secretary-General Le Luong Minh.

The China-ASEAN FTA, the most important outcome of China-ASEAN cooperation in recent years, has thrived since its launch on Jan 1, 2010, to become the largest free trade area among emerging economies. Last year, the two-way trade volume topped $400 billion, a six-fold increase over a decade ago. China is ASEAN's largest trading partner, while ASEAN is the third-largest trading partner of China.

To mark the 10th anniversary of the China-ASEAN strategic partnership, the two sides have resolved to upgrade their FTA, which will strengthen their strategic partnership. Trade and economic cooperation between China and ASEAN member states is the cornerstone of their relations, while the FTA has made them more stable and prosperous.

The pledge of taking new initiatives to build a more comprehensive FTA bears testimony to both sides' commitment to extend their cooperation into the next decade, which should be a blessing for the entire region. As Premier Li Keqiang said during his meeting with participants to the foreign ministers' meeting on Thursday, the development of China-ASEAN relations has brought about great regional stability and prosperity. Li emphasized that China accords priority to its ties with ASEAN in its regional diplomacy and pursues a good-neighborly policy.

At his meeting with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Beijing earlier this week, President Xi Jinping said mutual respect, understanding and support were the most precious wealth of China-ASEAN relations. The observations of China's top leaders are clear evidence of the importance the Chinese leadership attaches to deepening China-ASEAN ties.

Thanks to the efforts of both sides, the significance of China-ASEAN cooperation now extends beyond trade. Statistics indicate China has become ASEAN's second-largest source of foreign tourists. Every week, more than 1,000 flights are operated between China and ASEAN member states. The two sides have close contacts at all levels, established 12 ministerial meeting mechanisms and cooperate in more than 20 fields such as education, culture, tourism, infrastructure, environmental protection and security for mutual benefit.

There is every reason for the two sides to continue the momentum, for which they have to use consultations and negotiations to narrow or resolve their differences. That is why it was encouraging to see the China-ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting discuss the South China Sea disputes between China and some ASEAN member states.

Both sides have reaffirmed that they will try to resolve the disputes through consultation and cooperation. In an apparent effort to push for such a desirable process, the two sides agreed to hold the 6th China-ASEAN Senior Officials' Meeting and the 9th Joint Working Group Meeting on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, on Sept 14-15.

The meeting will explore how the DOC could be implemented in a comprehensive and effective manner, discuss maritime cooperation among China and ASEAN member states, and arrange for more talks on the code of conduct.

By setting the date of an important meeting on the South China Sea disputes, China has shown that it is committed to resolving the disputes through peaceful means. There is reason to believe that substantial progress on the South China Sea issue would be made at next month's talks.

More importantly, since the disputes involve only a few ASEAN member states, both China and ASEAN should ensure that they do not affect the overall relationship between them.

The author is a senior writer with China Daily.

(China Daily 08/31/2013 page5)