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Jakarta Post

ASEAN, China brace for a diamond decade

  • Li Keqiang

    The Jakarta Post

Nanning, China   /   Fri, September 6, 2013   /  09:44 am

China and ASEAN are close neighbors that share affinitive cultures, blood and common interests. Over the past decade since the establishment of the China-ASEAN strategic partnership, the relations between the two sides have always featured mutual respect, equal treatment, neighborliness and mutual benefit.

Nevertheless, we have also noticed that there exist some factors in the region that disrupt stability and development, but they are not mainstream issues. Regarding the South China Sea disputes, China has always firmly held that the immediate disputing parties should seek sound solutions through friendly negotiations on the basis of respecting historical facts and international laws.

The Chinese government is one of accountability and is willing to seek sound solutions through friendly negotiations. The Chinese side maintains that the South China Sea disputes are not an issue between China and ASEAN, and they should not and will not affect overall China-ASEAN cooperation.

Here, on behalf of the Chinese government, I solemnly declare that China'€™s good-neighborly policy toward ASEAN is not a matter of expediency, but a long-term strategic option for China. China will prioritize ASEAN member countries in the country'€™s peripheral diplomacy, deepen the strategic partnership with ASEAN and firmly cooperate with ASEAN to jointly safeguard peace and stability in the region, including the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, China will keep supporting the development of ASEAN, the establishment of the ASEAN community, as well as upholding the dominant role of ASEAN in East Asian cooperation.

During these couple of days, I have held wide-ranging and profound exchanges with leaders of the ASEAN countries and we have reached an important consensus. We unanimously agree that our common interests are expanding. We had the capabilities to create a '€œgolden decade'€ in the past, we also have the power to create a '€œdiamond decade'€ in the future.

Standing at a new starting point in history, we should seek new strategic breakthroughs, constantly deepening pragmatic cooperation, and working together to upgrade the level of China-ASEAN cooperation on the basis of enhancing mutual political trust and promoting the spirit of openness and inclusiveness, so as to promote the advancement of the bilateral strategic partnership. Hence, I raise the following proposals for cooperation:

The first is to create an upgraded version of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area. The establishment of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area has created a precedent for trade and investment cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region, which has greatly boosted the rapid development of bilateral economic and trade relations.

Looking into the future, China will uphold traditions in the establishment of the free trade area over the past 10 years, prioritize ASEAN'€™s representation of its interests, and create more favorable conditions for ASEAN'€™s development.

We are willing to upgrade and expand the content and scope of the China-ASEAN free trade area agreement based on the principles of mutual benefit and common development. Both sides can consider deepening talks on further lowering tariff rates, cutting non-tariff-related measures, launching dialogue for a new round of service trade pledges and pushing forward the actual opening-up for investment through policies concerning access and personnel travel, so as to boost the liberalization and facilitation of trade and investment.

This will enable the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area keep up with the times and upgrade it to cover more areas and with higher quality. We are willing to sign long-term trade agreements for agricultural products with ASEAN, actively expand the imports of ASEAN products that are competitive and appealing to the Chinese market.

We aim to expand bilateral trade volume to US$1 trillion by 2020, meanwhile, increase bilateral investment by $150 billion during the next eight years. Just as ASEAN is the priority in China'€™s peripheral diplomacy, ASEAN is also the priority of China'€™s outbound investment. We also welcome enterprises from ASEAN countries to invest and start businesses in China.

Meanwhile, China is willing to join hands with ASEAN to advance talks on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and discuss exchanges and interaction with frameworks such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, so as to create an open, inclusive and mutually beneficial climate to '€œmake the two wheels of regional and global trade roll together'€.

The second proposal is to boost mutual connectivity. We need to speed up cooperation in boosting mutual connectivity in areas such as roads, railways, water transportation, aviation, telecommunications and energy.

More efforts will be made to facilitate the gradual launch and construction of a pan-Asian railway network and effectively carry out certain key projects. China will initiate a new round of targeted loans and give full play to the China-ASEAN Investment Cooperation Fund, and work actively with various sides to establish a financing platform in Asia to fund large-scale infrastructure projects.

While stepping up the '€œhardware link'€, China and ASEAN will also beef up efforts to improve the rules-of-origin implementation mechanism, and boost '€œsoftware connection'€ in standard systems such as information exchange, customs clearance and quality control, in order to create conditions for the gradual building of an infrastructure-connected Asia.

The two sides should also expand investment and industrial cooperation, jointly foster a batch of green and highly efficient industrial parks to realize mutual integration.

The third proposal is to boost financial cooperation. This is extremely crucial to safeguard financial and economic stability in the region. In recent years, China-ASEAN financial cooperation has made profound achievements and the overall scale of the '€œChiang Mai Initiative'€ multilateralization agreement has expanded to $240 billion.

The Chinese side is willing to continue to work with ASEAN members to strengthen the multi-layer regional financial security network, promote the substantial implementation of the bilateral local-currency swap agreement, encourage cross-border trade and investment settlements in local currencies, facilitate ASEAN institutions'€™ investment in Chinese bond markets and constantly improve early-warning and bail-out mechanisms on regional financial risks.

The fourth proposal is to carry out maritime cooperation. This is a key field for the two sides to expand cooperation. The Chinese side proposes to set up a '€œChina-ASEAN maritime partnership'€. At the forum, the China-ASEAN harbor city cooperation network will be launched. We have input 3 billion yuan (US$490 million) in setting up the China-ASEAN maritime cooperation fund.

We are conducting research into carrying on a series of cooperation projects, giving priority to the construction of fishery bases, environmental protection for maritime ecology, seafood production and trade, navigation safety and search and rescue, and facilitation of maritime transportation. We are expecting the active participation of ASEAN countries.

The fifth proposal is to promote people-to-people and cultural exchanges. The Chinese side has initiated 2014 as the '€œChina-ASEAN Friendly Exchange Year'€. China will offer 15,000 government scholarships to ASEAN countries in the next three to five years.

China will also invest in a special fund for Asian regional cooperation to deepen people-to-people and cultural cooperation. We will further make the China-ASEAN Youth Society and China-ASEAN Think Tank Network play more active roles.

The article is an abridged version of a speech by Prime Minister of the People'€™s Republic of China
Li Keqiang at the opening of the 10th China-ASEAN Expo and the China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit in Nanning, China on Sept. 3.

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