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China-ASEAN new trade agreements: A major step to Asian integration
24/11/2004 8:11

Diplomats and scholars in Beijing hail the two agreements to be signed between China and the ASEAN during the upcoming meetings in Vientiane, capital of Laos, as a "major step" towards the Asian integration.

"The signing of the two agreements will be not only a breakthrough in the process of negotiation of China-ASEAN free trade area (FTA), but also enhance political trust between China and the ASEAN nations," said Dato'A. K. Majid, chairman of the ASEAN Committee of Beijing here Tuesday.

The agreements on goods trade and on establishing an arbitration mechanism will be submitted to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

From Nov. 28 to 30, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will attend the meetings including the eighth summit between the ASEAN and China, and between the ASEAN and China, Japan and the Republic of Korea, as well as the sixth China, Japan and ROK summit. The signing of the two agreements has been viewed as one of the important purposes of Wen's tour.

The agreements on goods trade will pave the way for the full establishment of the FTA, which include the negotiation on goods, and service trade as well as investment, Majid said.

Jin Linbo, director of the Division of Asia-Pacific Studies of the China Institute of International Studies, said China and ASEAN may sign agreements in such fields as service and investment gradually following the signing of the goods trade pact.

As for the agreement on disputes settlement mechanism, Jin said it will be a further step for security cooperation between China and the ASEAN since the signing of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002.

"It provides basis for all parties to solve questions left over and trade conflicts, which is conducive to regional peace," he noted. Majid said an orderly and agreed disputes settlement mechanism will "ensure minimum disruptions to trade".

In the upcoming ASEAN relevant meetings, China and the ASEAN will continue to prioritize five major areas, namely agriculture, information technology, human resource development, two-way investment and the Mekong river exploration.

The two sides are complementary, although they have similar economic development mode in certain areas, such as processing and light industries, Majid said.

Khamvone Phanouvong, consular of Laos to China mentioned the cooperation between China and the ASEAN on culture, education and tourism. He said some of 26 documents to be passed in the upcoming meetings are focusing on the above areas.

The ASEAN, with 10 members from the Southeast Asia, was established in 1967. Since China became the ASEAN's dialogue partner in 1996, the bilateral cooperation, especially economy andtrade, have witnessed a comprehensive development.

The ASEAN is China's fifth biggest trading partner, and the bilateral trade volumes in the first 10 months of this year hit 84.61 billion US dollars, up 35.2 percent over the same period of last year.

China has developed a strategic partnership oriented to peace and prosperity with the ASEAN, and is the only major power outside the ASEAN to join the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia.

Premier Wen's tour will further enhance political trust between China and the ASEAN, and lay the foundation for future cooperation,said Majid. China's foreign policy with neighboring countries is "positive", he said, which helps its neighbors develop economy and maintains regional peace and stability. "China's development is not a threat but a benefit to the ASEAN."

Besides attending the ASEAN relevant meeting, Wen will also payan official visit to Laos. Wen is expected to hold talks with Prime Minister of Laos Boungnang Vorachit during the visit.

"The visit will be a milestone for the Laos-China relations," said Khamvone Phanouvong.

Facing globalization and economic integration, it is imperative to strengthen regional cooperation, and China and the ASEAN, both are in a critical period for development, should enhance economic cooperation and solve the left-over problems to push forward the relationship to create favorable external environment, Jin said.