Territorial row can hit ASEAN-China trade cooperation

National 2 minutes, 22 seconds

NANNING

SOUTHEAST Asian nations yesterday stressed the importance of the China-ASEAN relationship as the engine of global economic growth, warning that territorial disputes could threaten cooperation.

Several leaders attended the opening of the annual China-ASEAN Expo in Nanning yesterday, pledging to increase two-way trade to US$500 billion (BND$630 billion) by 2015, and to US$1 trillion by 2020.

However, they warned that plans for an Asia-Pacific free trade area could be derailed by ongoing spats between China and several ASEAN countries, which all lay partial claims to resource-rich territory in the South China Sea.

“I hope we can keep the momentum on regional integration up, even as we manage frictions that arise from time to time,” said Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a keynote address.

“We should keep difficult issues in perspective and not let disputes overshadow the positives of ASEAN-China cooperation.”

These sentiments were echoed by Vietnamese Foreign Minister, Pham Bình Minh, who said disputes should be resolved with respect to international law.

Also speaking at the trade show, Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli said China is committed to promoting peace and stability in the South China Sea.

“China is willing, together with ASEAN countries, to effectively promote a code of conduct for the South China Sea, strengthen dialogue and communication, enhance cooperation, eliminate problems and build the South China Sea into a sea of peace and friendship,” he said.

Representing Brunei at the CAEXPO was Minister of Industry and Primary Resources Yang Berhormat Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Utama Dato Seri Setia Hj Yahya Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Hj Bakar. Brunei will sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Chinese government today to establish the Brunei-Guangxi Economic Corridor.

The agreement aims to boost trade between the two countries, with Guangxi serving as Brunei's gateway to the Chinese market.

Pehin Dato Hj Yahya met with several senior Chinese trade officials yesterday, later touring the Brunei pavilion at the CAEXPO. Ghanim International Food Corporation and Asli-KTM Sdn Bhd are the only two local companies promoting Bruneian products at the expo. The minister also watched a cultural performance by dancers from Brunei Tourism, promoting the Sultanate as a “City of Charm” among ASEAN destinations.

Later in the evening, he attended the Nanning International Folk Song Arts Festival.

Today the minister is scheduled to attend the China-ASEAN Industry and Commerce Forum before meeting with Chen Wu, governor of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

The CAEXPO is a yearly trade expo for businesses from China and ASEAN to showcase their wares, and for political leaders to promote trade and investment.

Since China and ASEAN signed a free trade agreement in 2005, two-way trade has almost tripled.

China has proposed several new initiatives with ASEAN, from an investment bank to raise capital for infrastructure projects to reviving a maritime Silk Road to link up the two regions’ sea ports.

The Brunei Times