China calls for joint development of SCS
Hakim Hayat

CHINESE Premier Li Keqiang said the South China Sea (SCS) issue should not affect the overall China-Asean relations and urged that the dispute should be addressed through consultation and negotiation between parties directly concerned, while suggesting for joint development in the potentially natural resource rich vast sea stretch.

In his remarks during the 16th Asean-China Summit chaired by His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam with leaders from Asean member countries yesterday, the premier said, “China and Asean countries should work together to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea and jointly foster a favourable and more enabling environment for peaceful settlement of the disputes.”

Pending a settlement, the premier suggested that parties to the dispute should work actively for joint development. “There is freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and the safety of navigation there is guaranteed. Each year, over 100,000 cargo ships from various countries sail across this area smoothly. China is ready to continue to work with other countries in the region to uphold the freedom and safety of navigation in the South China Sea,” Li Keqiang added.

The Declaration of Conduct (DoC) in the South China Sea, the premier said constitutes the cornerstone for peace and stability in the disputed waters and with senior officials and high level meetings held recently for the DoC’s implementation, China will work with Asean member countries to vigorously promote practical maritime cooperation in the process of full and effective implementation of the DoC.

He added that China will continue to have consultations with Asean member countries on formulating a Code of Conduct (CoC) under the framework of implementing the DoC, and will work with Asean member countries to advance the formulation process of the CoC in active and prudent manner under the principle of consensus building. “A peaceful South China Sea is a blessing for all, while a turbulent one benefits no one. We need to work together to make it a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation,” he said.

His Majesty in a titah said he was pleased to see that officials from both sides have started formal discussions on the CoC at the recent meeting, acknowledging that Asean-China officials will be meeting regularly to discuss the issue which the monarch said signifies efforts in maintaining peace, stability and prosperity in the region.

The monarch also lauded China’s efforts in initiating an upgraded version of the three-year-old China-Asean Free Trade Area (FTA), saying that it will further strengthen the region’s economic relations in the midst of an economic overhaul in China while allowing the region to adapt to major shifts in the global economy.

During the China-Asean Expo last month, the Chinese Premier pledged for an enhanced economic and trade cooperation, as China and the 10-member bloc celebrate their 10th anniversary of strategic partnership this year. He said China and Asean could have discussions about further lowering tariffs, cutting non-tariff measures, holding talks on a new round of service trade commitments and promoting openness in the area of investment.

On the 10th anniversary of Asean-China strategic partnership, His Majesty said this has given everyone a prime opportunity to review Asean-China cooperation and reflect on the achievements that have been made over the years in the political-security, economic and socio-cultural cooperation.

His Majesty noted a good number of activities that have also been carried out such as the High Level Forum in Bangkok and the Special Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Beijing, saying that these events have given the ministers and senior officials a valuable opportunity to not only review what has been done so far but to also discuss ways of moving the partnership forward.

His Majesty recognised that all of these commemorative events have served to complement the work in implementing the Joint Declaration of the Strategic Partnership adding that this has been assisted by China’s strong support for Asean’s Community-building efforts and the region’s central role in the various Asean-led mechanisms including the East Asia Summit (EAS), the Asean Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) and the Asean Regional Forum (ARF).

In this regard, His Majesty thanked China for their active involvement in the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Exercise held last June in Brunei, and China’s contribution to the commemorative publication of the 20th Anniversary of the ARF. His Majesty said this demonstrates China’s strong commitment in engaging Asean in security matters, especially in the field of non-traditional security where Asean is now working together to address many pressing issues, ranging from disaster management to combatting transnational crime.

His Majesty further said that such close engagement is very much evident in other aspects of their work including trade and connectivity. In trade relations, His Majesty said Asean and China are set to achieve a number of significant milestones. “For five years now China has been Asean’s largest trading partner, while Asean continues to be China’s third largest trading partner since 2010. Two-way trade volume between Asean and China has also exceeded US$318 billion in 2012.”

His Majesty earlier said he was pleased to see that Asean’s Economic Ministers will embark on their first ever roadshow to China, which reflects both sides’ commitment in elevating the economic relations.

His Majesty also commended the Chinese Premier for his keynote last month where he declared China’s good-neighbourly policy toward Asean and to cooperate with the region to jointly safeguard peace and stability, including the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Premier in his speech said China and Asean should strive for extensive, deep and high-level cooperation in the upcoming decade adding that the two sides should have the consensus in improving China-Asean cooperation.

The premier also urged China and the Asean member countries to boost their cooperation in seven areas, saying that both sides should actively discuss the signing of a treaty on good neighbourliness, friendship and cooperation, start the process of establishing an “upgraded version” of the China-Asean FTA, accelerate the infrastructure construction for interconnectivity, strengthen financial cooperation and risk prevention in the region, push forward maritime cooperation and enhance exchanges and cooperation in the field of security and beef up cooperation in culture, science and people-to-people exchange.

The envisaged framework of cooperation, Li said, will not only benefit the people of the two sides, but also contribute to regional and world peace, stability and prosperity at large.

Prior to the 16th Asean-China Summit yesterday, His Majesty with other Asean leaders and the Chinese Premier commemorated the 10th Anniversary of China-Asean strategic partnership in a cake-cutting ceremony. - Borneo Bulletin (10 October 2013)