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Sino-ASEAN ties set for 'sparkling' era

Updated: 2013-10-24 15:14
By Bao Chang ( China Daily)

China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are set for a "diamond decade" of cooperation, based on China's strategy of prioritizing ASEAN ties.

"China's strong desire to cooperate with ASEAN over the next 10 years has been very impressive, and new opportunities will arise in the expansion of the free trade area, infrastructure connections and bilateral investment," said Xu Ningning, deputy secretary-general of the China-ASEAN Business Council.

Last month, during the 10th anniversary of the China-ASEAN Expo, Premier Li Keqiang called for another 10 years of prosperity based on economic and trade coordination.

He called it the "diamond decade" and spoke of the priority China places on trade and economic cooperation with the bloc.

Bilateral trade is on target to reach $500 billion by 2015. In 2012, bilateral trade totaled $400 billion, 7.3 times the amount in 2002, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

At the 16th China-ASEAN leaders' meeting in Brunei on Oct 9, Li and ASEAN leaders pledged to start talks at an early date over the upgrading of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area, which took effect on Jan 1, 2010.

The CAFTA is the largest free trade area in the world in terms of population, and the third-largest by nominal GDP, trailing the European Economic Area (member states of the European Union and Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Sino-ASEAN ties set for 'sparkling' era

Under CAFTA, tariffs will be eliminated on 7,881 product categories, or 90 percent of imported goods. This step has already taken effect in China and the six original members of ASEAN: Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. The remaining four countries - Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar - will follow suit in 2015.

China is the largest trade partner for ASEAN, and ASEAN is the third-largest trade partner for China.

"China-ASEAN trade and economic cooperation is still in the expansion phase. To create an upgraded FTA, closer industrial cooperation based on FTA policies to create complementary industrial chains, are an inevitable choice to achieve mutually beneficial and win-win outcomes for the two sides," Xu said.

Xu said that joint promotion of the implementation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is becoming an important part of bilateral economic and trade cooperation.

During a visit to Thailand, the premier said that China is capable of building high-speed railways that promote regional connectivity in Thailand, and cooperation in this sector will become a new highlight of China-Thailand ties.

China and Thailand have agreed to establish a joint high-speed railway research center in Qingdao, East China's Shandong province.

China Railway Corp, the successor of the former ministry of railways, is sparing no effort to tap into Thailand's rail sector. It's seen as a lucrative potential market after Thailand announced a 2.2 trillion baht ($70 billion) infrastructure improvement program early this year.

Thalerngsak Vongsamsorn, minister counselor at Thailand's embassy in China, said that Thailand would like to export more agricultural products to China, in response to China's railway technology support for his country.

China and Vietnam also agreed to create a joint marine working group to promote maritime development.

Qi Jianguo, former Chinese ambassador to Vietnam, said that the "enormous" scale of cooperation between China and ASEAN goes beyond infrastructure and energy. It also includes security and financial services.

Cooperation will range from customs and finance to technology. Financial cooperation will become the stabilizer and driver for growth and cooperation, according to the China-ASEAN Business Council.