ASEAN, Chinese leaders fete relations

By AP/Xinhua
Updated: 2006-10-30 14:56

ASEAN's members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam - countries ranging from some of the region's most affluent to some of its poorest.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, center, speaks to Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, no in the picture, during their meeting in Nanning, China October 30, 2006. [AP]

With China, the region is home to 1.8 billion people - more than a quarter of humanity.

Trade between China and ASEAN, expanding by nearly 40 percent a year, looks likely to exceed US$200 billion a year by 2008, even before the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area is due to be established in 2010.

Last year, the trade hit US$130.4 billion, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Preliminary plans were set in 2002 for the free trade area, which will create a market of about 1.7 billion consumers and economic activity totaling more than US$2 trillion (euro1.6 trillion).

Countries have begun slashing tariffs on some products, though tough negotiations continue on loosening trade restrictions for finance and other services industries.

ASEAN is a key market for Chinese manufacturers, as well as a source for energy, rubber, minerals and other natural resources.

Over the weekend, China and Indonesia signed an energy investment deal worth up to US$4.26 billion (euro3.4 billion), media from both countries reported.

The agreement, involving six investment projects, was signed in Shanghai by Indonesia's minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Purnomo Yusgiantoro and China's top economic planner, Ma Kai.

Leaders attending Monday's summit were set to discuss a proposed "code of conduct" to prevent conflicts in disputed South China Sea territories.

China and ASEAN approved a watered-down 2002 accord aimed at avoiding armed conflicts after Chinese officials rejected proposals for a stronger conduct code that could be perceived as a binding pact, a Filipino diplomat, Benito Valeriano, told reporters last week.

The two sides are trying to devise an improved accord that could be approved when Chinese and ASEAN leaders meet in December on the sidelines of ASEAN's annual summit, he said.

The summit also marks the opening of an expo promoting regional trade and investment - an annual event held in Nanning, a city of 6.5 million that is the capital of Guangxi, which borders Vietnam.

Nanning, once a sleepy sugar-trade center, has prospered as China's ties with Vietnam and other neighbors have expanded. The city's skyline is studded with construction cranes, and a new satellite city complete with a Wal-Mart Super Center stands near the expo site.