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ASEAN meetings herald new era for East Asia's economic integration

China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-11-05 07:42

The just-concluded series of meetings in Bangkok will go down in the history as a critical milestone for the economic integration of East Asia and broader regional development.

The successful conclusion of the seven years of negotiations on the 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement, which is set to be signed next year, is on its own an historic achievement.

Leveling trade barriers between the 10 ASEAN member countries and Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea, the RCEP would emerge as the world's largest trading bloc. One accounting for one-third of global GDP and trade, and covering nearly half the world's population.

This is East Asia and the broader region's collective answer to the rampant unilateralism and protectionism coming from the other side of the Pacific Ocean. There is no better illustration of the countries' unshakable commitment to multilateralism and free trade. There is no better way to help the region overcome the tide of troubles originating from the trade war between China and the United States.

As the US-instigated trade war seeks to demolish multilateral trading regimes worldwide, the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations attending the 22nd China-ASEAN (10+1) leaders' meeting, the 22nd ASEAN-China, Japan and Republic of Korea (10+3) leaders' meeting and the 14th East Asia Summit, expressed their shared conviction that the consensus that has been reached "will significantly contribute to an open, inclusive and rules-based international trading system and expansion of value chains". A belief that is obviously shared by all prospective RCEP members.

For China, in particular, this comes as a timely boost to the international campaign it is spearheading for the preservation of economic globalization against the threats of protectionism and unilateralism.

This, along with the envisioned China-ASEAN Free Trade Area and the China-Japan-ROK Free Trade Area, on which negotiations may accelerate in the wake of the RCEP's progress, will substantially upgrade economic and trade relations across the Asia-Pacific, injecting fresh vitality into local economies.

The China-ASEAN joint declaration on synergizing the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative and the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025, issued on Sunday, is an ambitious road map that will further substantiate and catalyze the already strong and rewarding China-ASEAN partnership.

ASEAN has become China's second-largest trade partner since January, and trade with ASEAN has shown the fastest growth among China's top three trading partners. So fast that Chinese and ASEAN leaders are talking about raising bilateral trade to an annual $1 trillion soon.

With the RCEP and various other cooperation mechanisms in place, things will surely get better and better for all countries in the regional community.

(China Daily Global 11/05/2019 page11)

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