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Ties with ASEAN to be strengthened
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10:10, April 02, 2008

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China will work more closely with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) by setting up a free trade area and deepening its partnership in finance, infrastructure, information and communications, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said in Manila yesterday.

Foreign ministers of the 10 ASEAN members, as well as those from China, Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK), are in the Philippines capital to attend the annual meeting of what is called ASEAN+3.

The meeting discussed issues of regional concern, including urging the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to give up its nuclear program, and cooperation in the East Asian region.

"The launch of the ASEAN+3 scheme has created a new channel for Southeast Asian countries' unity, cooperation and mutual benefit. It is useful as an experience, too, for regional cooperation in Asia," Yang said.

Despite the great achievements of the past decade, the region faces major challenges ahead, including correcting the unbalanced economic growth, tackling the threats to peace and stability and the need to enhance competitiveness, Yang said.

Countries in the region should "respect each other and shelve their differences to seek common ground".

At the start of the meeting, the foreign ministers stood in silence for two of the 23 abducted South Koreans killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan. They appealed, on humanitarian grounds, for the immediate and unconditional release of the 21 hostages.

Yang reached Manila on Monday to attend the 14th Asia Regional Forum (ARF), the region's largest security meeting, as well as a series of other talks with ASEAN members and their dialogue partners.

Yang met with his counterparts from the Philippines, Singapore and Australia yesterday.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice didn't attend the ARF for the second time in three years because of "more important" engagements elsewhere.

"As a large country in Asia, China pays more attention to regional affairs, while as a global power, the US is distracted by many other concerns such as safety problems in Northeast Asia and the Middle East," director of Southeast Asian Studies of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations Zhai Kun said.

He was responding to some foreign experts who have said Rice's absence could help China build ties and trust in Southeast Asia at the expense of the US.

"The cooperation between China and ASEAN is not exclusive, and it's not directed against or achieved at the expense of any country," Renmin University's professor of international relations Jin Canrong said.

Trade between China and ASEAN, expanding by nearly 40 percent a year, is likely to exceed $200 billion in 2008, two years before a free trade area is scheduled for.

Source: China Daily

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