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China urges ASEAN to be independent

By Suthichai Yoon  (China Daily)

08:10, June 25, 2012

China has urged members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations not to be a bystander or "a tool of major powers" to cope with the new challenges in the current global political and economic atmosphere.

"ASEAN should exercise its independent judgment to move this region forward. If ASEAN takes sides, it would lose its relevance," Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Fu Ying told The Nation in an exclusive interview over the weekend.

"ASEAN has an important role to play with its tried-and-true ASEAN Way, as major powers are shaping their new relations in the region."

She said relations with ASEAN countries are of "unquestionable priority" for China. China will continue to support ASEAN's "centrality" in East Asian cooperation, she said.

Fu was in Bangkok over the weekend to meet Thailand's Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Sihasak Phuangketkeow. In July, Thailand is to take over the role of ASEAN's coordinator with China for the next three years.

Since the dialogue partnership was established in the early 1990s, ASEAN-China relations have enjoyed robust development, she said.

"We have also encountered a lot of challenges. Yet, rather than hurting our relations, these challenges were turned into opportunities to reinforce our relations," she said.

Asked about the United States' decision to "rebalance" its forces in Asia and the Pacific, Fu said: "China has no problem accepting the US presence and its positive influence in the Asia Pacific. We welcome a constructive US role in regional affairs."

She noted, however, that there is growing concern from media and academics in China over the heavy US emphasis on security in the region.

"I've noticed that the same concern has also been heard in other Asian countries. Some say China is the 'elephant in the room'. Some others worry about a possible return to the Cold War," she said.

"As I see it, maybe it's still too early to draw conclusions."

Asked whether Beijing is concerned about Washington's possible "containment policy" against China, she said: "The US has loudly denied any intention to contain China. We will just take them at their word."

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