BANGKOK: There is still “significant potential” for stronger economic cooperation between Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members and China, especially against the backdrop of a sluggish global economy, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (Nov 3).
Speaking at the 22nd ASEAN-China Summit, Mr Lee said that it is thus “imperative” to fully implement the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area (CSFTA) Upgrade Protocol.
The CSFTA aims to give businesses easier access to the Chinese market.
“Even though China is already ASEAN’s largest trading partner, there remains significant potential to strengthen economic cooperation, especially amid the global economic slowdown,” Mr Lee pointed out.
ASEAN and China should also strengthen connectivity, said Mr Lee.
“The statement we are adopting today on synergising the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025 with the Belt and Road Initiative will give new impetus to this, including in areas such as infrastructure construction and financial integration,” he explained.
In addition, full liberalisation of the ASEAN-China Air Transport Agreement will not only generate fresh business opportunities but also bring people and businesses “closer together”, he explained.
Even as ASEAN and China deepen existing relations, there remain new areas for collaboration, added Mr Lee.
“The Leaders’ Statement on Smart City Cooperation Initiative that we will adopt today is a good example of how we can tackle the opportunities and challenges of the digital age together,” he said.
“City-to-city collaboration through the ASEAN Smart Cities Network will further integrate our economies and unlock the potential of the digital economy.”
An initiative spearheaded by Singapore, the network is envisioned as a collaborative platform where up to three cities per ASEAN country work towards a common goal of smart and sustainable urban development.
Cities include Singapore, Johor Bahru, Phuket, Yangon, Phnom Penh and Vientiane.
This edition of the ASEAN China Summit follows the completion of the first reading of the Single Draft Negotiating Text of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC).
Mr Lee urged negotiators to continue making progress in the “spirit of collaboration and good faith” as more “complex and difficult issues” are dealt with.
“Singapore will work towards a COC that is in accordance with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” he said.
While Mr Lee said he welcomes the aspiration to conclude the COC in three years as proposed by China, he pointed out it would be more important “to get the outcomes right, and to have an effective and substantive COC.”