October 22, 2011

China, ASEAN eye cooperation for regional growth


NANNING, Oct. 21 -- China and the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are seeking to boost regional cooperation to sustain growth amid global economic uncertainties.

The eighth China-ASEAN Expo and China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit opened Friday morning in Nanning, capital of southwest China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

At the opening ceremony of the summit, which has a theme of "deepening regional cooperation for common prosperity," Premier Wen Jiabao stressed the significance of solidarity at a time when the slowing world economy has had a "visible impact" on Asia.

"At present, the international financial crisis remains ominous, and world economic recovery is undergoing a hard and tortuous course amid growing instability and uncertainty," Wen said in his keynote speech.

It is vitally important for China and ASEAN to become prepared to meet challenges over a long period and advance regional cooperation with a more pragmatic and open attitude, he said.

China is the largest trading partner of ASEAN, while ASEAN ranks as China's third-largest trading partner.

China-ASEAN trade surged 37.5 percent year-on-year to 292.8 billion U. S. dollars in 2010, the year when the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area, or CAFTA, was founded, according to customs figures.

Trade volume between the two sides has grown at an annual rate of more than 20 percent over the past two decades, said Wen.

In his speech at the ceremony, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen pointed out that China and ASEAN face common challenges, including the uncertainty caused by the prolonged U.S. economic recession, the European debt crisis, political conflicts in West Asia and North Africa and rising food and energy prices.

However, Hun Sen said he is still optimistic about the future of China-ASEAN economic development and believes that the Asian economy will serve as an engine for global economic development.

China and ASEAN aim to increase annual bilateral trade to 500 billion U. S. dollars by 2015.

Hun Sen urged Asian countries to reduce their reliance on the U.S. and European markets, encouraging them to turn to boosting domestic needs and enhancing cooperation.

"China's fiscal stimulation policies and sustained growth have not only made great contributions to regional economic recovery, but also helped other regions in the world emerge from the crisis," he said.

China's economy expanded at an annual rate of 9.1 percent in the third quarter of this year, the slowest growth in two years but still one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

Xu Ningning, executive vice secretary-general of the China-ASEAN Business Council, said that the current global economic turmoil has highlighted the benefits China and ASEAN can obtain through cooperation.

Wen said China is ready to continue expanding imports of competitive products from ASEAN countries and finding proper solutions to problems in the development of the CAFTA.

Wen also promised to boost financial and monetary cooperation with ASEAN. The Chinese government will expand the scale and scope of currency swaps in the region, strengthen capacity-building in regional economic monitoring and boost the development of the Asian bond market, he said.

Additionally, the premier pledged more people-to-people and cultural exchanges between China and ASEAN.

"Having a good neighbor is better than possessing gold," Wen said. "As long as we act in the spirit of equality, mutual trust and seeking common ground while shelving differences, we can rise above political, economic, religious, cultural and other differences."

Wen also reiterated that cementing the strategic partnership for peace and prosperity and promoting mutually beneficial cooperation with ASEAN remains the unswerving policy of the Chinese government.

The eighth China-ASEAN Expo, which will last from Oct. 21 to 26, has attracted about 2,300 enterprises from home and abroad, up by 4.6 percent from last year.

ASEAN is made up of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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