Asean is encouraged by Chinese President Xi Jinping's and U.S. President Joe Biden’s statements that they are willing to work together to deepen cooperation and prevent conflict, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday morning, Nov. 22.
Speaking at the Asean-China Special Summit, he said the regional grouping welcomed the recent high-level exchanges between China and the U.S., including the virtual meeting between Xi and Biden last week (Nov. 15).
The Asean-China Special Summit was held virtually to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of Asean-China dialogue relations.
It was Xi's first time attending an Asean summit, which he co-chaired with Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.
During his speech, PM Lee also expressed hope that China and the U.S. will work out an arrangement that will enable cooperation in areas of common interest, such as climate change and freer trade.
"In this regard, (we) welcome the US-China Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s, which marks an important first step," he added.
The 69-year-old further said that the bilateral relationship between China and the U.S. is a key factor in regional peace and prosperity, and countries in the region want good relations with both the U.S. and China.
He added that they "do not wish to have to choose sides".
Myanmar absent from meeting
Myanmar's military chief, Min Aung Hlaing, who took control of the country after staging a coup in February, was not present at the summit.
According to Reuters, Asean leaders previously said that Myanmar should be represented by a non-political candidate.
Myanmar's military chief was also blocked from the previous Asean summit in October.
Asean became China's top trading partner in 2020
PM Lee also mentioned that Asean and China have continued to strengthen partnership despite the challenges brought about by Covid-19.
According to him, Asean became China's top trading partner in 2020, and the annual trade between both sides now exceed US$500 billion (S$680.46 billion).
"At a time of rising protectionism, Asean and China are leading the way on trade liberalisation by pressing on with the world’s largest trade deal – the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which will take effect on Jan. 1, next year," he added.
Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with China
PM Lee said he was "glad" that the dialogue relations between Asean and China will be raised to a higher level by establishing the Asean-China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP).
He said Singapore welcomed the partnership, and expressed his confidence that it will be a "meaningful, substantive and mutually beneficial upgrading".
He added that Asean-China Free Trade Agreement should be enhanced, as it will "boost our economies and create new opportunities for companies and workers in the region".
Cross-border travel discussions
PM Lee also mentioned that he was looking forward to upgrading the Asean-China Air Transport Agreement (AC-ATA) to support the civil aviation and tourism industries.
"As countries make progress in our respective vaccination programmes, it is timely for Asean member states and China to discuss ways to restore cross-border travel progressively, gradually and safely," he added.
He elaborated that mutual recognition of vaccination certificates can be facilitated by developing digital, interoperable, and secure solutions.
Code of conduct in the South China Sea
PM Lee added that Asean and China should continue working together for the peace and stability of the region, including managing tensions in the South China Sea.
According to him, there has been continued progress in the negotiations on the code of conduct (COC), and Singapore will work with China and Asean members towards an "effective and substantive" COC that is in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
He further stressed that Singapore's position as a non-claimant state and a small nation dependant on trade has not changed.
Asean-China working together to combat Covid-19
Asean and China are also working together to combat Covid-19, regularly exchanging information and best practices.
"We appreciate China’s support to Asean, including its contribution to the Covid-19 Asean Response Fund," PM Lee said.
He further mentioned two joint statements that were issued in October -- the Joint Statements on Cooperation under the Asean Comprehensive Recovery Framework and Joint Statement on Enhancing Green and Sustainable Development Cooperation.
According to him, the statements committed both parties to support Asean’s post-pandemic recovery and deepening sustainable development cooperation.
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