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Premier confident differences on South China Sea issue can be handled properly

Updated: Nov 11,2014 9:37 PM     Xinhua

JAKARTA — Premier Li Keqiang has expressed confidence that differences on the South China Sea issue can be handled properly as long as relevant parties maintain dialogue and consultation and strengthen maritime cooperation.

“These differences should not affect regional stability or overall China-ASEAN relations nor will they ever hamper freedom and safety of navigation in the South China Sea,” Premier Li wrote in Nov 11’s edition of The Jakarta Post.

Since the start of the year, China and relevant countries have had effective communication and dialogue on the South China Sea issue and reached a lot of important common ground, Li noted.

“We have identified the ‘dual track approach’ in handling the South China Sea issue, outlining the ideas that specific disputes be addressed by countries directly concerned through negotiation and consultation and that peace and stability in the South China Sea be jointly upheld by China and ASEAN countries,” he said.

“We are fully confident that as long as we stick to the right track, maintain the momentum of dialogue and consultation and strengthen practical maritime cooperation, we will be able to handle the South China Sea issue properly,” he elaborated.

Li, who will be in Myanmar Nov 12 to attend an annual meeting of East Asian leaders, has lauded the cooperation between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as a positive force for regional cooperation and envisioned a bright future for the ties.

“China and ASEAN countries are neighbors sharing land and sea borders. We have a common land boundary of over 4,000 km. For hundreds of years, our cultural interactions and close bonds have represented a fine model of exchanges, mutual learning and common development of different ethnicities, religions and cultures in the history of East Asia,” Li wrote.

“China is a staunch force for peace in East Asia and China supports ASEAN in playing a positive role in regional stability,” he said.

Li will attend the 17th China-ASEAN summit, the 17th ASEAN Plus Three Summit (ASEAN plus China, Japan and South Korea), and the 9th East Asia Summit in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, from Nov 12 to Nov 14. He will pay an official visit to Myanmar after the meetings.

The Chinese premier said he looks forward to seeing more solid steps and fruitful outcomes resulting from China-ASEAN cooperation.

“China was the first to join the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, the first to establish strategic partnership with ASEAN and the first to propose the signing of a treaty on good neighborliness, friendship and cooperation with ASEAN,” Li wrote.

He labeled the China-ASEAN cooperation “a positive force driving regional development.”

China is ASEAN’s largest trading partner and its third largest source of investment and was the first country to launch free trade area (FTA) negotiations with ASEAN, Li noted.

In 2013, trade between China and ASEAN hit 443.6 billion U.S. dollars. Accumulated two-way investment totaled 120 billion dollars and about 18 million visits were made between the two sides.

The cooperation initiatives China put forward in the past year included plans to build a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road together with ASEAN and to strengthen the China-ASEAN 2+7 cooperation framework: deepening strategic mutual trust, focusing on economic cooperation, plus deepening cooperation in the seven key areas of political affairs, economy and trade, connectivity, finance, maritime cooperation, security, and people-to-people exchanges, he wrote in the article.

On the sidelines of the meetings, Li and leaders of ASEAN countries will continue discussions on the signing of a treaty of good neighborliness, friendship and cooperation.

In addition, the third action plan of the Joint Declaration on the Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity will be jointly formulated and cooperation in defense and nontraditional security areas will be promoted.

Efforts will be made to conclude regional FTA negotiations regarding the upgraded China-ASEAN FTA and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) by the end of 2015.

Li said China will launch the fundraising for the second phase of the China-ASEAN Fund on Investment Cooperation and the China Development Bank will also set up a China-ASEAN special loan for infrastructure development.

Maritime cooperation has become a new highlight in China-ASEAN cooperation, said Li, adding that China proposes that next year be designated as the “Year of China-ASEAN Maritime Cooperation” to strengthen cooperation in marine economy, marine science and technology, protection of marine ecology and maritime connectivity.

According to Li, China will scale up investment in underdeveloped ASEAN countries and strengthen exchanges and cooperation with countries along the Mekong River in key areas like poverty reduction, social development and other areas with a view to helping narrow the development gap within ASEAN.

China welcomes the establishment of the ASEAN Community next year, the first time in Asia’s history that a regional community is established, Li said.

China will continue to take ASEAN as a priority in its neighborhood diplomacy and firmly support the unity and growth of ASEAN, the building of the ASEAN Community and ASEAN’s centrality in regional cooperation, Li said.

China and ASEAN both stand to benefit from East Asia’s prosperity and stability, and both stand to uphold such prosperity and stability, he said.

The Chinese premier proposed that the two sides strengthen dialogue and coordination, broaden convergence of interests and lead countries in the region toward an East Asian Community.

“We also welcome countries from outside the region to join East Asia cooperation and contribute positively to peace and development of Asia and the Asia-Pacific as a whole,” Li said.