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China urges free trade, regional integration amid rising protectionism

Premier Li Keqiang has called for efforts to advance the East Asia Economic Community, a trade bloc that aims to integrate East and Southeast Asia’s diverse economies into a single market.

The call came at the ongoing annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), known as ASEAN Plus Three, in Manila, the Philippines. It involves the leaders of all ten ASEAN countries, plus the leaders from China, Japan and South Korea.

Premier Li said East Asia had weathered the storm of two financial crises and is now one of the world’s most dynamic and promising regions in terms of development.

Last year, the region accounted for 44 percent of the world’s economic growth, he said.

To establish an East Asia Economic Community is a strategic goal of the 10+3 cooperation and accords with the long-term and fundamental interests of the peoples in the region, he said.

He stressed that due to the rising tide of protectionism, countries in the region have to cooperate more to promote free and fair trade.

“The world economy is showing good momentum and China’s bilateral ties with Japan and South Korea are improving, which all provide good opportunities for the ASEAN Plus Three cooperation,” the Premier said.

He also pointed out the world faces challenges of de-globalization and protectionism.

“I hope to build a consensus and send a signal to the world that we fully support regional economic integration,” he added.

His proposal was echoed by other leaders at the meeting.

Moon Jae-in, President of the Republic of Korea said efforts need to be made to further liberalize trade and deepen economic integration in the region and raise the connectivity of ASEAN.

He also said Seoul will increase cooperation with China and Japan to help form the East Asian Community.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said ASEAN Plus Three has fostered collaboration and a sense of collective during tough times, such as the financial crises and the SARS epidemic.

He urged efforts to deepen the valuable mechanism and proposed to build up an e-commerce framework and create an ASEAN network of smart cities.