Premier heads to Brunei for regional meet

By Wang Zhaokun Source:Global Times Published: 2013-10-9 0:48:01

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang heads to Brunei on Wednesday to attend regional summits and pay official visits to Brunei, Thailand and Vietnam, a day after President Xi Jinping wrapped up his first trip to Southeast Asia since taking office in March.

The successive visits to Southeast Asian countries paid by Chinese top leaders highlight Beijing's pledge and priority to develop friendly relations with neighboring countries amid the complex security and economic situation in the region, analysts said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Tuesday the overall regional situation is stable, but there are still many uncertainties.

"To safeguard regional peace and stability, properly deal with financial risks, promote regional integration and pursue common development are the common aspirations of countries in the region and are on top of the agenda of the meetings of East Asia leaders," Hua said.

US President Barack Obama cancelled his trip to Southeast Asia, including his attendance at the APEC meeting, and he is also set to miss the East Asia leaders meetings. But he was expected to push the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiations at both occasions.

The US-led trade bloc aims to create a free trade zone in the Asia-Pacific area but it is seen by some as an economic initiative targeting China, as it excludes the world's second largest economy.

Xi said last week that China supported the process of Asia-Pacific economic integration with an open attitude, but he added that relevant parties should cherish the principles of openness, inclusiveness and transparency.

Zhuang Guotu, head of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Xiamen University, told the Global Times that both President Xi and Premier Li's trips to Southeast Asian countries are important for China to promote and discuss cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region.

The US has been trying to draw countries in the area to its side under its "Asia pivot policy" that targets China on both economy and security, he said.

"Chinese leaders are promoting regional cooperation and stress the importance of regional peace and stability," Zhuang noted. "And one of the most important things China seeks to achieve through such visits is promoting regional economic integrity via various means."

In a China-ASEAN Expo early September, Li called for an "upgraded version" of the free trade area between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), pledging economic and trade cooperation of "greater scope and higher quality."

China recently placed its diplomatic priority on relations with Southeast Asian countries and this shows the Chinese government reaffirms its policy of developing friendly relations and "being a good neighbor and partner" with neighboring countries, Zhu Zhenming, a deputy director of the Southeast Asia Research Institute affiliated with the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

China and some ASEAN nations have overlapping territorial claims and maritime disputes in the South China Sea but Beijing has been trying to lay stress on regional cooperation at the multilateral platform instead of the disputes.

"President Xi's successful visit to Malaysia shows that countries could develop their bilateral ties and handle issues in a peaceful way despite differences and I believe this is the same with other countries in the area that have disputes with China," Zhu said.

Relations between China and ASEAN nations have been good over the years, but they are experiencing some challenges in recent years against the backdrop of the US "Asia pivot policy" so Chinese leaders' visits to countries in the area could help calibrate their understanding of China, Zhu said.

"This in a way could be seen as China's response to other country's attempts to sow discord between China and ASEAN nations," Zhu said.

Posted in: Diplomacy

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