ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Singapore PM: ‘Sea disputes should not define Asean-China ties’
As tensions over the territorial dispute rose yesterday, Mr Lee called on all parties to focus on the positive aspects of their ties, especially economic linkages.
"We work together in many areas for mutual benefit... Asean appreciates all that China has done to support Asean centrality and regional growth over (the) past 20 years," he said at a meeting between Asean leaders and outgoing Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
For instance, Lee noted, there was the US$10 billion (S$12.3 billion) Asean-China Investment Cooperation Fund and US$15 billion credit support scheme that China funds to help build transport, telecommunication and other links in the region.
Trade, investment and people- to-people ties had also grown "dramatically" during Premier Wen's tenure, he observed.
This is the last Asean Summit for Wen, who became China's Premier in 2003.
Li Keqiang is the presumptive next premier.
This theme of economic cooperation featured in many of PM Lee's speeches yesterday, which he made at the various meetings that Asean leaders held with their counterparts from Japan, South Korea, India, China and the United States.
In some of them, he touched on the South China Sea dispute, calling for calm and urging Asean and China to move forward on coming up with a Code of Conduct on the disputed areas. He also called on the US to support Asean's centrality in the region.
But it was at the regional grouping's meeting with China - which has overlapping claims with several Asean members - that Lee especially stressed the importance of strengthening ties with the Asian giant.
He also noted that how Beijing's new leaders address China's challenges will affect the entire region. "A stable, vibrant and successful China is good for the world, especially East Asia," he said.
PM Lee also welcomed China's participation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a 16-nation free trade agreement that will be launched today.
Apart from Asean and China, the RCEP includes Korea, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand.
The proposed pact was also discussed in the separate meetings that Asean had with India, Japan and Korea yesterday.
At the Asean-Japan summit, he said: "RCEP is not merely a free trade agreement, but a strategic partnership between Asean and key partners."
At the meeting between Asean leaders and US President Barack Obama, PM Lee stressed the importance of America's recovery to the world economy.
He hoped that the US Congress could "bridge partisan lines and tackle long-term fiscal problems decisively".
At the same time, he expressed confidence that the US would "climb back as it has done many times before".
"Yours is a dynamic, resilient society," he told Obama. "Asean wishes you well and will do what we can to support US recovery."
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