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 9 Apr 2009

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China expected to sign investment pact with Asean  

China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) are likely to sign an investment treaty this week, capping long-running talks for a comprehensive trade
agreement, Reuters quoted a senior Chinese diplomat as saying Wednesday.

China signed an initial free trade agreement with the 10 members of Asean in November 2002, and both sides had set 2010 as a deadline for a broader pact. The major Asean economies include Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore.

"It appears that this measure will be smoothly completed on time," Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Hu Zhengyue told a briefing ahead of meetings in the Thai resort town of Pattaya.

The meetings start on Friday between Asean and various dialogue partners, including China.

"A bright spot of the Ten Plus One meeting will be the signing of an investment agreement, and this will signify that negotiations for a free trade zone including China and Asean have been completed," Hu said of the meeting bringing together the 10 Asean member states and Beijing.

He would not describe any details of the investment agreement. He said the focus of this weekend's meetings would be on strengthening cooperation to surmount the global financial crisis.

And with Premier Wen Jiabao leading a team of senior economic officials to the meeting, China appears ready to cast itself as a reassuring pillar of regional growth.

"Considering the current financial crisis, we believe it's extremely important that both sides continue to strengthen investment between them," Hu said of China and the Asean states.

Beijing has recently signed currency swap agreements with Indonesia and Malaysia to help shore up trade. Hu said his government was open to similar deals with other Southeast Asian nations, some of which have raised the possibility. He would not name those countries.

Among the other economic boosters he held up for possible discussion with Asean members were infrastructure projects, including rail lines, highways and airports; expanded tourism; strengthening of financial cooperation; and support for Chinese companies investing in Southeast Asia.

Japan and South Korea are among the other Asian powers attending the round-robin of meetings, and they will be eager to discuss North Korea's weekend launch of a rocket. But Hu said that issue may be too "specific" for discussion at the meetings, and he repeated China's call for "calm and restraint" in response to the rocket launch.

In a related story, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that South Korean President Lee Myung-bak will embark on a three-day trip this week to Thailand for a summit with the 10 member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

Lee's participation in the Asean summit comes as Seoul is seeking to significantly bolster relations with other Asian nations through its so-called New Asia Initiative policy.

Under the new diplomatic initiative, South Korea will seek to sign free trade deals with the region's major economies at the earliest possible date to form a network of economic cooperation and dependency that could provide the basis of a regional economic bloc.

The plan also calls on Seoul to become the so-called "Speaker of Asia" by actively promoting the mutual interests of countries in the region.

Top agendas for the upcoming Thailand summit, known as Asean Plus Three as it also involves the three Northeast Asian nations -- Korea, Japan and China -- include securing food and financial stability in Asia as the region has experienced a series of food price hikes in recent years while trying to fight off the global economic crisis.

The Thailand gathering will also bring together Australia, India and New Zealand in a separate forum called the East Asia Summit, to be held Sunday.




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