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Cooperation Enters New Era
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China's relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have reached a new era with the nation, joining in the association's 40th anniversary celebrations.

Premier Wen Jiabao will send a message of congratulation today to Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, whose country currently holds ASEAN's rotating presidency. While Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi will attend a celebration reception at the invitation of the ASEAN mission in China.

"Over the past 40 years, ASEAN has made a series of important achievements, promoting the economic development of its member states, pushing forward regional integration and improving the region's overall strength," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao in a statement. "It has also made an important contribution to peace and stability, development and prosperity across the Asia Pacific region.

"China will, as always, support the closer integration of ASEAN and its leading role in regional cooperation, continuously pushing forward our bilateral strategic partnership."
Relationships between China and ASEAN states cover political, economic and legal frameworks and facilitate communication and cooperation, according to Hu Zhengyue, director-general of the department of Asian affairs with Foreign Ministry.

"Closer cooperation between the two sides is mutually beneficial, offering mutual political respect, economic development and the chance to share our different experiences," Hu said.

According to Hu, China's ties with ASEAN have expanded rapidly, especially over the past decade, culminating in the signing of a series of landmark political documents in 2002.

Five years ago the two sides signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, agreeing to resolve disputes through negotiation and ensure regional peace through cooperation.

The China-ASEAN Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, inked the same year, began work and progress towards establishing a China-ASEAN free trade area before 2010.

In 2003, the two sides established a strategic partnership, laying the foundation for the long-term development of their dialogue. Later that year, China entered into the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, becoming the first country outside the member states to join the treaty.

Hu said a joint statement issued at the commemorative summit marking the 15th anniversary of China-ASEAN dialogue last year, showed how far the development of relationship had come.

Economically, Hu said, economic cooperation has been very active, with the value trade rising dramatically. The two-way trade volume reached US$160.9 billion last year - more than 20 times its 1991 level.

ASEAN has been, for the past 14 consecutive years, China's fifth largest trading partner and by the end of last year ASEAN members had invested a total of US$41.8 billion in the country.

Hu said China and ASEAN are highly complementary economies, noting that China offers a huge market for ASEAN products such as rubber, palm oil and tropical fruit. "In addition, China can lend its advanced technology and management experience to ASEAN in the fields of agricultural production and infrastructure construction, which are weak points for ASEAN's members," Hu said.

He added that China and ASEAN are at a similar stage of development, saying "China's support and help is very significant for ASEAN's development and vice versa."

Concerning security cooperation, Hu repeated China's position of stepping up cooperation with ASEAN members to maintain maritime security and present a united front against non-traditional security threats such as terrorism or disease.

"Being a user of the Strait of Malacca, China is willing to take part in the relevant security cooperation and safeguard the strait through dialogue," Hu said.

He added that China attaches great importance to maritime security and will work together with ASEAN members in the fight against pirates, maritime smuggling and drug-trafficking.

In 2002, the two sides signed a joint declaration on cooperation in the fields of non-traditional security and two years later signed a memorandum of understanding on the agreement, defining their cooperation in eight areas including illegal immigration, terrorism and cyber crime.

The memorandum of understanding also drafted a five-year working plan and it is expected that the two sides will form an international law-enforcement framework by next year, Hu said.

China is also willing to cooperate to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and Hu said the nation hoped to join the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone soon.

(China Daily August 8, 2007)

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