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China-ASEAN Ties Hailed
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Singapore's founding leader Lee Kuan Yew said Thursday that the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) reached in 2002 offers ASEAN countries an opportunity to ride on China's fast economic growth.

Lee, who retains the title "Minister Mentor", said in an exclusive interview with Xinhua that China and Singapore should speed up discussions on a free trade agreement, which would have only economic, but also strategic, importance.

"China made a strategic decision in 1999 when former Premier Zhu Rongji proposed a Free Trade Agreement between China and the ASEAN which gave the ASEAN early harvesting," Lee said, adding that "this was an effective way to allow ASEAN countries to benefit from China's high economic growth."

Now that the bilateral trade in goods has "walked a good step forward," Lee said it was now time to expand the cooperation to the service sector.

Lee said all countries should press ahead with steps to liberalize investments and air services in order to realize the full potential of what could be one of the largest free trade areas in the world.

He proposed that the CAFTA should be reviewed and liberalized every few years to keep up with the progress in closer economic ties between the ASEAN and China.

Having witnessed the reforms China has made, Lee stressed the importance of environmental issues as China continues its rapid economic development.

He said Singapore was willing to work with China to tackle environmental issues, saying that the issue needs to be solved through international cooperation.

In April, Singapore's Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong suggested to China's Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice Premier Wu Yi He that China choose a suitable Chinese city to collaborate with Singapore in cleaning up and reducing pollution in a bid to create a more eco-friendly city.

"Alternatively, both sides can collaborate to develop a new city close to an existing metropolis, which will be environmentally-friendly and sustainable in its development," the Minister Mentor said.

This will be discussed in the annual joint ministerial meeting to be held later this year, he said.

He said Singapore had an excellent relationship with China, but both sides should look at ways to move it forward.

Lee said that if faithfully implemented, China's policy of building a harmonious society and harmonious world means it will play a positive role in maintaining peace and stability in the world, and will promote economic progress in the countries which have business relations with China.

(Xinhua News Agency June 1, 2007)

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