China-ASEAN look to next 25 years of partnership

PUBLISHED ON Sep 27, 2016

In the Lao capital of Vientiane, leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN, have met with their East Asian counterparts.

They are trying to hammer out critical issues affecting security. They also discussed advancing a critical free trade deal. But it was a particularly special day for China and ASEAN, as the two parties marked 25 years of dialogue partnership that has seen trust and improved trade growth. Rian Maelzer reports from Vientiane, Laos.

Amid the high-level talks over critical geopolitical and economic issues, there was room Wednesday too for a bit of cake and a celebration – to mark the 25 years of China’s dialogue partnership with ASEAN.

A short video showed highlights of a quarter century that has seen trust greatly improve, strategic and people-to-people ties grow closer and trade and investment surge.

Both host Laos’ prime minister and Chinese premier Li Keqiang expressed the belief those those ties would broaden and deepen in the years ahead.

Li said, “In the future, the relationship between China and ASEAN has great prospects. China is still an important partner for ASEAN in maintaining peace and stability in the region, and in encouraging the regional integration, as well as a global role for the region.”

But as so often happens at these summits, cracks in ASEAN unity showed. While most members seemed eager to keep the South China Sea territorial disputes out of the limelight if not entirely off the table, the Philippines defence ministry released photos of what it said were Chinese boats near a disputed shoal.

But later, Philippines officials took a diplomatic tack on the dispute.

“The conversation proceeds toward a certain goal of eventually being able to settle matters. It’s an on-going process,” said Ernesto Arbella, Philippine presidential spokesman.

The Chinese vice-foreign minister said China is confident of repairing ties with the Philippines.

“In the past 30 years, the relationship has been very smooth, it’s only in the past few years, because of some problems known to all, the relationship has been affected,” said Liu Zhenmin, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister.

Leaders of China, South Korea and Japan also sat down with ASEAN leaders. And despite tensions between the parties over several issues, they all remain on side for speedily concluding a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or R-CEP with their ASEAN neighbours.