Chinese Premier Signs Trade Pact at Southeast Asian Summit

Posted in China , Asia | 30-Nov-04 | Author: Jane Perlez| Source: The New York Times

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao listens during a tri-lateral meeting between Japan, China and South Korea Monday, Nov. 29, 2004, at the 10th ASEAN summit in Vientiane, Laos.

VIENTIANE, Laos, Nov. 29 - China moved a step closer to cementing its economic and diplomatic relationships with Southeast Asia on Monday when Prime Minister Wen Jiabao signed a trade accord at a regional summit meeting that calls for eliminating tariffs on a range of agricultural and manufactured goods by 2010.

He also signed a strategic declaration that commits China to good behavior in the Southeast Asian region, including the contentious area of the South China Sea.

Mr. Wen's presence at the annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has come to dominate the event as the 10 member nations wrestle with how to adjust their varying and often heavily protected economies with a surging China.

In his speech, Mr. Wen outlined his grand concept for an East Asian community that he said China wanted to play a leading role in developing. Deeper cooperation among the nations that would culminate in such a community is a "strategic choice made in the interests of China's own development and in the common interests of the region," he said.

China is not a formal member of Asean, but in his speech, Mr. Wen was far bolder in his vision for an East Asian community that incorporated China than any of the Southeast Asian leaders, who have tended to tiptoe around the idea. China, along with Japan and South Korea, is invited to attend the annual meeting. India, eager to show that it is part of the wider community beyond South Asia, also attends.

The new trade agreement was the first concrete step toward a China-Asean free trade area by 2010, an idea China broached two years ago.

The strategic declaration highlighted the dramatic turnaround in relations that until several years ago were marked by fear, and in some instances, hostility. In the declaration, China reaffirmed its support for the treaty on a zone free of nuclear weapons that is a hallmark of Asean.

China's weight was also evident in a decision by the summit leaders on Monday to push forward by three years, to 2007, the date when tariffs on intra-Asean trade would be abolished in 11 major groups of products, including textiles but excluding automobiles. M. C. Abad, the spokesman for the Asean secretary general, said the 11 groups constituted more than 50 percent of intra-Asean trade.

In a more indirect way, China won a victory when the 10 leaders announced that in addition to their regular summit meeting next year, they would hold an East Asia summit meeting outside the formal auspices of Asean. That configuration would bring China closer into the eventual formation of an East Asia community, officials said Monday.

In its usual determination not to interfere in one another's internal affairs - a position that critics say severely reduces Asean's effectiveness - the leaders made no mention in their communiqué of the lack of progress toward democracy in Myanmar.

Myanmar is scheduled to be host of the Asean summit meeting in 2006, which human rights advocates in the region say should be an embarrassment to the group. Asean leaders have been warned by the United States and Europe against allowing the military government of Myanmar, formerly Burma, to hold that meeting.

No Release for Myanmar Activist

YANGON, Myanmar, Nov. 29 (AP) - Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained pro-democracy leader, has been told she will be held under house arrest at least until September, a spokesman for her political party said Monday.

U Lwin, the spokesman for the party, the National League for Democracy, said the party confirmed over the weekend that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi had been told her detention would be extended. She has been detained several times. Her longest period of house arrest was from 1989 to 1995. While under house arrest, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.