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Print Edition> World
UPDATED: May 6, 2011 NO. 19 MAY 12, 2011
Strengthening Ties With Southeast Asia
Premier Wen Jiabao's visits to Malaysia and Indonesia enhance China's relations with its neighbors

HARMONIOUS NEIGHBORHOOD: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao sings an Indonesian folk song together with students of the University of Al Azhar Indonesia in Jakarta on April 29 (YAO DAWEI)

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao paid official visits to two Southeast Asian nations—Malaysia and Indonesia—from April 27 to 30. The trip helped foster a "harmonious, stable and cooperative" neighboring environment for China, as it deepened China's political trust as well as economic and cultural ties with Malaysia and Indonesia, said Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

Both countries are important neighbors of China and heavyweight members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Indonesia holds ASEAN's rotating presidency this year.

The visits helped chart the path of future cooperation between China and the two countries, Yang said. The three countries are all enjoying rapid economic growth and their economies are highly complementary, presenting opportunities for them to strengthen cooperation.

During the visits, Wen also expounded on China's stand on developing Sino-ASEAN ties and promoting East Asian integration, Yang said.

Economic and trade cooperation between China and the two Southeast Asian nations is growing rapidly, bringing benefits to the peoples of these countries, said Luo Yongkun, a researcher of Southeast Asian studies with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. Malaysia has been China's largest trade partner among ASEAN countries since 2008 and China has been Malaysia's largest trade partner since 2009. Their bilateral trade volume in 2010 reached $74.2 billion, up 42.8 percent over the previous year. During Premier Wen's visit, China and Malaysia signed eight agreements covering education, economic cooperation, infrastructure construction and energy.

Luo said, in recent years, China and Malaysia have reached consensus on coping with the global financial crisis and climate change as well as fostering East Asian cooperation. The two nations will maintain coordination and cooperation in these areas in the future.

Last year, China and Indonesia's trade volume exceeded $42.75 billion, a 50.6-percent year-on-year growth. Their trade volume during the first quarter of 2011 reached $12.5 billion, increasing 40 percent from the same period of 2010. This year's bilateral trade volume is expected to hit a record high $50 billion, said Luo.

Chinese investment in Indonesia has soared in recent years. In 2010, China's newly added non-financial direct investment to Indonesia was $290 million. Luo said Indonesia has become one of the most important overseas investment destinations of Chinese enterprises.

Since both Malaysia and Indonesia are founders of ASEAN, Premier Wen's visits aimed to strengthen the Sino-ASEAN relationship too, he said. Indonesia, in particular, has the biggest economy and biggest population among ASEAN nations. Strengthening relations with Indonesia will surely help to forge closer ties between China and ASEAN as a whole, said Luo.

During his Southeast Asian trip, Wen called on countries in the region to fully explore the favorable policies of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area to boost regional trade. The Chinese premier also said ASEAN plays an important role in promoting regional stability, development and progress.

China would deepen cooperation and cultural exchanges with ASEAN and join hands with the organization to safeguard regional security and stability, said Wen. It would uphold the policy of "comprehensively strengthening good-neighborly relationships and mutually beneficial cooperation" with ASEAN so as to take their strategic partnership to a higher level, he added.

The China-ASEAN Free Trade Area was inaugurated in 2010 and has greatly improved trade and economic ties between China and ASEAN members. Li Xiangyang, Director of the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), said most ASEAN nations run trade surpluses with China, and China is the biggest importer and trade partners of many ASEAN members.

In 2008, trade with China made up for ASEAN's falling trade with Europe and the United States, Li said. Good trade and economic cooperation will continue to fuel the growth of the Sino-ASEAN relationship.

Wang Yuzhu, a CASS researcher of regional cooperation, said Premier Wen's recent visits to Malaysia and Indonesia revealed a new trend in Sino-ASEAN relations. China was now pushing forward its relationships with the individual nations of ASEAN, he said, as well as focusing efforts on the whole organization.

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