Diplomatic Relations

China urged to work harder for Asia

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 November, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 November, 2003, 12:00am

It should help small neighbours, step up investments and play a peacekeeping role, Boao Forum delegates are told

China is right to push for regional integration through a single free trade agreement with Southeast Asian nations, but must work harder to put its neighbours at ease, former Philippines president Fidel Ramos said yesterday.

'China must present itself as a friendly market for Asian countries,' Mr Ramos said at the Boao Forum for Asia on Hainan island.

At its first meeting three years ago, the forum helped found a push for regional integration.

'There are three steps China can take. No1, China should help smaller countries in the region with technology transfers. No2, China has begun investing in the region, but it must accelerate investments. No3, China must play the role of regional balancer and peacemaker.

'I congratulate China for hosting the six-party talks over North Korea's nuclear programme. I also applaud its recent vow to seek the peaceful development of the oil reserves of the Spratly Islands, but China can do more.'

Hundreds of regional political leaders and business executives are gathering at this resort town this weekend to discuss issues relating to regional integration. Those attending include Premier Wen Jiabao, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, former US trade representative Charlene Barshefsky, Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and a host of international chief executives.

The forum appeared to have started smoothly yesterday despite setbacks last year and earlier this year. Last year, delegates criticised organisers for their poor handling of guest itineraries and poor management of conference facilities.

In May, the forum's new secretary-general, Long Yongtu, the lead negotiator of China's accession to the World Trade Organisation in 2001, had to postpone the gathering to this month because of the Sars outbreak.

However, Mr Long appeared confident yesterday, saying he believed the forum and China could play a larger role regionally.

'China's policy is to make our neighbours richer, to let our neighbours share in the mutual benefits of China's prosperity,' he said.

Modelled after the successful World Economic Forum in Switzerland, which has brought together global political and business leaders for more than 20 years, the Boao Forum is attempting to build a brand name by helping to foster a common regional identity in the Asia Pacific region.

Mr Ramos said his goal was to use the forum as a vehicle to help Asia turn itself into a regional trading bloc that can counterbalance the power of the European Union and the potential US-led alliance of countries in North and South America.

'The goal of the Boao Forum is to bring together the so many diverse elements of the Asian family,' said Mr Ramos.

'This year we have moved many steps towards putting together a strategic vision so that we, the people of Asia, can see ourselves as one family.'

Mr Ramos lauded China's push to build a regional trading bloc with the signing of a free trade agreement with the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to eliminate all tariffs in the region by 2010. China's move has prompted Japan and South Korea recently to seek a similar agreement with Asean.

However, building such a common market will not be easy as the region is diverse with many ethnic groups and divergent national interests.

'This is where the Boao Forum for Asia can come in,' Mr Ramos said. 'At this moment there is no over-arching organisation that brings together the divergent viewpoints of Asia.'