The mainland's top trade diplomat has attempted to reassure Southeast Asia that China's entry to the World Trade Organisation and growing economic clout will not retard growth in neighbouring states. In Singapore yesterday, Long Yongtu, Vice-Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation said a more open mainland economy would benefit the rest of the region even if it became the 'factory of the world'. Many Southeast Asian leaders worry China will draw foreign direct investment, jobs and wealth creation away from the region. China already accounts for more than three quarters of Asia's foreign direct investment. Last month, despite those concerns, leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations endorsed a proposal to create a free-trade zone with China within the next decade. 'I really do not believe that China's accession to the WTO will cause problems for our negotiating partners or other WTO members,' said Mr Long, chief negotiator in China's 15-year push to join the global trade club. 'If China is the factory of the world, we hope that Singapore will be part of that factory,' he told diplomats and academics. He advised Singapore to leverage its historical, cultural and linguistic links with the mainland to act as a commercial conduit. He has issued the same call to businessmen in Hong Kong, saying it can build on its historical role of offering China legal, financial and technical services. This week, Mr Long confirmed Beijing was 'seriously considering' a Hong Kong proposal to form a free-trade zone linking the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau and, possibly, Taiwan. 'If other people are [pursuing regional or bilateral free-trade agreements], why not China?' he asked. Mr Long said that at the recent WTO meeting in Qatar an unnamed, 'large' Latin American country had asked to open free-trade agreement talks with Beijing. The offer was not taken up, but Mr Long said he believed China would attract similar approaches from other states in the coming months. Mexico and Chile are especially active in international trade diplomacy, with both engaged in free-trade discussions with other countries.