Premier Zhu Rongji yesterday called for closer economic co-operation among Asian countries and said China's emerging economy posed no threat to the region. In his keynote speech to the Boao Forum, Mr Zhu said China was ready to work with its neighbours to build 'a thriving new Asia'. 'We should take economic co-operation as the key focus of regional development,' Mr Zhu said in a five-minute address to the forum, a non-governmental initiative to promote greater regional co-operation across Asia. 'Economic co-operation is the primary task of Asian countries,' he said. But his Japanese counterpart Junichiro Koizumi, in a much longer and wider-ranging speech to the forum, emphasised political and economic freedom. 'I believe that the three values of freedom, diversity and openness are the driving forces behind peace and development in Asia,' Mr Koizumi said. 'Firstly, it goes without saying that freedom refers to democracy and human rights politically. Economically, it means development of a market economy. 'Political freedom and economic freedom are reinforcing each other in the process of their development. 'With some twists and turns, Asia as a whole has been taking significant steps towards freedom over the last half century. Transition to a democratic political system or its reforms has been inevitable, as economic development has created the conditions for the emergence of a middle class and a civil society.' Mr Zhu later noted in a lengthy question session with forum delegates that he had 'greatly enjoyed the Japanese Prime Minister's speech' but did not respond directly to Mr Koizumi's pointed remarks. Mr Zhu, Mr Koizumi and Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who also delivered a keynote speech, agreed China's continued economic development and recent entry into the World Trade Organisation did not represent a regional threat. 'I believe that [China's] dynamic economic development presents challenges as well as opportunities for Japan,' Mr Koizumi said. 'I believe a rising economic tide and expansion of the market in China will stimulate competition and will prove to be a tremendous opportunity for the world economy as a whole. 'I see the advancement of Japan-China economic relations not as a hollowing-out of Japanese industry, but as an opportunity to nurture new industries in Japan to develop their activities in the Chinese market.' But Mr Koizumi also said that 'it is of utmost importance for China to behave in accordance with international rules by making a smooth transition into the WTO regime and to promote harmonious co-operation with the regional economies of Asia, including Asean'. Mr Thaksin argued that 'a rich China means a prosperous Asia', and added that China's increased economic weight and presence in the WTO would give Asia greater bargaining power and influence at trade talks. 'Some countries are too nervous about the size of China and its competitiveness,' Mr Thaksin said. 'As a result of having China in the WTO we expect that there will be more balance globally.' Mr Thaksin also said his country was prepared to host an 'Asian Co-operation Dialogue' - a political counterpart designed to complement the technically non-governmental Boao Forum. 'The dialogue is aimed at enhancing every aspect of globalisation for stable development. If amenable to our partners, Thailand is prepared to hold the first meeting this year,' he said. 'We all aspire to sell to the West,' Mr Thaksin said. 'So far Asia's economies have concentrated more on fighting each other through price wars . . . We must stand up and be counted as one.' Mr Zhu seemed to welcome Mr Thaksin's proposal. 'Compared with North America and Europe, Asia's regional co-operation is relatively backward,' he said.