Singapore Calls for Closer SE Asia, Says Multilateralism Under Threat

Pauline Gross
November 14, 2018

During the three-day visit, Moon is scheduled to attend a trio of annual summits hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations - a Korea-ASEAN summit, an ASEAN Plus Three summit also involving China and Japan and the broader East Asia Summit.

Officials said that discussions are underway to set up a meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence on the margins of the ASEAN-related summits, and a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the APEC summit.

"What we hope is to have a harmonious relationship with our neighbors", he added.

"It's going to deliver real benefits for the people of our region".

The statement comes as trade ministers of 16 members of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) meet in Singapore ahead of RCEP Leaders Summit on November 14 in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi will participate.

"The rise of trade protectionism, resurgent nationalistic movements and inward-looking policies also seem to be slowly taking place within Asean itself", he said in a keynote speech at the Asean Business and Investment Summit here.

"The existing free, open and rules-based multilateral system which has underpinned ASEAN's growth and stability has come under stress", he said, adding that it was unclear if the global order would break up into rival blocs.

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Participants say India, for one, is balking at opening its markets wider to imports from China under the accord, dubbed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

"For Malaysia, free trade must also mean fair trade, taking into account the economic levels of all trading partners. It's going to send a message to the global community that we stand by free trade and are determined to push it forward with concrete action".

The draft of a communique to be issued by RCEP nations later in the week, which was reviewed by Reuters, said the group would instruct "ministers and negotiators to work toward the full conclusion of the RCEP negotiations in 2019".

At the meetings, ASEAN and China will try to make headway in negotiations for a code of conduct for the South China Sea, which Beijing claims nearly in its entirety while ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts of the area.

Some ASEAN members and China have overlapping claims to islands in the sea, one of the world's busiest waterways.

The premier also said that a code of conduct between China and other claimant countries - which China hoped would be successfully negotiated in the next three years - would be conducive to maintaining and sustaining peace in the region. Vietnam calls the waters the East Sea.

Alongside other deliverables achieved over the year, these accords signify ASEAN's "commitment to free and open trade", and realising the AEC Blueprint 2025 vision, wrote the press release from Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry.

Other reports by GizPress

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