Asean and China yesterday exchanged congratulatory notes on the 25th anniversary of their dialogue partnership, which comes at a testy time for relations between the two sides.
Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, as Asean chair, exchanged notes with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, while Asean secretary-general Le Luong Minh wrote to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
In his letter, Mr Sisoulith noted the deepening of ties since Asean and China established dialogue relations on July 19, 1991, which range from political and security cooperation to economic and social-cultural exchanges. These included the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in South-east Asia in 2003 and the realisation of the Asean-China free trade area in 2010.
Mr Minh, in his note to Mr Wang, reminded the Chinese of "our agreement on the need to ensure effective and full implementation of the declaration on the conduct of parties (DOC) and the early conclusion of a code of conduct (COC) in the South China Sea" as part of the two sides' commitment to peace, stability and prosperity in the region.
The 2002 DOC called for restraint among states with rival claims in the South China Sea, namely China and Asean members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, and for the signing of a binding COC to manage the disputes.
Tension has risen in recent years over China's growing assertiveness and in recent weeks over the arbitral tribunal ruling on an arbitration brought by Manila against China's claims. China has been accused of trying to divide Asean over the disputes.
Mr Li, for his part, said China- Asean ties have not only brought real benefits to the people, but also established a relationship where small and big states are equal. He said China would continue to support Asean's integration and its centrality in regional cooperation.
Trade figures announced by China yesterday showed that trade had grown from US$7.96 billion in 1991 to US$472.16 billion (S$638.7 billion) last year but fell 7.1 per cent year on year to US$173.57 billion in the January-May period this year.
Goh Sui Noi