'High expectations' of S'pore as dialogue coordinator

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K Shanmugam with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China Wang Yi on August 3, 2015.
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K Shanmugam with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China Wang Yi on August 3, 2015. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS

China has high expectations of Singapore taking Asean-China relations to a new level as dialogue coordinator, given that the Republic is an important member of Asean that also knows China well, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said here yesterday.

Tomorrow, Singapore will take over from Thailand the role of country coordinator for Asean- China dialogue relations for the next three years.

"In my view, Singapore is capable of undertaking these important responsibilities," Mr Wang said in reply to a question from The Straits Times at a press briefing after his meeting with his Singapore counterpart, Mr K. Shanmugam.

This was because the conditions were in place for Singapore to play an effective role as coordinator, given the good ties between China and Singapore and Singapore's own status in Asean.

"We hope and are confident that through Singapore's efforts, the China-Asean relationship will be taken to a new level, which would be a good thing for both China and the 10 Asean member states," Mr Wang said.

TAKING TIES TO NEW LEVEL

We hope and are confident that through Singapore's efforts, the China-Asean relationship will be taken to a new level, which would be a good thing for both China and the 10 Asean member states.

MR WANG YI, China's Foreign Minister

Speaking to Singapore media on the Republic's role as coordinator, Mr Shanmugam said he told Mr Wang "we are looking for a positive agenda, we want to get things done".

Asean and China are looking to upgrade their free trade agreement implemented in 2010.

"We want to make sure that it is of high quality," said Mr Shanmugam. He added Asean would be looking at several proposals for cooperation put forward by China.

With Asean and China marking the 25th anniversary of dialogue relations next year, there would be a slew of commemorative events taking place, he noted.

Mr Shanmugam added that Mr Wang also spoke about the South China Sea disputes and that they had a frank exchange of viewpoints.

"I said it was important that trust is built up between China and Asean on this issue," he said.

He also told Mr Wang that the South China Sea issue should not dominate the agenda for China-Asean ties and that it should be treated in the context that "the China-Asean relationship is much larger" than the issue.

China has overlapping claims with four Asean states in the potentially resource-rich South China Sea, through which US$5.3 trillion (S$7.3 trillion) of trade passes each year. Tensions have risen in recent months, with the Philippines taking China to the United Nations arbitration court over their disputed claims and China reclaiming land on several of the reefs and other features in the waters that it lays claims to.

Mr Shanmugam said that while it would take a long time to resolve the competing claims, "at least we can try and dial down the tensions". One way to do this is to make progress on the Code of Conduct to manage the disputes that China and Asean have been holding talks on.

He noted while the disputes had to be dealt with between the claimant states, Asean as a whole, including the non-claimant states, had an interest in ensuring that the tensions did not boil over.

He said there were non-regional countries which have deep-seated historical links and presence in the region.

"And their viewpoints on some issues, international issues outside of the claims, it is not going to be practical to say that they have no say," he added.

China has accused the United States of interfering in the South China Sea disputes while Washington has urged Beijing to stop its reclamation works in disputed areas.

Mr Wang yesterday said that while the multilateral Asean meetings taking place in Kuala Lumpur from today are not the right platform to discuss bilateral disputes as doing so might heighten confrontation, there are various parties who take a deep interest in the issue and China is open to having necessary and constructive discussion on the South China Sea issue at such multilateral fora.

However, "China does not accept any malicious hyping up of the South China Sea issue which is aimed at stoking confrontation", he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2015, with the headline ''High expectations' of S'pore as dialogue coordinator'. Print Edition | Subscribe