SEEKING to expand its influence in Asia beyond economic ties, China has proposed setting up a regional security cooperation framework to tackle non-traditional security challenges.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang made the call yesterday in his keynote speech at the Boao Forum for Asia, urging Asian countries to "jointly fulfil their due responsibilities to achieve peace and stability" essential to regional prosperity and development.
"We should promote security dialogue and consultation, strengthen cooperation on non-traditional security issues, including disaster management, maritime search and rescue, counter-terrorism and combating transnational crimes," said Mr Li.
For China's part, he said, it will stay committed to peaceful means to resolve territorial disputes with other Asian states.
But he added that China will also respond firmly to "provocative" moves that destabilise the South China Sea, in a veiled reference to the Philippines' recent submission to a United Nations tribunal of its case against China's territorial claims in the resource-rich waters.
Singapore-based analyst Li Mingjiang said Premier Li's call for a regional security framework marks a clear shift in China's position, after years of overtures for closer military cooperation with Asian states gained little traction.
"It has realised it is powerless to bring that about, as many are militarily and strategically close to the United States and still see China as a threat," the analyst said. "It is turning to non-traditional security in hope of a breakthrough in closer cooperation, and as an area where Chinese leadership could be effective."
Premier Li also declared China's interest in starting a feasibility study on an Asia-Pacific free trade zone amid ongoing talks for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a proposed trade pact between China, 10-member Asean and five other major Asian countries.
As for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a US-led trade pact in the Asia-Pacific that excludes China, Mr Li said China is happy to see its conclusion "as long as the TPP is conducive to the development of global trade and the fostering of an equitable and open trading environment".
To an audience of political and business leaders from Asia and beyond, including Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Singapore's Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, he spoke on China's economy and his reforms.
Dismissing worries over a slowdown for the world's No.2 economy, Mr Li said China "can handle all possible risks and challenges", thanks to its reserves, steady job creation and experience in macro-economic regulation.
He said the government will not be "resorting to short-term stimulus policies just because of temporary economic fluctuations".
Mr Goh attended a lunch hosted by Mr Li before leaving for Jinan city in Shandong province yesterday.
Today, he will meet the province's top officials and receive an update on the Sino-Singapore Jinan Smart City Project.