BEIJING • Singapore and China will try to expedite the negotiations for a large regional free trade agreement, to put out a strong statement in favour of free trade and economic integration, Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday.
Known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, the free trade agreement will include Asean, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India.
This represents about 45 per cent of the world's population and 30 per cent of the world's economy.
"This will be a very significant development. Especially at this point of the global development when questions are being asked about the relevance of free trade," said Dr Balakrishnan.
He noted that the calm situation in the South China Sea has allowed Asean to focus on the larger strategic long-term plans, such as expanding trade, investment and tourism between China and the region.
Agreeing, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi noted that the situation in the South China Sea has stabilised. He also hailed the completion of the draft framework for a Code of Conduct (COC) in the disputed waterway ahead of the mid-2017 schedule as an "important achievement".
"China and Asean member-states have the ability to work together and to form this important set of regional rules on our own, and we will commit ourselves to the peace and stability of the South China Sea," he said yesterday.
Asked about a target timeline for the completion of the COC, Mr Wang said: "As long as the two sides demonstrate mutual trust, deepen cooperation and keep away interference from within and more likely from beyond this region, after some necessary preparations, we will be able to begin the substantive consultations on the text of the COC until we eventually agree on this important set of regional rules. We have every confidence in that."
Chong Koh Ping