Asean, China will benefit from closer economic links: DPM Heng Swee Keat

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat speaking via video-link at the opening ceremony of the annual China-Asean Expo on Sept 10. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

BEIJING - Trade between Asean and China grew last year in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic, and both sides would benefit from building closer economic links, Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Friday (Sept 10).

Trade volume between the regional bloc and China grew 6.7 per cent last year despite the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, and is worth US$684.6 billion (S$920.6 billion), according to figures from China's Commerce Ministry.

"Looking ahead, Asean and China will benefit further from closer economic integration, especially with a fast-growing digital economy and an expanding middle class," said Mr Heng.

He was speaking via a video recording at Friday's opening ceremony of the annual China-Asean Expo in China's Guangxi region.

Pointing to the China-Singapore (Chongqing) Connectivity Initiative-New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor, he said there was a 30 per cent year-on-year increase in trade volume on that trade route last year.

The initiative, which began as a joint government project between Singapore and China, has the potential to benefit the wider region as an alternative trade route, said Mr Heng.

"By providing a more direct link between western China and South-east Asia, the corridor reduces the time and cost for the movement of goods and the provision of services between these fast-growing regions and beyond," he said.

Mr Heng also said Asean and China should work together to strengthen the rules-based multilateral framework for trade and investments, including upgrading the existing free trade agreement that Asean has with China, and rebuilding air links.

Other Asean leaders also spoke via video recording at the opening ceremony of the trade fair on Friday.

In a congratulatory letter, Chinese President Xi Jinping said Beijing was willing to deepen its cooperation with Asean in areas including fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, the economy and trade, and work with it to maintain "prosperity and development in the region".

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