China committed to peaceful settlement of sea disputes: Li

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Indonesian President Joko Widodo sharing a light-hearted moment as they hold up the mascots of the 2018 Asian Games during a meeting at Istana Bogor in West Java yesterday. The talks included discussions on regional sec
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Indonesian President Joko Widodo sharing a light-hearted moment as they hold up the mascots of the 2018 Asian Games during a meeting at Istana Bogor in West Java yesterday. The talks included discussions on regional security and China's Belt and Road Initiative projects in Indonesia.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Premier promises to safeguard freedom of navigation, stability in the region together with Asean

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said China is committed to a peaceful settlement of bilateral disputes with Asean nations over the South China Sea, despite differing views.

Mr Li made the remarks yesterday after holding talks with President Joko Widodo at Istana Bogor in West Java, in his first visit to Indonesia as Prime Minister.

"Together, China and Asean will safeguard regional stability. And together, we will safeguard peace, stability and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea," Mr Li said at a joint press conference with President Joko.

Mr Li spoke in Mandarin and his remarks were translated into English and Bahasa Indonesia.

The talks included discussions on regional security and China's Belt and Road Initiative projects in Indonesia.

Mr Li's visit also marked the fifth anniversary of a strategic comprehensive partnership between the two Asian giants.

Mr Joko said at the press conference: "Besides discussing bilateral relations, we also touched on the regional and global issues.

"In the past 50 years, Asean has contributed to peace and stability in the South-east Asian region, and such achievements will be maintained and improved."

REGIONAL PARTNERS

Together, China and Asean will safeguard regional stability. And together, we will safeguard peace, stability and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

CHINESE PREMIER LI KEQIANG, at a joint press conference with Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

The meeting between Mr Li and Mr Joko comes amid growing concerns about China's militarisation of the South China Sea.

American news network CNBC reported last week that China had installed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on three man-made outposts in the South China Sea. The report cited sources with direct knowledge of United States intelligence.

Last year, China was the third-largest foreign investor in Indonesia, with investment amounting to US$3.4 billion (S$4.5 billion).

The leaders agreed yesterday to increase economic cooperation, with Mr Joko stressing that it is vital for Indonesia to increase exports to China.

"The Prime Minister said he is willing to support that," Mr Joko noted, adding that China will step up imports of a range of Indonesian goods, including palm oil, cocoa, swallow's nest (edible bird's nest) and exotic tropical fruits such as mangosteen and dragon fruit.

Mr Li committed to increasing palm oil imports by at least 500,000 tonnes a year. Indonesia, the world's largest palm oil exporter, sold 3.73 million tonnes to China last year. Its other main markets are India and Europe.

Meanwhile, Beijing sees South-east Asia's largest economy as a key partner for its infrastructure companies. Chinese and state-owned local companies are working to build Indonesia's first high-speed rail linking Jakarta and Bandung in West Java.

Indonesia said last week that it needed to find ways to expedite the US$5.9 billion project, where only a fraction of the funding needs have been disbursed by China.

Cost over-runs and obstacles in land acquisition have hampered the development.

Mr Li held a summit with Indonesian entrepreneurs in Jakarta last night, and he leaves for Japan today for talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae In.

The leaders of Japan, China and South Korea will sit down for three-way talks tomorrow for the first time in 2½ years, with North Korea and economic cooperation set to be high on the agenda.

Ties have been fraught in recent years, due in part to territorial disputes and Chinese mistrust of American overreach on its two allies.

The Tokyo summit comes amid warmer diplomatic relations between the three nations, catalysed by an apparent detente on the Korean peninsula and growing concerns over trade protectionism.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 08, 2018, with the headline 'China committed to peaceful settlement of sea disputes: Li'. Print Edition | Subscribe