SINGAPORE is hoping that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) will maintain a good relationship with China, despite a bitter dispute over the South China Sea.
Singaporean Ambassador to Manila Kok Li Peng said the 10-member regional bloc should treasure the benefits of having solid ties with the Asian giant.
Asean and China have built a robust partnership over the years that can be best demonstrated by bilateral trade, which has ballooned to $480 billion in 2014 from $7.96 billion in 1991, Kok noted.
Without a doubt, Beijing is a valued partner of all Asean members, said the envoy of Singapore, this year’s coordinator of Asean-China relations.
“[Asean’s] most marked and fastest increase of bilateral trade is with China. So China is now Asean’s largest trading partner and Asean, in turn, is China’s third largest trading partner [after the US and the EU],” she told The Manila Times in a roundtable discussion Thursday.
“So clearly, when China prospers so does Asean. And it is our interest to continue expanding this cooperation between Asean and China,” Kok said.
Four Asean members – the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei – contest China’s “nine-dash line” that claims roughly 90 percent of the South China Sea.
The Philippines, through an arbitration case it filed before a United Nations-backed tribunal at The Hague, managed to secure a ruling on July 12 that invalidated Beijing’s historical claims to the resource-rich area.
China has rejected the ruling and continues to project strength by militarizing the waters, pursuing construction on some islets and blocking fishermen.
The Singaporean envoy said economic growth in the region could only be maintained with restraint and calm.
“If tensions begin to rise, then investors start to worry, which is not a good thing for our region,” she said.
The ambassador said she hoped the bloc will remain “united and effective” for the region’s peace and stability, as well as other interests.
“We see ourselves as a really neutral platform where the 10 [members]cooperate. This is what Asean is and, in this context, we would continue to manage the South China Sea issue,” she said.
A top Chinese analyst on Friday urged stakeholders to separate politics from economics to promote development in the region.
“Politics is politics,” said Zhang Yuyan, director general of the Institute of World Economics and Politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in a forum at the Asian Institute of Management in Makati City.
He advised South China Sea claimants to “try our best to avoid negative impact from the political side of the matter.”
Zhang is raising awareness on China’s Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road initiatives, which, he said, aims to bring together China, Central Asia, Russia and Europe.
The initiative seeks to promote policy coordination, connectivity of facilities, financial integration, people-to-people bonds and an unimpeded trade, he said.
Thirty countries have signed on to the Beijing initiative and more than 20 states have worked with China in production capacity cooperation such as railway construction and nuclear power, he said.
China however is not trying to form a new economic order to replace the existing one, he pointed out.
“The export production and construction capacity is not only in the interest of China,” Zhang stressed.