Re­gional In­te­gra­tion:

Era of Asia

NewsChina - - CONTENTS - By Jiang Tao and Xu Fangqing

Af­ter China's new cabi­net took of­fice in March 2018, Chi­nese Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang made his first over­seas trips to two re­gional coun­tries – In­done­sia and Ja­pan – with the aim of boost­ing re­gional co­op­er­a­tion in Asia amid ris­ing in­ter­na­tional pro­tec­tion­ism.

Li vis­ited In­done­sia from May 6 to May 8 for the fifth an­niver­sary of the estab­lish­ment of the China-in­done­sia Com­pre­hen­sive Strate­gic Part­ner­ship and the 15th an­niver­sary of the strate­gic part­ner­ship be­tween China and the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions (ASEAN). Fol­low­ing this, Li trav­eled to Tokyo to at­tend the sev­enth China-ja­pan-south Korea lead­ers' sum­mit. It was the first visit to Ja­pan by a Chi­nese pre­mier in eight years.

Im­por­tant Neigh­bors

This year marks the 40th an­niver­sary of the sign­ing of the China-ja­pan Treaty of Peace and Friend­ship. On May 8, Li ar­rived in Ja­pan where he met Ja­panese Em­peror Ak­i­hito and Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe.

“China and Ja­pan are mu­tu­ally im­por­tant neigh­bors. There are dozens of di­rect flights from Bei­jing to Tokyo each day with a flight time of only three hours. It took such a long time, how­ever, to get bi­lat­eral friendly re­la­tions back on track,” Li wrote in the Ja­panese me­dia be­fore his visit.

China-ja­pan ties have been strained in re­cent years. Since the two coun­tries re­sumed nor­mal diplo­matic ties in 1972, ob­servers have

di­vided the China-ja­pan re­la­tion­ship into two phases: a pe­riod of rapid de­vel­op­ment from 1972 to 1992, and one of strate­gic fric­tion af­ter 1992.

China over­took Ja­pan as the world's sec­ond-largest econ­omy in 2010. China's grow­ing in­flu­ence has seen it switch its bal­ance of power with Ja­pan. “Struc­tural prob­lems in the two coun­tries are emerg­ing on a num­ber of is­sues, in­clud­ing the Tai­wan is­sue and dis­putes over his­tory and ter­ri­tory, lead­ing to fric­tion,” said Ruan Zongze, deputy di­rec­tor of the China In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies.

Ruan said that as the sec­ond- and-third largest economies in the world, di­rect di­a­logue be­tween China and Ja­pan will build a friendly and ben­e­fi­cial re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two coun­tries at a time when the North­east Asian sit­u­a­tion is in flux, and uni­lat­er­al­ism and pro­tec­tion­ism are jeop­ar­diz­ing the world trade sys­tem and eco­nomic growth.

At a cer­e­mony to mark the 40th an­niver­sary of the sign­ing of the China-ja­pan Treaty of Peace and Friend­ship, Pre­mier Li said friend­ship and co­op­er­a­tion be­tween China and Ja­pan are ben­e­fi­cial to both, to the re­gion, and to the world. The two coun­tries forged agree­ments on in­no­va­tion, high-tech in­dus­tries, di­a­logue mech­a­nisms, IP pro­tec­tion, health­care and fi­nance.

Pre­mier Li said China and Ja­pan would sign an agree­ment for cur­rency swaps to fa­cil­i­tate in­vest­ment and said China has granted Ja­pan a quota of 200 bil­lion yuan (US$31B) to be used in the RMB Qual­i­fied For­eign In­sti­tu­tional In­vestors mech­a­nism by Ja­panese in­vestors. Li en­cour­aged Ja­panese fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions to in­vest in the Chi­nese cap­i­tal mar­ket and was pos­i­tive about estab­lish­ing a bank in Tokyo for yuan clear­ing.

Song Yaom­ing, an eco­nomic and com­mer­cial coun­selor at the Chi­nese Em­bassy in Ja­pan, said that with the im­prove­ment of Chi­naJa­pan ties, bi­lat­eral eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion will en­ter an up­ward tra­jec­tory and usher in a new era of bi­lat­eral eco­nomic and trade ties.

Stronger Part­ner­ship

This year marks the fifth an­niver­sary of the estab­lish­ment of the China-in­done­sia Com­pre­hen­sive Strate­gic Part­ner­ship, and the 15th an­niver­sary of the CHINA-ASEAN Strate­gic Part­ner­ship. On May 6, Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang an­nounced that China would ex­pand its pur­chase of palm oil from In­done­sia by 500,000 tons in 2018 af­ter a dis­cus­sion with In­done­sian Pres­i­dent Joko Wi­dodo. He added in a key­note speech that China will never pur­posely chase a trade sur­plus and is will­ing to im­port more com­pet­i­tive prod­ucts from In­done­sia, in­clud­ing palm oil, gas, rub­ber and food prod­ucts.

Ac­cord­ing to Huang Ri­han, as­sis­tant to the dean of the Col­lege of In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions at Huaqiao Uni­ver­sity in Fu­jian Prov­ince, China's grow­ing im­ports of palm oil from In­done­sia will in­crease em­ploy­ment and im­prove the liveli­hood of mil­lions of ru­ral peo­ple in In­done­sia, which is a sig­nif­i­cant world­wide palm oil pro­ducer.

Dur­ing Li's visit, China and In­done­sia signed seven agree­ments, in­clud­ing en­hanc­ing co­op­er­a­tion on build­ing In­done­sia's com­pre­hen­sive eco­nomic cor­ri­dors, and giv­ing joint sup­port to the high­speed train project that links Jakarta and Ban­dung. The two sides agreed to deepen co­op­er­a­tion on in­ter-con­nec­tiv­ity of in­fra­struc­ture un­der the frame­work of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive and In­done­sia's Global Mar­itime Ful­crum.

Xu Lip­ing, a re­searcher with the Na­tional In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Strat­egy at the Chi­nese Acad­emy of So­cial Sciences, told Newschina that as large de­vel­op­ing na­tions, China and In­done­sia have sim­i­lar

na­tional con­di­tions. Both face the chal­lenges of in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion and moder­nity. They have found con­sen­sus in choos­ing their own de­vel­op­ment strate­gies and there is great po­ten­tial for fur­ther co­op­er­a­tion.

Xu said the Jakarta-ban­dung high-speed rail­way should be com­pleted in three years, and will cut the trip be­tween the two cities from three hours to 40 min­utes. The high-speed rail­way is a piv­otal project of the com­pre­hen­sive co­op­er­a­tion be­tween China and In­done­sia, and China's first over­seas high-speed rail project. It will be an im­por­tant pioneer in the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive in In­done­sia and South­east­ern Asia.

More Tri­lat­eral Meet­ings

On May 9, the sev­enth China-ja­pan-south Korea lead­ers' meet­ing was held in Tokyo – the first of its kind for two and a half years. The three coun­tries agreed to hold tri­lat­eral lead­ers' meet­ings more reg­u­larly, and the next meet­ing will be hosted by China.

The three East Asian na­tions, with a com­bined GDP of more than a fifth of the world's to­tal, reaf­firmed their com­mit­ment to con­struct an open world econ­omy and pro­mote free trade, pledg­ing to en­hance sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment in var­i­ous ar­eas in the re­gion and be­yond by shar­ing their de­vel­op­ment ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ac­cord­ing to the joint dec­la­ra­tion re­leased at the sum­mit, the three sides will deepen eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion to boost free trade and in­vest­ment in East Asia, vow­ing to work to­ward fi­nal­iz­ing a com­pre­hen­sive, high-level and mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial Tri­lat­eral Free Trade Agree­ment (FTA) and speed up ne­go­ti­a­tions on the Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship.

“We reaf­firm an FTA is an im­por­tant way to deepen our eco­nomic and trade co­op­er­a­tion and pro­mote trade and in­vest­ment lib­er­al­iza­tion and fa­cil­i­ta­tion in East Asia, and will serve the com­mon in­ter­ests of the three coun­tries,” said the joint state­ment.

In the opin­ion of Zhou Yong­sheng, a pro­fes­sor at the Ja­pan Re­search Cen­ter at China For­eign Af­fairs Uni­ver­sity, it is good news that the three big­gest economies in East Asia have sat down for talks to pro­mote greater eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion.

Mean­while, China ad­vo­cated the “China-japanSouth Korea+x” co­op­er­a­tion model in pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity, poverty re­duc­tion, dis­as­ter man­age­ment and en­ergy sav­ing, and tap­ping the fourth-party mar­ket in or­der to main­tain sus­tain­able re­gional de­vel­op­ment.

Dong Yan, a re­searcher with the In­sti­tute of World Eco­nom­ics and Pol­i­tics un­der the Chi­nese Acad­emy of So­cial Sciences, said the coun­tries are cru­cial to ne­go­ti­at­ing on a com­pre­hen­sive re­gional eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion frame­work in Asia, and the re­sump­tion of the sum­mit will play a pos­i­tive role in boost­ing free trade zone ne­go­ti­a­tions among the three coun­tries, build­ing new trade and in­vest­ment rules for Asia, and break­ing bar­ri­ers of in­de­pen­dent free trade zones across Asia.

Hu Bil­iang, di­rec­tor of the Belt and Road Re­search In­sti­tute un­der Bei­jing Nor­mal Uni­ver­sity, said im­prov­ing the over­all sit­u­a­tion in North­east and South­east Asia has pro­vided an im­por­tant op­por­tu­nity for eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion in East Asia. The pro­tec­tion­ism of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion in the US and China's Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive “have given ex­ter­nal and in­ter­nal im­pe­tus to re­gional in­te­gra­tion.”

“Al­though chal­lenges loom large, the process of re­gional in­te­gra­tion in East Asia will play a cru­cial role in ush­er­ing in the Asian era, par­tic­u­larly in main­tain­ing sus­tain­able pros­per­ity and de­vel­op­ment, as well as the mul­ti­lat­eral trade sys­tem in the re­gion, ” he said. 

Chi­nese Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang speaks dur­ing a press con­fer­ence for the sev­enth China-ja­pan-south Korea lead­ers’ sum­mit in Ja­pan, May 9, 2018

China and In­done­sia sign a se­ries of co­op­er­a­tive agree­ments in Jakarta, In­done­sia, May 7, 2018

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