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ASEAN+3 leaders urge efforts for regional free trade bloc

Tuesday December 13, 2005

Asia Pulse

ASEAN Plus Three Leaders Urge Efforts For Regional Free Trade Bloc

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 13 Asia Pulse - South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and leaders of the 10 ASEAN countries, Japan and China held a one-day "ASEAN Plus Three Summit" in this Malaysian capital on Monday and adopted a joint statement calling for redoubled efforts for the formation of the so-called East Asia free trade agreement.

At the annual summit, the 13 leaders discussed wide-ranging issues, including a proposed regional free trade bloc, the growing economic might of China and India, measures to cope with bird flu and terrorism and the Myanmar junta’s refusal to revive democracy.

"We reiterate our common resolve to realize an East Asian community as a long-term goal that would contribute to the maintenance of regional and global peace, security, prosperity and progress," said the statement, titled the Kuala Lumpur Declaration.

The statement also recognized the importance of ASEAN integration and community building in the region and the continued support for ASEAN’s efforts by the Plus Three countries.

"We will conduct regular exchange of intellectuals, members of think tanks, religious personalities and scholars, which will benefit East Asia and the world through deeper knowledge and understanding so as to fight intolerance and improve understanding among cultures and civilizations," it said.

"We will continue to support ASEAN integration, particularly in narrowing the development gap in order to realize the ASEAN Community and at the same time contributing to the building of the East Asian Community as the long-term goal."

During the summit meeting, Roh also proposed IT exchange projects with its Asian neighbors and sought their support for Seoul’s efforts to peacefully settle the three-year international dispute over North Korea’s nuclear threat.

The statement came two days before the 13 leaders are scheduled to meet their counterparts from India, Australia and New Zealand for the first East Asia Summit.

In this regard, the ASEAN Plus Three leaders welcomed the convening of the East Asia Summit on Wednesday as an open and inclusive forum, expecting it to be a "top down" forum for leaders to exchange views.

The Asian leaders also agreed to hold the East Asia Summit every year to mainly discuss ways of realizing an economic community representing about half the world’s population, according to South Korea’s foreign minister.

In a press briefing, Minister Ban Ki-moon said the East Asia Summit would be held annually, while Russia will attend as an observer.

"There has been a lot of talk about how often the East Asia Summit should be held during the meeting, and they agreed to hold it every year in connection with the ASEAN Plus Three forum," Ban told reporters.

The Asian leaders also shared the view that the venue of the East Asia Summit should be in one of the ASEAN countries because it is desirable that the block should lead the way of managing the summit.

On Tuesday, Roh and ASEAN leaders will hold their ninth annual summit meeting here. During the South Korea-ASEAN summit, Roh and ASEAN leaders will sign a bilateral free trade agreement and put forth a proposal for closer cooperation in the IT sector.

South Korea’s trade with 10 ASEAN member states reached US$46.4 billion last year, the fifth-largest amount after China, the United States, Japan and the European Union.

Earlier in the day, Roh met Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and agreed that participants in the six-party talks — the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan — should resolve the nuclear issue in a flexible and sincere manner, Roh’s aides said.

The two also agreed to facilitate bilateral economic relations and promote exchanges between high-level officials in diverse sectors, they said. China, North Korea’s last major ally and a significant aid provider, hosted five rounds of six-nation talks to persuade Pyongyang to give up its weapons program.

During the meeting, Roh supported Beijing’s decision to put off a three-way summit between the leaders of South Korea, China and Japan in protest of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s repeated visits to a controversial Tokyo shrine. The three-nation talks have been held on the sidelines of the ASEAN Plus Three forum.

"China values very highly a three-way cooperation between China, South Korea and Japan. But the Japanese leader visited the Yasukuni Shrine five times, thus offending the Chinese and South Korean people and creating many obstacles in China-Japan and Korea-Japan relations," Premier Wen was quoted as telling Roh by Chung Woo-sung, Roh’s foreign policy adviser.

In recent years, Japan’s ties with neighboring Asian nations plunged to their lowest point in decades, as it made several moves that were widely regarded as attempts to whitewash its wartime wrongdoing.

In August, Koizumi visited the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 2.5 million war dead, including convicted World War II criminals, despite the strong opposition of South Korea and China. It was Koizumi’s fifth pilgrimage to the shrine since he took office in 2001.

Roh is scheduled to leave for the Philippines on Wednesday for a three-day state visit before returning home Friday.


 source: Asia Pulse