SE Asia Views China As Opportunity, Not Threat

Southeast Asian nations want to create free-trade zone by 2010.

Southeast Asian nations are looking to China to reduce their trade dependency on Western markets, Philippines President Gloria Arroyo said Oct. 31 at a gathering of regional leaders in Nanning, China. A day after China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations reaffirmed at a summit their goal to create a free-trade zone by 2010, Arroyo emphasized the benefits for Southeast Asia of their fast-expanding relationship.

"The ASEAN region represents a market of over half a billion people for Chinese exports. It is a supplier of much-needed resources," said Arroyo. "In turn we -- the ASEAN countries -- can reduce our dependence for our exports on Western markets, such as the U.S. and Europe."

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi dismissed perceptions the economic giant was a threat after overseeing the signing of a natural gas contract between the two nations worth $25 billion. Under the deal, Malaysian state energy firm Petronas will supply some three million tons of natural gas annually to Shanghai over the next 25 years. "What we always believe (is) that China has not been a threat... We have always regarded China as an opportunity," Abdullah said.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Oct. 31 highlighted the benefits of China's growing economic strength for Southeast Asia as he reaffirmed his nation's goal of increasing trade with the region by more than 50% over the next four years. "We should firmly grasp the opportunity and work together to realize the objective of raising China-ASEAN trade to more than $200 billion by 2010." The target, floated previously at regional gatherings, compares with trade of $130.37 last year and $39.5 billion in 2000.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006

TAGS: Trade
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