South China Sea: Asean, Beijing continue to work towards code of conduct

South China Sea: Asean, Beijing continue to work towards code of conduct

He did not acknowledge the delay but noted that the RCP talks had "entered the most critical stage of the negotiations, with a greater focus on market access for goods, investments, and services".

The RCEP agreement includes 16 countries, including ASEAN nations, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, but not the United States.

In his statement after the Asean-Australia informal breakfast summit at Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre, Mr Lee added that tremendous progress has been made this year to advance negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership as well.

US Vice President Mike Pence will attend the Singapore meetings instead of President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly panned existing multilateral trade pacts as unfair and has railed against China over intellectual property theft, entry barriers to American businesses and a yawning US trade gap.

"It is now that we must continue to expand our intra-regional trade and deepen the economic integration within ASEAN", he added.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, Myanmar Leader Aung San Suu Kyi, President Rodrigo Duterte of The Philippines, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc of Vietnam, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha of Thailand, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei, Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia, President Joko Widodo of Indonesia and Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith of Laos.

"It's going to send a message to the global community that we stand by free trade. with rising protectionism and strains on free trade, we need to advance the RCEP negotiations", Li said, in comments delivered at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

"We will not stand down." he said.

In hand with the trade agreements were also initiatives to strengthen cooperation in various other areas, such as education, where both sides agreed to start discussions for a bilateral agreement to facilitate internships between university students from both countries.

India's concerns over opening its markets to competition, in particular from Chinese firms, has been a key sticking point in the several years of negotiations.

"The future lies in RCEP", Indian trade minister Suresh Prabhu told reporters earlier in the week.

At the meetings, ASEAN and China will try to make headway in negotiations for a code of conduct for the South China Sea, which Beijing claims nearly in its entirety while ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts of the area.

"But we are very happy with that and is heading in the right direction, hopefully ready for conclusion next year".

He has renegotiated an existing pact with South Korea and the three-way deal with Mexico and Canada, and pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, which involved four Southeast Asian states.

The ASEAN summit, which formally opens Tuesday afternoon, will cover trade, maritime disputes and the Rohingya crisis.

The Malaysian prime minister said: "I think we all want to settle this problem".

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