'Wisdom' will help solve sea disputes: Wen

Phnom Penh/Beijing (China Daily/ANN) - China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have "the wisdom and capability" to handle disputes over territorial claims and maritime rights, said Premier Wen Jiabao during the 15th China-Asean Summit yesterday.

Both parties pledged, in a joint statement issued to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, to exercise self-restraint in any activity that might escalate tension.

The joint statement is a positive sign in building trust and cooperation between China and the 10 Asean members, analysts said.

Despite growing economic ties, overlapping sovereignty claims concerning islands in the South China Sea between China and Asean members, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, have led to a flare-up of tension in the region since 2009.

In the joint statement both parties vowed to continue encouraging the resolution of disputes through peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through consultation and negotiation by the sovereign states directly concerned.

China has been insisting on resolving disputes in the South China Sea with the parties directly involved.

"Handling differences and conflicts in the Asean way, which is to put aside disputes and enhance consensus, is an effective guarantee for promoting cooperation," Wen said, noting that reaching consensus and taking care of each other's concerns is at the core of Asean.

The region has greatly benefited from Asean, Wen said and both China and the organisation have the ability to tackle problems without other parties interfering.

"China and Asean have the wisdom and capability to properly handle all problems, including disputes over territorial claims and maritime rights, without interference from the outside, and maintain the development of East Asian cooperation," Wen said.

The statement said that the parties would continue cooperation to enhance maritime security, including ensuring freedom of commerce, safety of navigation and maritime traffic, in accordance with international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The pledges mentioned in the statement are constructive to fostering trust and enhancing cooperation, said Zhang Xuegang, deputy director of Institute of South and Southeast Asian and Oceanian Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

The declaration of conduct has played an important role in promoting regional stability and cooperation since its signing a decade ago, Zhang told China Daily.

Maritime disputes should not get in the way of growing ties, Zhang said.

The China-Asean free trade area came into force on January 1, 2010.

"China's economy has great potential and will generate more opportunities for Asean countries. The fates of China and Asean are closely tied," Wen said.

At the crucial time of tackling the global economic crisis, both parties should remove all kinds of interferences and stick to joint efforts in the process of East Asia integration, Wen urged.

China is the biggest trade partner of Asean and Asean, in turn, is the third-biggest trade partner of China. A target of US$500 billion in bilateral trade was set for 2015.

At the end of September, investment between China and Asean hit US$94 billion, statistics from the Ministry of Commerce show.

Both parties are currently discussing more cooperation projects in infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing and processing industries, said Liang Wentao, vice-director of the Department of Asian Affairs of the Ministry of Commerce.

"Along with the development of the China-Asean free trade zone, two-way trade will be more convenient, the market will be more open and investment environment will be more transparent," Liang said. "These improvements will promote bilateral economic and trade to development in a faster and sound way."

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