10/30/2006, 00.00
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Beijing and ASEAN countries to have free trade zone by 2010

The project for a common market was reaffirmed on the anniversary of links between China and Southeast Asian countries, which over 15 years have transformed from strong economic and political competition to ties of privileged partnership.

Nanning (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Chinese and Southeast Asian countries have decided to create a free trade zone by 2010. A draft document prepared for a meeting between Beijing and ASEAN countries (30,31 October) in Nanning (Jiangxi) clearly reaffirms "determination" to set up such a zone by "2010, as planned". The future free trade zone will be enormous with a population of more than two billion people and a Gross Domestic Product of more than two trillion US dollars.

According to the draft, ASEAN's six most developed countries (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand) will participate in the free trade zone by 2010 and the rest – Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam – will be in by 2015.

The meeting under way these days is also marking the fifteenth anniversary of ties between China and ASEAN. Ties started with a non-aggression pact and dialogue about Spratly Island in the southern Chinese Sea, which is claimed by Beijing, Taiwan and four ASEAN countries (Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia). But now, economic and anti-terrorism security ties are expanding more and more.

Even suspicion of China ("the dragon"), once considered as a terrible competitor of "little dragons", has subsided, although it has not disappeared completely. China, in fact, continues to be the country absorbing most foreign investments in the area, although it has become ASEAN's fourth-largest trading partner after the US, Japan and the European Union.

From 1999 onwards, Beijing managed to gain acceptance as a strategic partner of the area, thanks to targeted policies of economic trade and aid.

In 2005, one-fifth of Filipino exports went to China (in 1987, exports amounted to just 1.54%); in the same period, Singapore saw an increase from 2.57 to 9.52%; Malaysia from 1.56 to 11.32%' Indonesia from 2 to 8.2% and Thailand from 3.35 to 8.28%.

Meanwhile, ASEAN countries have started buying products from China. In 2005, trade exchange between China and ASEAN was worth 130 billion US dollars. China has promised the trade volume will reach 200 billion US dollars by 2010.

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