China, Asean agree on talks to upgrade free trade area

China, Asean agree on talks to upgrade free trade area
(From left) Philippine President Benigno Aquino, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Laos Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Myanmar President Thein Sein, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak at a cake-cutting ceremony to mark the 10th anniversary of the Asean-China partnership on Wednesday.

China and ASEAN have agreed to hold fresh talks to upgrade their free trade area, as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang urged regional leaders not to let long-running territorial disputes in the South China Sea sour their ever-closer economic ties.

The remarks by Mr Li, who is attending his first summit with South-east Asian leaders, came on a day when ASEAN's annual leadership powwow with the United States was reduced to a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry instead of President Barack Obama, who pulled out to deal with a budget crisis at home.

Mr Li, who marked the 10th anniversary of the strategic ASEAN- China partnership by cutting a cake with the other leaders, also mooted greater security and financial and maritime cooperation between the two sides.

"A peaceful South China Sea is a blessing for all, while a turbulent one benefits no one," he said at a convention centre 10km away from the South China Sea coast.

"We need to work together to make it a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation."

Mr Li's speech on Wednesday came two days after Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed the Asian giant would be a force for peace and stability in the region in a speech at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) CEO Summit in Bali.

Both Mr Xi and Mr Li are on a charm offensive across five ASEAN countries these two weeks, with Mr Li moving on to state visits in Brunei, Thailand and Vietnam.

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