Li Qiang draws ASEAN’s attention to growing trade amid controversy over the map

Jakarta. Chinese Premier Li Qiang on Wednesday tried to draw the attention of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to the growing bilateral trade without saying a word about Beijing’s controversial new map.

China has been in the spotlight for its new national standard map claiming the important waterway in the South China Sea. The South China Morning Post wrote that the demarcation overlapped the exclusive economic zones of many Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines. According to media reports, the new map has already sparked protests from the mentioned ASEAN countries.

Li just met Southeast Asian leaders at the 26th ASEAN-China Summit in Jakarta. Neither Li nor President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo mentioned the controversial map of China, at least during the opening session, which was open to media coverage. The rest of the meeting was held behind closed doors.

Amid growing tension over the new map, Li brought up the strong ties between his country and the regional bloc on the economic front.

“China and ASEAN view each other’s development as important opportunities. We have kept markets open for each other. Last year, our two-way trade reached more than $970 billion, more than double the volume a decade ago. We have been the largest trading partners each other for three consecutive years.

Read more: The US, Japan and Australia plan joint naval exercises in the disputed South China Sea

And in 2021, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to buy up to $150 billion worth of agricultural products from ASEAN over the next five years. Agricultural commodities play a central role in trade between ASEAN and China. Government data shows that intra-trade of agricultural products will reach $61 billion in 2022.

“So far, more than $55 billion worth of these products have been imported, faster than expected,” Li said.

He ended his remarks by saying that both ASEAN and China are relentlessly pursuing peace.

“No matter what storm may come, cooperation between China and ASEAN will be as steady as ever and forge ahead against all odds,” Li Qiang said.

Jokowi said China is one of the four dialogue partners of ASEAN who have a comprehensive strategic partnership with the Southeast Asian bloc. It has been two decades since China joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Non-Aggression Treaty, or Treaty of Amity and Cooperation.

“We need to translate all of this into tangible, mutually beneficial partnerships, and this will only be possible through mutual trust. Mutual trust is something everyone must build and maintain,” Jokowi said.

Xi Jinping’s absence from the 43rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit was expected. According to senior diplomat Siddharto Suryodepuru over the weekend, China always sends its prime minister to attend ASEAN summit conferences.

Read more: The Philippines will chair the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2026 instead of Myanmar

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