Kunming, China, 26 January 2011

ASEAN and China Foreign Ministers met in Kunming, China, yesterday to explore long-term strategic cooperation between the two sides. Connectivity, the 20th anniversary of ASEAN-China dialogue relations, ASEAN-China Free Trade Area, socio-cultural exchanges, cooperation to address non-traditional security issues and the East Asia Summit cooperation were among the key topics discussed.

The Secretary-General of ASEAN, Dr Surin Pitsuwan, said that emphasis had been put on the need to strengthen people-to-people interactions between the two sides to enhance mutual understanding. The Foreign Ministers, said Dr Surin, also stressed that ASEAN, especially the border regions of ASEAN Member States contiguous to China, needed to engage and cooperate with the border provinces of China.

“The Southwestern provinces of China, Yunnan included, are natural markets and joint investment areas between ASEAN and China private sectors,” added Dr Surin, commenting on the economic potential between ASEAN and China.

“The field is still open, the competition is relatively low, the opportunities and potential are still very much open as compared to the saturated markets of the provinces on the Eastern coastline,” he added.

A year ago, the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area was realised, opening up a combined market of 1.9 billion people, accounting for a combined GDP of close to USD 6 trillion and a total trade value of USD 4.5 trillion.

The ASEAN Foreign Ministers arrived in Kunming, China, after embarking on a historic road trip that set off in Chiang Rai, Thailand, on 23 January. They visited the construction site of the 4th Mekong Bridge linking Chiang Kong (Thailand) and Houey Xay (Lao PDR), crossed the Mekong River by boat to Houey Xay (Lao PDR), then travelled by coach to Luang Nam Tha Province. The Ministers stopped for briefings on Bokeo and Luang Nam Tha provinces as well as developments around Boten border checkpoint on the Lao side. They then passed the Mohan border checkpoint (China) and proceeded to Jinghong, before flying into Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province.

Inspired by this unprecedented trip, ASEAN Foreign Ministers looked forward to more such activities showcasing mainland, maritime and aviation connectivity within ASEAN and between ASEAN and its Dialogue Partners. They agreed to make the same journey next year westward to India. To complete the loop, the Foreign Ministers also agreed to explore the possibility of maritime connectivity trips.