South China Sea: Asean, Beijing continue to work towards code of conduct

South China Sea: Asean, Beijing continue to work towards code of conduct

The United States has recently sent destroyers throught the South China Sea on what it calls "freedom of navigation" operations - manouevres that have riled Beijing and almost led to ship collisions.

Participants say India, for one, is balking at opening its markets wider to imports from China under the accord, dubbed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

"With the rise of protectionism and strains on free trade, we need to advance the RCEP negotiations and an agreement that is anchored on World Trade Organisation rules", Li said.

Trump is not at the Singapore summit, nor will he attend a subsequent gathering of world leaders in Papua New Guinea at the end of the week, having sent Vice President Mike Pence instead.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday made light of his penchant for daytime dozes after his office said "power naps" had caused the gruff leader to miss a number of key meetings at a Singapore summit.

Trade diplomats said negotiations will run deep into 2019.

- The annual gathering of Southeast Asian leaders began Tuesday with a warning from the host, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, about threats against worldwide rules that underpin world stability and economic growth.

The RCEP is of great importance to preserving free trade and economic globalization, in which the World Trade Organization plays a central role, Li said.

On Fintech, Mahathir said it is beginning to gain a stronghold in the region with investments rising 33% from 2015 to US$252 million in 2016, as reported by Ernst & Young.

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"The future lies in RCEP", Indian trade minister Suresh Prabhu told reporters, but urged a patient approach to talks to ensure "every country will benefit from it".

Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi is also in Singapore and is likely to face intense scrutiny over her country's treatment of the Rohingya, particularly from Muslim-majority nations at the summit.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang - for a second day - struck a conciliatory note on the trade spat, saying he was hopeful that the two sides would find a way to prevent it from escalating further.

RCEP was given extra impetus after Trump pulled the United States out of rival pact the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Speaking that the signing ceremony, Singapore Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said that ASEAN is now the fastest growing market in the world, with 330 million Internet users.

U.S. President Donald Trump's "America First" foreign policy and his resistance to multilateral agreements and institutions are viewed as an affront and a challenge in a region whose modern economies are largely driven by global trade.

Washington objects to Beijing's unilateral military steps in the South China Sea and the pace of US freedom of operations trips to the disputed water areas has increased, US National Security Adviser John Bolton told reporters in Singapore on the sidelines of the ASEAN.

"We have found the way to properly manage and defuse differences, for example, on the issue of the South China Sea in the past years", Li said.

The ASEAN summit, which formally opens Tuesday afternoon, will cover trade, maritime disputes and the Rohingya crisis.

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