Singapore Calls for Closer SE Asia, Says Multilateralism Under Threat

Roman Schwartz
November 13, 2018

"We must not just accept trade and investment measures that may be unfair to Asean nations, and Asean economic integration", he said at the Asean Business and Investment Summit 2018, held in conjunction with the group's 33rd summit here, today.

Not only is the United States absent from the deal, but Trump is skipping the summit in Singapore.

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad says Malaysia will be happy to be involved in a trade pact that provides benefits to developing countries.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told a business forum Monday that no country can handle trends toward more protectionism, uncertainty and other destabilizing factors alone.

President Moon Jae-in left for Singapore Tuesday for annual summits with Southeast Asian nations and their dialogue partners as he strives to bolster relations with the region and drum up global support for his initiative for peace with North Korea.

Returning to the theme as the leaders sat down to dinner, he said: "Countries are becoming insular, retreating from multilateralism and globalisation, which has been the cornerstone of ASEAN peace and stability".

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

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"Free trade has, in some aspects, prevented war effectively", he said in a speech on Tuesday.

Li is expected to rally support for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) pact now being negotiated, showcased to be the free trade deal that will encompass more than a third of the world's GDP. The TPP is still alive even without Washington, but RCEP is now the world's biggest trade deal.

China and ASEAN agreed in August on a working text to continue long drawn-out negotiations over the code of conduct.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, including parts of the West Philippine Sea, but the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague invalidated in July 2016 Beijing's sweeping claims in the disputed sea weeping claim and recognized the Philippines' sovereignty over the area.

A draft leaders' statement on the RCEP seen by AFP said talks will be concluded next year, noting the urgency of reaching an agreement "given the current headwinds faced by the global economy". Vietnam calls the waters the East Sea. Mr. Pence is traveling to Japan, Singapore, Australia, and Papua New Guinea for meetings, including the U.S-ASEAN summit and the East Asia Summit in Singapore and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in Papua New Guinea.

Both US and China committed to supporting peace and stability in the South China Sea, the peaceful resolution of disputes, and freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the sea in accordance with worldwide law during the dialogue, it added.The US takes no sides in the territorial disputes in the South China Sea but has expressed interest in the peaceful settlement of the rival claims.

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