Warnings of a ‘Domino Effect’ of Protectionism as Asian Leaders Meet

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Asean is working closely with its partners to support the open, rules-based worldwide order and multilateral system, and has recently concluded recommendations for a general review of the Asean-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday (Nov 14).

Duterte made this remark during the 21st ASEAN-China Summit in Singapore.

He told a meeting of leaders of the countries involved in the RCEP that the accord will send a strong signal about free trade while further delays would mean missed opportunities.

Bilateral meetings with leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison have already been confirmed.

For a number of countries, this would be the first time working on a free trade agreement with each other, he added.

The 10 members of ASEAN agreed to start negotiations on a code of conduct in the South China Sea in 2002, but little progress has been made amid rising tensions in the area, which is a crucial trade route for worldwide shipping and thought to be rich in natural resources.

In a speech in Singapore on Tuesday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said that he hoped that the RCEP talks would be completed next year. Participants say India, for one, is balking at opening its markets wider to imports from China under the accord.

Intergovernmental cooperation projects between China and Singapore, such as the Suzhou Industrial Park and the Tianjin Eco-City, have yielded fruitful results.

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"We have deepened mutual trust and understanding, and managed our differences peacefully", he said.

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.

Lee's comments Wednesday confirmed earlier expectations that the 16 countries in the plan, called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, would not meet their goal of finalizing the accord within this year.

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.

Modi will reach Singapore on Wednesday morning for his 36-hour visit to the city-state and his first engagement after arrival will be to deliver the keynote address at the Singapore Fintech Summit.

Pence is expected to keep pressure on Beijing over its growing aggression in the South China Sea while seeking support for Washington's approach to the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

Together with the Belt and Road Initiative to build investment and trade links with countries along the old Silk Road to Europe, the pact is a key element in China's efforts to seize the geopolitical advantage following what many in the region see as a United States retreat.

Singapore wishes to actively promote ASEAN-China relations and push for progress on the COC negotiations, Lee said.

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