Minister: It's been a very hectic few days. Several issues have come to the fore. Top of the mind was the situation in North Korea and the fact that the Security Council just passed new resolutions ramping up the sanctions on North Korea, was also germane to our discussions. We agreed to publish a joint statement on behalf of ASEAN, which basically commits all of us to fulfilling all the obligations that the UN Security Council has imposed. This will impose a heavier economic burden on North Korea. No one takes any joy from this. We hope that the administration in North Korea will take the appropriate measures to de-nuclearise the Korean Peninsula and achieve a more lasting peace, which will bring peace and prosperity to all its citizens. This was one issue which was top of the mind.
Another issue, which is not surprising, has been the situation in the South China Sea. But this time there was good news. Overall the tone was positive. The situation is calmer, although some claimant states still continue to have concerns which were expressed and echoed in the Joint Communique. But the point is that we have made progress, and the key index of progress has been the fact that we were able to adopt the Framework for the Code of Conduct (COC). This is an important document because it represents consensus, and more importantly, a commitment on behalf of all the ten ASEAN Member States and China to make progress on this long overdue issue. So at our meeting today we formally adopted the Framework for the COC.
Beyond that, we have also set in motion the preparatory process to begin formal negotiations, most likely before the end of the year. But there are a lot of details that will need to be sorted out. The fact that there was progress on this front gave everybody confidence and it certainly elevated the tone and the mood of the discussions.
So I had a very good discussion, first at the bilateral level with Foreign Minister Wang Yi and subsequently when I co-chaired the ASEAN-China Post Ministerial Conference. So that's all on a positive front. Also related to China, we reviewed the trade figures which have gone up significantly. I think we're on target to achieve by 2020 bilateral trade flow between ASEAN and China of one trillion US dollars. In terms of bilateral investment flow, that's also doing very well. In fact, it is ahead of target. So all this again, gives some meat to the framework. There is much to be gained from having a good and positive relationship. It doesn't mean all the differences have gone away but by focusing on the overall dynamics of the relationship, we can achieve positive progress, confidence and we can move forward.
In the interactions with all the other countries, one key theme that came through, especially in our interactions with the EU, Russia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, was that all of them want to have deeper and broader economic ties with ASEAN. This includes both where it is relevant in achieving free trade agreements, or at least in achieving greater economic liberalisation, increasing air linkages. Of course in Singapore's perspective we believe that a comprehensive air traffic agreement that provides for open skies is ideal but it will take time to achieve that in its entirety. It will also promote further mutual investments in infrastructure and connectivity. For instance, China's Belt and Road initiative actually dovetails quite nicely into the ASEAN Masterplan for Connectivity. So all in all, it's been a very busy time and a very busy meeting. There are major issues but I think we've been able to achieve a significant progress and potential looks good.
CNA: Minister, you mentioned the Singapore-China meeting earlier today, do you think you could elaborate a bit more on that? What were some of the other issues discussed, and what's the sense of the Singapore-China relationship?
Minister: Now, the Singapore-China relationship is in good working order. Over the past few months, we've had a series of meetings. Prime Minister Lee met President Xi Jinping in Hamburg. Recently, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam met Premier Li Keqiang in Dalian. I've lost count of the number of times I've been to Beijing. It's at least two or three times, and I have met Foreign Minister Wang Yi probably five times in the last six months. So, with that pace of intensive engagement, the relationship is in good working order. Like I said, we may have some differences, but we've not allowed the differences to affect the overall tone of the relationship. More important, it has not affected the flow of business, the business deals and the opportunities for the future. So I think we need to get used to this kind of to-ing and fro-ing. When there are differences, and as I told Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the challenges that we've had in the last one or two years are actually part of a maturation process of our relationship. How we handle the differences is more important than the differences themselves. To be able to overcome it, to not let them become an insurmountable hurdle but more importantly, each time we resolve something, it helps build trust. It helps strengthen the relationship. So, it is a good, good working relationship.
Straits Times: Minister, the goodwill and positive development that you've seen during these meetings, do you see it crossing over to when Singapore takes the chairmanship of ASEAN?
Minister: Well, yes clearly.
Straits Times: And also when ASEAN starts talks on the Code of Conduct itself, sir?
Minister: We are still the coordinator for the ASEAN-China relationship until the middle of next year, and of course, next year is the year that we assume the chairmanship of ASEAN. The fact that we made good progress this year actually sets the stage nicely for us to be able to fulfil our agenda for next year. It is going to be a busy time. But like I said, I don't mind busy as long as we are solving problems, we are moving forward, we are building confidence and strengthening the relationship.
LHZB: Sure. But Minister, you also mentioned the COC framework. One criticism or rather, one reservation that people have is that it may not be legally binding. So I don't know, going forward, what are the challenges?
Minister: I think first, it's premature to arrive at those conclusions. We've had the DOC � the Declaration of Conduct � which was signed in 2002. That is 15 years ago and the COC in a sense has been outstanding for such a long time. Getting the framework is only step 0.5. I don't want to trivialise at how difficult the negotiations will be going forward. One key issue obviously will be this question of legal binding. The DOC was not legally binding. When we move into the COC, it's got to have some additional or significant legal effect. The exact form of words, the exact way the lawyers, and especially international lawyers who craft it, I think all these will be the subject of intense negotiation going forward. I don't want to prejudge the issue. But bear in mind that the ultimate objective is peace, stability, confidence-building in the South China Sea and we need to have that, both for the sake of China and for the sake of ASEAN, because so much of our trade and world trade flows through the South China Sea. We need confidence and with that confidence, the trade flows will continue to increase. Investments both ways will also continue to increase and ultimately, it achieves a level of interdependence. We are so intertwined that we will never allow differences to actually inflate themselves into disputes or even incidents on the ground. So, step by step and not trivializing it but let's have some confidence and build the strategic trust to make a significant difference.
Media: Thank you Minister.
Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore