BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Oct. 8 -- Beijing has made it a policy priority to upgrade the China-ASEAN free trade area, which would contribute to development and prosperity in the region, a Bruneian expert said.
In a China-ASEAN expo early September, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang called for an "upgraded version" of the free trade area (FTA) between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), pledging economic and trade cooperation of "greater scope and higher quality."
His proposal is a remarkable blueprint for future China-ASEAN ties, Chiew Chee Phoong, deputy editor-in-chief of the Brunei Times, told Xinhua in a recent interview.
Bilateral trade between China and ASEAN amounted to 400.1 billion U.S. dollars last year, nearly six times that of 10 years ago. In the first half of 2013, bilateral trade surged to 210.56 billion dollars, up 12.2 percent year on year.
Li has suggested China and ASEAN strengthen inter-connectivity, particularly on information exchange and improving the road and railway system.
"In my view, it is extremely important to enhance maritime cooperation between China and ASEAN countries," said Chiew, adding that port trade would effectively speed up the China-ASEAN cooperation.
The expert noted that the Bruneian government hopes to lift business and transportation cooperation with China's southwestern port city of Qinzhou, which would be a gateway for trade between the two countries.
On finance cooperation, Chiew said he is confident that China's yuan, already a strong currency in the region, will sooner or later become a strong currency internationally, and serve as a circulating and swap currency in ASEAN.
"At present, several ASEAN countries are already using the yuan in their trade settlement," said Chiew. "That is an important step forward for an upgraded China-ASEAN FTA."
Meanwhile, enhancing cultural and people-to-people exchanges, as Li has proposed, is a crucial part of upgrading the FTA, said the expert.
Students from ASEAN countries studying in China will see for themselves China's growth and peaceful path of development, said Chiew, noting that these people will greatly help promote the ASEAN-China relations.
For this reason, Li's plan is very far-sighted, said Chiew.
"Education, culture, and people-to-people exchange can last for a long time and truly help the two sides deepen understanding of each other and reconcile their differences," said Chiew.
This would be a truly forward-looking and effective way to upgrade the FTA, he said.