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China, ASEAN likely to upgrade ‘travel fast lane’ amid closer ties

2021/11/24 10:43:50   source:Global Times

As China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) upgraded their ties to comprehensive strategic partnership, the two sides are expected to see broader areas for deeper cooperation, with an upgraded version of "travel fast lane" with certain ASEAN members to be discussed as well, industry observers said on Tuesday.

Financial cooperation may also be one of the first areas that yield deeper cooperation results between China and ASEAN, against the backdrop of the region's goals of achieving carbon emissions reduction goals and stabilizing financial supply chain stability, Chinese and Singapore officials said at the summit on Tuesday.

The comments were made at the ongoing China-Singapore (Chongqing) Connectivity Initiative Financial Summit 2021 in Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, which kicked off on Tuesday and will conclude on Wednesday. This year marks the third time the summit is being held, and it's also the 30th anniversary of ASEAN-China dialogue relations.

At the opening speech on Tuesday, Vice Minister of Commerce Ren Hongbin highlighted huge opportunities for expanding bilateral economic and trade ties in a video, in particular in improving the financial connectivity of the two sides, after China called for working toward a new round of upgrade of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area on Monday.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a landmark achievement of regional cooperation among 15 Asia-Pacific nations, will also take effect next year.

"China and Singapore should use the implementation of the RCEP to promote cooperation in financial settlement and cross-border investment and financing," Ren said, while calling for deepening integration in financial basic infrastructure and green finance.

Fang Xinghai, vice chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, said at the summit that China is willing to strengthen communication and cooperation with ASEAN, including Singapore, on sustainable finance and jointly promote the establishment of international standards. Fang added that the Chinese securities regulator is researching and considering measures related to the capital market to support China's carbon goals.

Ravi Menon, managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), also said at the summit via video that Singapore could play an active role in bridging the financial gap of China and ASEAN amid green transition. He noted that MAS will explore more innovative policies to facilitate qualified Chinese enterprises issue green bonds overseas.

Speaking at the Special Summit to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of China-ASEAN Dialogue Relations on Monday, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also expressed hope for China and ASEAN to work together on "progressively reopening borders to one another," as ASEAN members make progress on COVID-19 vaccination, the Strait Times reported.

Gu Xiaosong, an expert on Southeast Asian studies at the Guangxi Academy of Social Sciences, predicted that two sides may upgrade a "fast lane," which was already in motion between China and certain ASEAN members for about a year, in 2022, as part of a joint effort to create more convenience for increasing bilateral business and people-to-people exchange for key projects

"As economic ties inch closer, people-to-people exchanges may also move more convenient," Gu told the Global Times on Tuesday. He predicted that quarantine requirement may be relaxed to certain extent for employees working at key and flagship cooperation projects between China and the ASEAN bloc, as long as those workers have been properly vaccinated and the specific ASEAN member has effectively contained pandemic.

"An upgraded business fast lane could also pave way for phased travel opening, though it is still too early to talk about a complete opening-up," Gu said.

To date, China has set up fast "travel lanes" with several ASEAN members including Singapore, Laos, and Myanmar, according to media reports. Singapore is the first country to establish fast lane with China. 

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