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TRADE WARS
Southeast Asian leaders talk China, trade
by Staff Writers
Bandar Seri Begawan (AFP) April 24, 2013


Europe's top diplomat to visit China, Mongolia
Brussels (AFP) April 24, 2013 - EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton begins a trip to China and Mongolia on Wednesday, aiming to take stock of hugely important ties with the new leadership in Beijing.

"China has just completed its leadership change and this is a moment to renew ties, take stock of events in the world and assess how we can best move forward and work together," Ashton said in a statement.

It said the agenda will focus on international issues including Iran, Syria, North Korea and Afghanistan, and that Ashton will meet Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Defence Minister Chang Wanquan, among others.

The EU and China are major trading partners but ties have been strained at times by disputes over market access.

On the political level, Beijing has consistently backed greater European integration but has resented EU criticism of its human rights record, which it sees as interference in its internal affairs.

Human Rights Watch said Wednesday however that Ashton should press the issue when she is in Beijing and especially the case of imprisoned writer Liu Xiaobo who won the Nobel laureate in 2010.

"Ashton cannot ignore the deteriorating human rights environment in China," the group said in a statement, arguing that EU efforts so far have had little impact.

China has just completed a transition to a new generation of Communist Party and government leaders, with President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Premier Li Keqiang both anxious to keep the economy on track and assert the country's place on the international scene.

Ashton's visit to Mongolia is the first at this level, the statement said, adding she will meet Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj and Prime Minister Noroviin Altankhuyag.

She is to sign a Partnership and Cooperation agreement with Mongolia, "paving the way for closer cooperation on economic, environmental and other issues," it added.

Luxury Swiss watchmaker Corum sold to China Haidian
Geneva (AFP) April 24, 2013 - The Swiss watchmaker Corum said Wednesday it had been acquired by China Haidian in the first purchase of a luxury Swiss watch company by a Chinese rival.

China Haidian said it had acquired 100 percent of Corum for 86 million Swiss francs ($90.9 million, 71.6 million euros).

The companies said the sale would anchor China Haidian's position in the Swiss luxury watch sector while opening new prospects for development and positioning of the Corum brand worldwide.

"This strategic agreement fulfils the long term vision of both partners for the continued development and growth of the Corum brand," they said in statement.

"I am very pleased with this acquisition and I firmly believe in the potential development of Corum," China Haidian chief executive Hon Kwok Lung said in a statement.

Founded in 1955 and based in the town La Chaux-de-Fonds in the canton of Neuchatel, Corum is known for its gold and jewelled encrusted watches that start from 4,000 francs.

The Hong Kong-listed China Haidian Holdings Limited manufactures its own watches and also distributes selected Swiss luxury watch brands in China and throughout Asia.

China Haidian, which owns two of the top four domestic Chinese watch brands, EBOHR and ROSSINI, also owns the Swiss brand Eterna which has a license to manufacture and distribute globally "Porsche Design" watches.

It also distributes Japanese brands Casio and Citizen in China.

For the Swiss watch industry association, the new owners intentions are what is most important, and if "they intend to continue the development of the brand ... in the long term," said its chief Jean-Daniel Pasche.

The sale was announced on the eve of Baselworld, the world's biggest watch trade fair held in the Swiss city of Basel.

Southeast Asian leaders met in Brunei on Wednesday for talks aimed at easing tensions over the South China Sea and building momentum towards groundbreaking economic partnerships.

The annual summit of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) began in the capital of the oil-rich sultanate with a dinner in which the leaders were looking to rebuild unity after unprecedented infighting last year.

The split was over how much pressure the group should try to apply to China over competing territorial claims to the resource-rich South China Sea.

The Philippines and Vietnam, as well as China and Taiwan, claim parts of the sea, which is also home to some of the world's most important shipping lanes as well as rich fishing grounds.

But a push by the Philippines and Vietnam for ASEAN to send a united message to an increasingly assertive China crumbled amid resistance from Cambodia, a close Chinese ally that held the rotating chair of the bloc in 2012.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino said after Wednesday's dinner he was pleased Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah had made the South China Sea issue a top priority at the summit, and that ASEAN had rebuilt some unity on the issue.

"Everybody is interested in having a peaceful resolution and also in voicing ... concern that there have been increasing disputes," Aquino told reporters.

"We should really be thankful that the whole of the ASEAN is willing to discuss this instead of putting it on the backburner."

ASEAN leaders will make a united call in an end-of-summit statement for talks with China on the issue, but they will avoid any strong language, according to a draft of the document obtained by AFP.

"We reaffirmed our commitment to ensuring the peaceful resolution of disputes without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law," the draft statement said.

The draft repeated a call made regularly by Southeast Asian countries for an "early conclusion" on a legally binding code of conduct for the sea between ASEAN and China.

But the draft made no mention of when they would hope to clinch a deal on the code.

Brunei had said one of its priorities as this year's ASEAN chair was to see the code of conduct, initially proposed in 2002, agreed by the end of the year.

However China, which prefers to negotiate directly with individual countries rather than a united ASEAN bloc, has refused to begin meaningful talks on the code, and has given no indication it is willing to start negotiations soon.

Aquino, who wants a code secured as soon as possible, said Wednesday he was nevertheless happy ASEAN was now at least united in trying to ensure the disputes did not "become bloody".

"So there is unity of purpose and one can always be hopeful that that will lead to something more concrete," he said.

ASEAN leaders have said that one of the other key issues on the agenda during the two-day summit is pressing ahead with deeper economic integration within the bloc, and other countries in the region.

The leaders are set to announce that ASEAN will begin negotiations next month with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand for a giant free trade pact, according to the draft end-of-summit statement.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) aims to tie together ASEAN's free trade agreements with each trading partner, which would account for a third of the world's economic output, and is being strongly backed by China.

ASEAN hopes to conclude the RCEP deal by the end of 2015.

The block is also aiming to create a single market for the 10 Southeast Asian countries and its 600 million people -- known as the ASEAN Economic Community -- by 2015.

That initiative is one of the other top items on the agenda in Brunei this week.

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TRADE WARS
ASEAN plans free trade pact with Hong Kong
Bandar Seri Begawan (AFP) April 23, 2013
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will pursue a free trade agreement with Hong Kong, a document obtained by AFP said Tuesday. ASEAN leaders meeting in the Brunei capital of Bandar Seri Begawan on Wednesday and Thursday will endorse a decision by their economic ministers to expand trade ties with the southern Chinese city, according to the document. "We welcomed the decis ... read more


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