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China Calls for Stronger Military Cooperation with ASEAN

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is calling on Southeast Asian nations to boost military cooperation with China. Wen's call for more military exchanges and dialogue came at a meeting with leaders of the ten countries making up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN. The meeting marks the 15th anniversary of the establishment of China's ties with the grouping.

The purpose of the meeting in the southern Chinese city of Nanning Monday offers a stark contrast to the motives behind the founding of ASEAN 39 years ago. Then, Southeast Asian nations aimed to contain Communist China's efforts to spread revolution in the region.

Now, they are embracing China, and the trade opportunities brought by its skyrocketing economy and burgeoning markets. Chinese officials say trade between China and ASEAN has been growing at a rate of 40 percent a year, and topped $130 billion in 2005.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told his guests the time has also come for China and ASEAN to expand military dialogue and exchanges.

"In the past 15 years, the relationship between China and ASEAN nations has progressed, from getting rid of suspicions, to carrying out dialogue, increasing mutual trust, and finally to setting up a strategic partnership. Today, relations between China and ASEAN, are the best in history," he said.

ASEAN's member countries are Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The one-day talks focused on expanding regional trade, but the matter of North Korea's nuclear test this month was also on the agenda.

Speaking at Monday's summit in Nanning, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said the meeting gave leaders an opportunity to talk about regional security.

"In light of recent events in North Korea, peace and security have never been more important," nored Ms. Arroyo. "Although ASEAN is not a security organization and it is focused on economic and regional integration, the meeting of ASEAN and Chinese leaders provides a significant forum for discussing economic and security issues. It helps tie the region together and strengthen solidarity in times of crisis."

Leaders discussed setting up a code of conduct to prevent confrontations among members. The measures are designed to avoid conflicts in the South China Sea, where China is involved in several territorial disputes with a number of ASEAN member countries.