JAKARTA, Indonesia - Premier Wen Jiabao on Saturday made it clear that China will keep its promise to live in harmony with its neighbors, but he said China also expected the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to keep its leading role in the region.
Beijing welcomes the involvement of powers outside the region such as the United States, Russia and the European Union as regional cooperation partners in Southeast Asia, the premier said, but ASEAN should still take the lead.
He dismissed any concerns from Southeast Asia that they may become strategic targets of a rising China. The prime minister was speaking at Balai Kartini in Indonesia's capital city. Beijing will not threaten the region, keeping a promise it made in the 1950s, he said.
Wen said China and ASEAN have established the world's biggest free trade area among developing countries, and that China is very optimistic about the development of ASEAN. He said China would speed up the development of transport links with Southeast Asia, building roads, telecommunication and power networks as it seeks to boost trade. And China would offer unconditional help to underdeveloped countries within ASEAN.
As for the South China Sea dispute, he stressed that all nations should make unremitting efforts through bilateral channels to solve problems on the basis of friendly and equal consultation, adding that China opposes creating tension on the issue and making it more complicated.
On Friday, Wen announced the setting up of maritime cooperation with Indonesia, following a decision three days ago to establish a joint oceanic observation station in Padang in West Sumatra.
Washington has tried to internationalize the South China Sea territorial dispute but Beijing has insisted the issue be discussed on a bilateral level among the countries concerned.
Wen arrived in Jakarta Thursday evening after a two-day visit to Malaysia, on the first official visit of a Chinese premier to Indonesia in 10 years.
He also attended the China-Indonesia Strategic Business Dialogue on Saturday and witnessed the signing of contracts worth $10 billion between Chinese companies and their Indonesian counterparts.
Contracts, which focus on infrastructure, engineering, power plants, telecommunications and agriculture, included a joint operation between China Gezhouba Group Corporation and Praba Indonesia to build up a coal power plant in Indonesia's West Kalimantan province. The Export-Import Bank of China will provide $172 million preferential export buyer's credit for the project.
Other deals included China Triumph International Engineering's agreement with an Indonesia company to establish a cement production line, and Sany Heavy Industry's memorandum of understanding with the Minister of Industry of Indonesia to establish the Sanyi Industrial Park in Indonesia.
China will continue to expand bilateral trade volume with Indonesia and provide special facilitation to promote economic and investment cooperation, Wen said, specifically cooperation in large mechanical and electrical products and high value-added products.
Indonesia has a huge market potential and welcomes more Chinese companies to invest in the country, said Indonesian Vice-President Boediono. He also expressed his hopes for sustainable cooperation with China.
The two governments reached an agreement to raise the mutual trade volume to $80 billion by 2015 from $42.7 billion in 2010, the Chinese premier said. He finished his two-day visit to Indonesia and returned to Beijing on Saturday evening.