Moon stresses free trade in ASEAN summit joined by Abe

BANGKOK-- Attending a group summit with the 10 ASEAN member states, Japan and China here Monday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for stronger regional cooperation and efforts to safeguard free trade.

He recalled the birth of the ASEAN-plus-three (APT) gathering in December 1997, when Asia was hit by a financial crisis.

The ASEAN and the Northeast Asian powers were united to weather the crunch and created a "robust economic bloc" that now accounts for 30 percent of the world economy, Moon pointed out.

"Twenty years later, the wind of 'protectionism' is violent again," Moon said at the outset of the 22nd APT summit in Bangkok. Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang were present as well. Thailand is this year's chair of the ASEAN.

Moon emphasized that the APT forum needs to play a pivotal role in addressing the problem.

He also expressed hope for an agreement in ongoing negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

If signed, he added, it will contribute not only to the expansion of free trade and investment in the region but also to peace and co-prosperity in East Asia.

The RCEP talks began in 2012 between the ASEAN bloc and its dialogue partners: South Korea, China, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand. They cover nearly half of the global economy.

The president said he was looking forward to discussions in Bangkok on strengthening regional partnerships, protecting the "free trade order" and laying a cornerstone for the "East Asia community."

Moon said South Korea will have a chance to follow up on related consultations with the ASEAN in a special bilateral summit to take place in Busan later this month.

Moon and Abe are taking part in the same forum for the first time since the Group of 20 summit in Osaka in June.

They have long shunned one-on-one talks amid soured ties between the neighboring countries. In early July, Tokyo launched a retaliatory trade control against Seoul over a dispute dating back to Japan's 1910-45 colonization of Korea.

In the afternoon, Moon is scheduled to attend the East Asian Summit (EAS) session involving the ASEAN members, South Korea, Japan, China, the United States, Russia, Australia, India and New Zealand. It was first held in 2005.

He plans to request backing for his offer, made in his September United Nations speech, to turn the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) into an international peace zone.

A separate RCEP summit will be held later in the day, with the host Thailand pushing for a provisional deal. But the formal signing of an accord has been reportedly delayed until early next year.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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