ASEAN Foreign Ministers are taking part in a road trip along Route 3A, from Chiang Rai province in northern Thailand to Kunming in southern China, coinciding with the 20th anniversary of ASEAN-China dialogue partnership.
The three-day program, scheduled for January 23-25, is a Thailand-led initiative which has received overwhelming support from other ASEAN Member States. Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya invited his ASEAN counterparts and the ASEAN Secretary-General to join this trip along the Chiang Saen – Houey Xay – Louang Namtha – Jinghong – Kunming section of R3A to observe development and potential along the route. On this occasion, they will attend the launching ceremony of the “2011 ASEAN-China Friendship and Exchange Year” and an ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Kunming on January 25.
Foreign Minister Kasit said that the trip demonstrated intra-ASEAN and ASEAN-China mainland, maritime, and aviation connectivity. It kicked off the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity, adopted by ASEAN Leaders at the 17th ASEAN Summit in October 2010, in response to ASEAN’s need to be better connected physically, institutionally, and in terms of people-to-people contact. During the trip, the ASEAN Foreign Ministers would also visit the construction site of the fourth bridge crossing the Mekong River (Chiang Khong – Houey Xay) along the Thai – Lao PDR border.
The R3A is one of the new highways serving the North-South Economic Corridor, which stretches over 2,000 kilometers. The highway links Thailand with Lao PDR and Yunnan Province of China.
ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said that the road trip was an attempt by ASEAN Foreign Ministers and their Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi to demonstrate to the world that ASEAN and China are effectively connected and this connection will certainly improve by the time ASEAN becomes one Community by 2015.
The ASEAN-China Free Trade Area (ACFTA) would be one of the topics of discussion at the ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. ACFTA, realized on 1 January 2010, opened up a combined market of 1.9 billion people, accounting for a combined GDP of close to six trillion US dollars and a total trade volume of 4.5 trillion dollars.
Mr. Surin explained that China offers a huge and expanding market for all ASEAN Member States. ASEAN and China make up a strong market, and their commodities, tourism industry, and services sector will benefit a great deal from ASEAN connectivity with China.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, this road trip would further underline the importance that ASEAN member states placed on cooperation, both within ASEAN and with its neighboring countries. It is the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ second road trip, after the first one that took place in January 2010 along Route 9, comprising Nakhon Phanom, Savannakhet, Lao Bao, and Da Nang.