Southeast Asian foreign ministers are on their way to a meeting in Kunming right now on a novel journey that includes travel by boat, bus, car and plane.
The three-day trip from Chiang Rai, Thailand to Kunming began yesterday and is intended to highlight transport connectivity between Southeast Asia and China, according to an official release from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The ministers are making their way to the ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers meeting which begins tomorrow in Kunming.
Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya is leading the trip, which also includes the other foreign ministers from ASEAN's ten member states, as well as ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan.
The group departed yesterday from Chiang Rai and crossed the Mekong River by ferry to Houey Xay, Laos. Their itinerary then calls for them to travel by bus from Houey Xay to Luang Nam Tha in far northern Laos before driving by car to Jinghong in Yunnan and flying to Kunming.
"This road trip is an attempt by ASEAN Foreign Ministers and their Chinese counterpart His Excellency Yang Jiechi to demonstrate to the world that we are effectively connected and this connection will certainly improve by the time ASEAN becomes one community by 2015," stated Secretary-General Surin in the release.
The group will be traveling on the R3E highway that runs 1,807 kilometers and completed a highway link between Kunming and Bangkok via northern Laos when it was finished in 2008.
Despite Surin's assertion that Southeast Asia and China are "effectively connected," the R3E is something of an exception and there are currently relatively few road, rail or river links connecting Yunnan and neighboring Guangxi to Southeast Asia.
But a host of planned projects including rail and highway links to Myanmar, a rail line linking Kunming to the Lao capital of Vientiane and refurbishment of the Kunming to Hanoi rail line will substantially boost shipping and passenger transit options in coming years.
Tomorrow's meeting of foreign ministers in Kunming coincides with the 20th anniversary of establishment of official relations between China and ASEAN. It is another sign of deepening economic ties between the two entities—ties from which Kunming stands to benefit as it competes with Guangxi's capital Nanning to be China's primary gateway to Southeast Asia.
In January of 2010 ASEAN and China launched the first phase of the ASEAN China Free Trade Area (FTA), which eliminated tariffs on a wide range of goods and will eventually create an almost two-billion-person economic bloc. Trade between participating ASEAN countries and China has since soared. Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam are not currently part of the FTA, but will join in 2015.
"We are talking about an almost two billion people strong market combined between ASEAN and China," said Surin. "Our commodities, our tourism industry and our services sector will benefit a great deal from our connectivity with China."© Copyright 2005-2020 GoKunming.com all rights reserved. This material may not be republished, rewritten or redistributed without permission.