BEIJING, Oct. 11 (Xinhua) -- Visits by China's top leaders to countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) highlights the country's resolution to deepen relations and pave the way for a maritime Silk Road.
On Wednesday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived in Brunei to attend the East Asia leaders meetings and pay official visits to the host country, Thailand and Vietnam.
From Oct. 2 to 8, Chinese President Xi Jinping left Beijing for state visits to Indonesia and Malaysia, and the 21st leaders' meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).
Luo Yongkun, assistant researcher with the Southeast Asia division of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, said the trips to the ASEAN countries shows that the leadership attaches great importance to China-ASEAN relations.
China has maintained close trade ties with Southeast Asia countries since ancient times. The seaway that bridges China and foreign countries is as prestigious as the Silk Road that connects the East and West.
On Oct. 3 during his trip in Indonesia, Xi said in a speech that China and the ASEAN will promote maritime cooperation and build a 21st-century maritime Silk Road. This was also brought up by Li in his seven-point proposal on China-ASEAN cooperation in Brunei on Wednesday.
Luo said that jointly building a maritime Silk Road will involve a new consensus, including discussing the signing of a treaty on good neighborliness, friendship and cooperation, strengthening security exchanges, setting up an Asian infrastructure investment bank and prioritizing maritime connectivity development.
"Such measures are the focus of China-ASEAN cooperation and development," Luo said. "China hopes both sides seize the opportunity to further deepen cooperation in an all-round way."
In the seven-point proposal, Li said "the two sides should launch negotiations on upgrading their free trade area and strive to bring bilateral trade to one trillion U.S. dollars by 2020 so as to allow ASEAN countries to benefit more from regional integration and China's economic growth."
Zhang Jiuhuan, former Chinese ambassador to Thailand, Singapore and Nepal, said, "Upgrading the free trade area is another significant step for the Chinese government to beef up China-ASEAN cooperation."
Starting operation in 2010, the China-ASEAN free trade area is the largest one among developing countries.
China is the largest trading partner for the ASEAN, and the association is the third largest trading partner for China.
According to Zhang, bilateral trade volume between China and the ASEAN grew from 78.2 billion U.S. dollars in 2003 to 400.1 billion U.S. dollars in 2012. Volume reached 210.56 billion U.S. dollars in the first half of this year, up 12.2 percent year on year.
Zhang said "upgrading the free trade area" is needed for both sides. He said the area will help improve the trade of commodities and services and investment cooperation in order to provide convenience and freedom.
"All-dimensional cooperation will create more favorable conditions for the maritime Silk Road," said Zhang. "China's economic growth will also bring about more opportunities."