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East Asia Summit Remains Important: Gillard
Source: radioaustralia.net.au
Source Date: Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Focus: ICT for MDGs, Citizen Engagement
Created: Nov 27, 2012

Australia's Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, says the East Asia Summit remains an important venue for discussion, despite territorial disputes overshadowing the Cambodia talks.

The summit, which brings together the 10-member ASEAN grouping with other regional an international leaders, was meant to strengthen trade and political ties.

But a dispute between China and ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, which all claim sovereignty over parts of the South China Sea, has overshadowed the summit.

Ms Gillard has told Australia Network's Newsline program 'frank' discussions, held behind closed doors, did cover the territorial disputes.

"I do believe it's important, that with the right players around the table, any issue can be on the table," she said.

"What I would say about...this East Asia summit is that the issues people wanted to raise were on the table, including the South China Sea.

"So I think it's good to see the East Asia Summit realise its mandate as a body that can talk about security issues, political issues [and] economic issues."

China, which claims sovereignty over virtually all of the sea, prefers to negotiate directly with its ASEAN neighbours.

ASEAN's long-standing policy of non-intervention in regional disputes has led to questions over the effectiveness of the East Asia Summit in resolving regional issues such as the territorial dispute.

But Ms Gillard says the discussions at this summit show the group maintains its relevance.

"I think we are seeing the East Asia Summit mature into the body that we wanted it to be, and that leaders said they wanted it to be," she said.

"A meeting of leaders which can talk about security questions, strategic questions, even if they are difficult questions.

"We think this is a process that continues to be well and truly worth investing in."

The United States President, Barack Obama, didn't take sides, but called for a de-escalation.

The talks were Mr Obama's first event since he was re-elected earlier this month, and also marks the first international talks for Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao since the political transition process began in China.

Ms Gillard says she congratulated both leaders during their talks, and Australia looks forward to continuing strong relations with both countries.

"We've got a deep, robust relatioship with China, and one of the points I made with Premier Wen is that we'll see continuity of Australia's relationships even as the leadership transitions," she said.

"I do want to travel to China after the leadership transition is complete, and have the opportunity to meet directly with the new leaders...so I will be looking to travel to China in the first six months of next year."
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