Mahathir predicts China domino effect

Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah speaks to Malay Mail at Wisma Putra in Putrajaya

Aaron Connelly, an expert on Southeast Asian politics at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the fact that RCEP negotiations were not concluded at this year's ASEAN could indicate China has some way to go to convince neighbours to sign up.

China's attempt to seal Asia's biggest trade deal stalled at a regional summit in Singapore, despite Beijing's efforts to counter American protectionism and the absence of US President Donald Trump.

"It's going to deliver real benefits for the people of our region".

Singapore, which is chairing 10-member ASEAN this year, had pushed for a substantial conclusion to the agreement this year. "We are aiming for some time next year, perhaps the second part of 2019".

He said some 65% of ASEAN's trade is with RCEP, which consists of 16 countries, and when realised, will be a huge market in its own, representing half of the global population and over 40% of global trade.

"Despite new frontier challenges that we are facing, we must also be alert and firm with fundamentals such as good governance and the fight against corruption, without which, the cost of doing business in our region will escalate and will undermine our economies regardless of all the latest megatrends that we successfully embrace", he said.

Many diplomats and rights activists say ASEAN's credibility is at risk if it fails to tackle the matter head-on. "Trade actions contrary to this benefit no one and only threaten the prospects of economic growth", he added.

India has dragged its feet, as RCEP does not provide for free movement of skilled labor, a key concern for New Delhi given its large pool of tech workers, even as it opens its market to a clutch of nations known for their manufacturing prowess.

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The startled pilot rang Shannon Air Traffic Control inquiring to see if a military activity was occurring over Irish airspace. Mr Moore said that his organisation received a number of reports of fireball sightings at the same time on Friday morning.

Three days after taking office, Trump pulled out of a Pacific Rim trade initiative, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

However, the Beijing-backed pact is much less ambitious than the TPP in areas such as employment and environmental protection.

Analysts said future RCEP talks could be complicated by potential changes of government in some countries such as Australia, India, Indonesia and Thailand, where elections are due next year.

Other world leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Mike Pence - Trump's number two - are also in Singapore for talks foreshadowed by the China-US trade war and its ripple effect on global economies, particularly in Asia.

Despite the apparent amity over territorial issues, the crisis over Myanmar's ethnic Rohingya Muslims has overshadowed the meetings in Singapore.

Saifuddin confirmed to Malay Mail that Dr Mahathir did not attend the summit himself, and he presented the argument on behalf of the prime minister.

Pence is also expected to keep pressure on Beijing over its growing aggression in the South China Sea while seeking support over Washington's approach to the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

Amnesty International on Monday stripped Suu Kyi of its highest honour, citing her "indifference" to the atrocities committed by Myanmar's army against the minority.

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