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ASEAN delegation inspects key highway linking Thailand, Laos, China

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VIENTIANE, Jan. 24 (Xinhua) -- A high-level ASEAN delegation began a road trip through Thailand and Laos to China on Sunday, ahead of the ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers' Meeting on Jan. 25 in Kunming, Yunnan province in southern China.

This week's journey coincides with the 20th anniversary of ASEAN-China dialogue partnership, and aims to give ASEAN foreign ministers a chance to inspect development along Highway R3A, a new road serving the 2,000 kilometer North-South Economic Corridor, Laos' state-run Vientiane Times reported on Monday.

Highway R3A links Thailand to Yunnan province via the northern Lao provinces of Bokeo and Luang Namtha.

The ASEAN foreign ministers' three-day trip began in Chiang Rai, Thailand, crossed the Mekong River on a barge to Houey Xay in Laos, and then travelled by coach to Luang Nam Tha, before driving to Jinghong and flying into Kunming in China.

Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary-General of ASEAN, noted that multi- modal connectivity was critical for ASEAN integration and community building. "We are now embarking on land transport. Sea and air transport are also being developed with an equal sense of urgency," he said in an ASEAN press release.

"This road trip is an attempt by ASEAN Foreign Ministers and their Chinese counterpart H.E. 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, " said Surin who also joined the travel.

Surin also emphasised the huge and expanding market that China offers for all ASEAN Member States. "We are talking about an almost two billion people strong market combined between ASEAN and China. Our commodities, our tourism industry and our services sector will benefit a great deal from our connectivity with China. "

The ASEAN-China Foreign Minister's Meeting is expected to exchange views on advancing ASEAN-China relations, including connectivity, cultural exchanges, ASEAN-China Free Trade Area ( ACFTA), and East Asian cooperation.

The meeting will be preceded by a launch for the ASEAN-China Friendship and Exchange Year, also held in Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan province, which shares borders with three ASEAN Member States -- Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

ASEAN comprises 10 nations -- Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines.

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