CHINA, SOUTHEAST ASIA AND ASIA RELATIONS

CHINA AND ASIA RELATIONS

"Greater China," which consists of China, Hong Kong , Macao and Taiwan, is becoming an increasingly integrated and powerful political unit. Hong Kong became part of China in July 1997; Macao in 1999. Taiwan is one of the biggest investors in China and most Chinese view Taiwan as an island province of China. In the year 2000 the gross domestic product of Greater China reached $9.8 trillion, exceeding $9.7 trillion GDP of the the United States the same year.

There are virtually no fences along China’s 20,000-kilometer-long border. China has solved border disputes with Russia, Mongolia, Vietnam and Myanmar but has work to do to settle its disputes with India.

These days, China is viewed in a more positive light by its Asian neighbors than it was in the past. It doesn’t seem so threatening or radical as it was under Mao and its economic might is viewed as an engine for the entire region. China has gone out of its way to settle old disputes and improve infrastructure with the countries it borders.

Wen Liao, chairwoman of the Longford Advisors, wrote in 2009: “The calculus behind China’s emerging national security strategy is simple. Without peace and prosperity around China’s long borders, there can be no peace and prosperity, and unity at home. China’s intervention in Sri Lanka, and its visibly mounting displeasure with the North Korean and Burmese regimes suggest this calculus has quietly become central to the government’s thinking.”

Many see the future of Asia as being shaped by the region’s big three---China, India and Japan---who are roughly equal in terms of economic and military strength. Each country is opportunistic and suspicions and lacks the ability to dominate the other two, thus creating a kind of system of checks and balances and preventing one country from totally dominating the region.

Under U.S. President George W. Bus,h while the United States has been preoccupied with terrorism, Iraq and the Middle East--- neglecting Asia---China has stepped up its presence in Asia, filling the vacuum.

China does not have a powerful navy and relies in the United States Navy to keep important shipping lanes, vital for its trade, around Asia open.

Good Websites and Sources: China and Southeast Asia, 2006 Library of Congress Report PDF file italy.usembassy.gov ; Comparative Connections csis.org/program/comparative-connections ; Wikipedia article on the Spratly Islands Wikipedia ; Global Security on the Spratly Islands and South China Sea globalsecurity.org ; Wikipedia article on the South China Sea Wikipedia ; South China Sea Virtual Library South China Sea Virtual Library

Links in this Website: CHINA, THE WORLD AND CHINESE NATIONALISM Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINA AND ASIA RELATIONS Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINA AND JAPAN RELATIONS Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINA AND INDIA RELATIONS Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINA, RUSSIA, EUROPE AFRICA AND THE MIDDLE EAST Factsanddetails.com/China ; Factsanddetails.com/China ;CHINA AND UNITED STATES Factsanddetails.com/China ; AMERICAN AND CHINESE POLICY Factsanddetails.com/China ;UNITED STATES, CHINA AND SPIES Factsanddetails.com/China ;GOVERNMENT IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE ARMED FORCES Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBETAN GOVERNMENT Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINA AND TIBET Factsanddetails.com/China ; DALAI LAMA AND POLITICS Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE TRADE Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE TRADE WITH THE U.S., EUROPE AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/China ; FOREIGN COMPANIES AND INVESTMENT IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ;

Growing Resentment Towards China as the Bully of Asia

As China’s power and influence grows, resentment toward China and the Chinese also grows. During violent demonstration in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in the spring of 2010, after protesters torched the president’s office and other government buildings they then turned their attention to a Chinese-owned shopping mall, lootting, smashing and then burning it down. Local Kyrgyz industries have suffered as a result of cheap imports from China.

All across Asia, China is being seen as threat, thanks to its own efforts. Nothing underscores that better than the escalating diplomatic conflict between China and Japan over the detention of the Chinese fishing captain, Zhan Qixiong, by the Japanese authorities, who say the captain rammed two Japanese vessels around the Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. The islands are administered by Japan but claimed by both Japan and China.

China has called its claims on disputed maritime regions a “a core” issue of national sovereignty on par with Tibet, Taiwan and Xinjiang. The Chinese claim that islands in these regions claimed by other countries were stolen from China when China was weak and occupied by foreigners.

In a April 2010 survey of 30,000 people worldwide, 41 percent of respondents said they had a positive view of China and 38 percent said they had a negative view. In a similar poll in 2005, 49 percent of respondents said they had a positive view of China and 34 percent said they had a negative view.

Chinese officials and diplomats are increasingly being accused or arrogance towards non-Chinese as China’s stature as a world power grows. A senior diplomat from a developing country told Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria in 2010, “Chinese officials used to meet with us with a great sense of solidarity and warmth. Now they read us a list of demands.” Diplomats in Beijing complain that setting up meetings with senior officials is getting to be next to impossible. One told Zakaria, “People I used to see routinely now refuse to give me an appointment.”

Rajan Menon, a professor of political science at City College of New York, wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “India, Vietnam, Japan and Indonesia, the very countries that, no matter what they say to the contrary, are watching China's ascent with a mix of admiration and unease. By virtue of geography, these nations are also well positioned to join the United States in an encircling strategy. We're hardly at that point---China has plenty of carrots and sticks, and its neighbors are too smart to line up mechanically with the United States---but there are signs of nervousness.” [Source: Rajan Menon, Los Angeles Times, November 12, 2010]

“India and the United States, estranged for much of the Cold War, now talk of a "strategic" partnership. U.S. arms will soon start flowing to India. President Obama this week endorsed India's longtime quest for a seat on the U.N. Security Council. Over the last several years, India and Japan, which have had little to do with each other on matters of national security, have engaged in a security dialogue and, together with the United States, joint naval exercises. Washington has not merely mended its fences with Vietnam; it is systematically deepening ties with Hanoi. A shared concern about China is one reason for this. The ban on American arms sales to Indonesia (another country in which suspicions toward China run deep) has been lifted.” [Ibid]

China as a Military Threat in Asia

Many nations in Asia have traditionally been wary of China. In the past 50 years China has fought against Russia, India, Vietnam and South Korea. It has fired artillery shells at Taiwan, armed insurgents in Cambodia, Malaysia and Vietnam, and most likely supplied money to Communist rebels in Indonesia. In the old days, China was known foremost in the region for pushing Communism abroad, aggressively staking claims on the Spratly Islands and claiming to represent Chinese populations in other countries.

"In the U.S.'s judgement, China's military does not pose a threat, but that's not the view of China's neighbors," a U.S. Defense department official told the Washington Post. He cited military exercises near Taiwan, Chinese stubbornness over negotiation in Hong Kong and gunboat diplomacy with Vietnam over the Spartly Islands.

To address these fears, China signed an series of peaceful cooperation accords in 1994 in Moscow, Jakarta, Hanoi, Seoul and New Delhi.The trend has continued with Chinese leaders regularly visiting countries in Asia, welcoming leaders from these countries, attending regional meetings and signing a number of agreements.

But many are still worried about Beijing’s ambitions. China is taking measures to boost its control of maritime resources in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. It has enacted legislation to tighten control over islands within its territorial waters and is using those islands to extend its reach further out to sea and moving warships into these waters to show it is serious. Maritime resources are seen as key to maintaining growth and development. China is currently engaged in disputes over the Spartly Islands in the South China Sea with several countries and over islands in the east China Sea with Japan.

The United States is concerned that China might use its increased military clout to pressure its neighbors to move against Taiwan.

China as an Economic Threat in Asia

China has become a manufacturing threat to many Asian countries, not only in low tech areas but also in high tech fields and in industries like automobile manufacturing. China has taken away foreign investment from the other Asian countries and takes business away with its unlimited supply of cheap labor. China-bashing books fill bookstore shelves in Asia.

China has been able to undercut is neighbors in key export markets. Many of the sectors that China’s is doing well in---light industry, electronics, chip making---are sectors that other Asian countries had hoped to do well in but aren’t do as well in as they hoped because of China. In the 1990s, China’s exports to the United States tripled while those of Japan fell by half and those of the four tigers---South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore---shrank by a third.

Thailand and Malaysia took 10 years building the expensive, production base and infrastructure for a precision metalworks that could sell components to Swiss watchmakers. The Chinese took over the business in only a year.

More and more China is seen as a positive force as well as a negative one. It is proving to be a large buyer of goods produced by Asian countries and a source of foreign investment. China ran a trade deficit with Asia in 2003. It imported steel from South Korea and Japan used in construction and car making, imported basic commodities from Malaysia and Indonesia such as palm oil and oil and imported chips from Taiwan used to make products for export such as laptop computers and calculators. Chinese tourist are popping up all over Asia.

China is replacing the United States as the economic engine in Asia. It buys up huge amounts of raw materials, goods and parts and pour in large amounts of foreign investment. into its Asian neighbors. In 2002, China proposed setting up an Asian free-trade zone.

According to United Nations Development Program report issued in 2006: “China’s stunning economic growth, in so many was an inspiration to its Asian-Pacific neighbors isn’t delivering reciprocal benefits to its regional trading partners and in some cases is causing difficulties for them.” The report find that Asians least-developed countries are experiencing a “severe trade imbalance” with China. Cambodia for example imported $452 million worth of goods from China in 2004 but exported just $30 million. Bangladesh imported $1.9 billion worth of goods from China but exported just $57 million the same year.

Disputes in Asia Involving China Increase U.S. Influence

Rising frictions between China and its neighbors in 2010 over disputes about islands amd maritime territory in the South China Sea and the East China Sea have given the United States an opportunity to strengthen its position in east Asia that has been diminished in recent years by China’s rise, the U.S. Being bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and China’s efforts to draw it neighbors into its orbit. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, September 22, 2010]

Washington has thrown itself into the middle of heated territorial disputes between China and Southeast Asian nations despite stern Chinese warnings that it mind its own business. The United States is carrying out naval exercises with South Korea in order to help Seoul rebuff threats from North Korea. The tense standoff between Japan and China over a Chinese fishing trawler captured by Japanese ships in disputed waters is pushing Japan back under the American security umbrella. [Ibid]

The U.S. has been smart, Carlyle A. Thayer, a professor at the Australian Defense Force Academy who studies security issues in Asia, told the New York Times. It has done well by coming to the assistance of countries in the region. At an ASEAN meeting in September 2010 the U.S. said it would support other Southeast Asian countries said free navigation in the area was a U.S. “national interest” and called for a “code of conduct” be established for “legitimate claims in the South China Sea.” [Ibid]

Some Chinese military leaders and analysts see an American effort to contain China. Feng Zhaokui, a Japan scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said in an article on Tuesday in The Global Times, a populist newspaper, that the United States was trying to nurture a coalition against China. In August 2010, Rear Adm. Yang Yi wrote an editorial for The PLA Daily, published by the Chinese Army, in which he said that on one hand, Washington wants China to play a role in regional security issues. On the other hand, he continued, it is engaging in an increasingly tight encirclement of China and is constantly challenging China’s core interests. [Ibid]

Asian countries suspicious of Chinese intentions see Washington as a natural ally. In Japan, insecurity about China’s presence has served as a wake-up call on the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance, said Fumiaki Kubo, a professor of public policy at the University of Tokyo. [Ibid]

China and Southeast Asia

Southeast Asians have become increasingly aware that their future is closely tied with China. Schools and language institutes in Southeast Asia gave began offering more Mandarin classes. Airlines offer flights to places like Chengdu and Chonqing as well as Beijing and Shanghai. Research institutes and scholarships have been established with China.

China, Japan and South Korea participate in ASEAN meetings although they are not members. ASEAN Plus Three refers to meetings involving the ASEAN countries plus South Korea, China and Japan. It is the closest thing there is to an Asia-wide organization.

China has come to dominate ASEAN meetings even thought it is not a member. Many worry that China will gain too much influence and begin calling the shots for ASEAN. The United States is suspicious of the ASEAN Plus Three format because it seems aimed at uniting Asia at the expense of the United States.

China has concluded a free-trade deal with all 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, while a similar U.S. pact is only in its infancy. It is cementing ties with Thailand - a U.S. ally - despite recent political unrest there. [Source: John Pomfret, Washington Post, November 20, 2010 ><]

On relations between individual Asian nations and China, Sheng Lijun wrote on YaleGlobal online: “Take the warming in China-Indonesia relations for example: The two nations have declared each other as strategic partners, which may have a lot to do with Muslim Indonesia’s intention to use China to balance the excessive US pressure against Islamic extremists in the country. Indonesia’s overture to build defense ties with China and buy Chinese weapons can be interpreted as a tactical rather than a strategic re-orientation, a means to pressure the US to lift its arms embargo on Indonesia.

“Myanmar and Cambodia both have close relations with China. In the case of Myanmar, the US has chosen not to engage with its government, likewise rejecting trade or investment. US trade sanctions and embargo against Myanmar still stand. China is Cambodia’s top investor and trade partner. The US, for political reasons, still has no significant trade or investment in Cambodia. If the US changes its policy and prioritizes these two countries, China may find it difficult to maintain its primacy there.

History of Relations Between China and Southeast Asia

In the mid 1960s, the Chinese government supported the Communist insurgents in Vietnam, Cambodia Burma and Laos. Since the 1990s it has signed peaceful cooperation accords with several Southeast Asian countries and has held regular meetings with representatives of these countries. Chinese leaders regularly visit countries in Southeast Asia, welcome their leaders and attend regional meetings such as those hosted by ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).

Ties between the ASEAN nations and China have improved dramatically since China has been seeking better, more stable relations with the world as a whole. China is not a member of ASEAN but its sends representatives to their meetings. In 2002, China signed an agreement with ASEAN to exercise self-restraint in the Spratly Islands.

In June 2003, China agreed to sign a friendship pact with the nations of Southeast Asia in part to address fears that China is a military and economic threat to Southeast Asia. China has also worked to settle disputed between Cambodia and Thailand and coaxed Burma to be open up.

Growing Resentment Towards China as the Bully of Asia

As China’s power and influence grows, resentment toward China and the Chinese also grows. All across Asia, China is being seen as threat, thanks to its own efforts and disputes with Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines over various islands and the South China Sea.

Chinese officials and diplomats are increasingly being accused or arrogance towards non-Chinese as China’s stature as a world power grows. A senior diplomat from a developing country told Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria in 2010, “Chinese officials used to meet with us with a great sense of solidarity and warmth. Now they read us a list of demands.” Diplomats in Beijing complain that setting up meetings with senior officials is getting to be next to impossible. One told Zakaria, “People I used to see routinely now refuse to give me an appointment.”

Rajan Menon, a professor of political science at City College of New York, wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “India, Vietnam, Japan and Indonesia, the very countries that, no matter what they say to the contrary, are watching China's ascent with a mix of admiration and unease. By virtue of geography, these nations are also well positioned to join the United States in an encircling strategy. We're hardly at that point---China has plenty of carrots and sticks, and its neighbors are too smart to line up mechanically with the United States---but there are signs of nervousness. Washington has not merely mended its fences with Vietnam; it is systematically deepening ties with Hanoi. A shared concern about China is one reason for this. The ban on American arms sales to Indonesia (another country in which suspicions toward China run deep) has been lifted.” [Source: Rajan Menon, Los Angeles Times, November 12, 2010]

Warmer Relations Between China and Southeast Asia

Kavi Chongkittavorn wrote in The Nation: “China continues to consolidate its relations as never before with its consultative approach to diplomacy with ASEAN. After the joint ASEAN statement criticising China's assertiveness over the Mischief Reef back in March 1995, Beijing has been working hard to mend fences with the grouping through countless new initiatives. At this juncture, China-ASEAN relations are extensive at all levels...In 2003, it was China that set the ball rolling when it became the first non-ASEAN nation to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. [Source: Kavi Chongkittavorn, The Nation (Thailand), February 25, 2008]

I. Wibowo, the head of Chinese Studies at the University of Indonesia, wrote in the Jakarta Post : “Relations between China and several Southeast Asian nations have been fast improving. ASEAN leaders now regularly speak highly of China, and of the nation's recent successes. This positive atmosphere was unheard of 10 years ago. [Source: I. Wibowom, Jakarta Post, February 5, 2007]

During his visit to Laos in 2000, Chinese president Jiang Zemin received a very warm welcome, in which ""banners were hung across the capital lauding Jiang, and endless banquets were held in his honor"". This scene was replicated in Cambodia, where over 200,000 cheering schoolchildren welcomed Jiang's motorcade.In the early '90s, Cambodia opposed China's involvement with the Khmer Rouge. While Myanmar, suffering from an embargo implemented by Western nations, showed its gratitude to China for its support by bettering economic and political ties between the nations.

Thailand is no exception from this pattern. A long-time British and U.S. ally, the nation now considers its diplomatic relationship with China -- along with India -- essential to furthering its own position in Asia. Vietnam has been at war with China since 1979, but from 1991, when diplomatic relations between the nations were restored, Vietnam's relations with China have continued to improve. In February 2002 the two nations proposed the ""Four good themes"": good neighbors, good friends, good camaraderie and good partners. As a result, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, which all hug the Mekong River, have benefited tremendously from trade with China. Under the framework of the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS), China has implemented a development program in the Mekong Basin. It has been noticeable that China has paid great attention to this region through aid-giving. It is within the Mekong area that China's soft power is most evident.

Similar trends have been evidenced in Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia. Malaysia, under Dr. Mahathir, has developed a close relationship with China, and at both economic and diplomatic levels the two countries are on good terms. Singapore remains a ""natural friend"" of China as the majority of the city-state's population are of Chinese descent. Although their relationship was strained during the '70s, as of 1990 it has been reinvigorated by increased trade and two-way visits from the nations' leaders. Meanwhile, relations between China and the Philippines have been caught in a dangerous dispute over Mischief Reef. Yet, in the past five years, relations between the two countries have been bettered due to high-level exchanges. The Philippines have also received a loan of US$500 million to build railroads.

Relations between Indonesia and China suffered after a diplomatic break-up lasting 32 years. Yet, over the past eight years, Indonesia and China have worked to better this situation. Visits by leaders of the two countries have been more frequent, while exports and imports have grown. When the Asian financial crisis hit Indonesia, China also increased its assistance to the region. In addition to US$400 million in stand-by loans as part of an IMF rescue package, China also increased its export credit facilities by $200 million. During the 2004 tsunami disaster, China was among the first of nations to provide not only financial assistance to Indonesia, but also medical assistance.

The increase in China's soft power is evident among the various cultures to which citizens of ASEAN nations belong. One observer said, ""Chinese culture, cuisine, calligraphy, cinema, curios, art, acupuncture, herbal, medicine and fashion fads have penetrated into regional culture."" He also says Chinese films, pop-music and film stars, such a Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi, are now extremely popular among Southeast Asia's youth. Mainland Chinese brands such as Hai'er, TCL and Huawei have also become increasingly popular in many Southeast Asian societies. According to a poll conducted in Thailand in 2003, 76 percent of respondents considered China to be Thailand's closest friend.

Chinese Offers $15 BillionAid Package to ASEAN

In April 2009, in the wake of the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, Xinhua reported: “China unveiled a multi-billion-dollar package of aid and credit to enhance China-ASEAN cooperation. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi met with envoys of the 10 ASEAN countries in Beijing, fresh from his return from Thailand where scheduled Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meetings were postponed due to unrest in Thailand. "As always, China firmly backs ASEAN integration and community building, and firmly supports ASEAN to play a leading role in regional cooperation," said Yang. [Source: Xinhua, April 12, 2009 ==]

“Yang said China called for joint efforts to reach an investment agreement, which would be conducive to the establishment of the China-ASEAN free trade zone. China planned to establish a China-ASEAN investment cooperation fund totaling US$10 billion, designed for cooperation on infrastructure construction, energy and resources, information and communications, Yang said. ==

Over three to five years, China planned to offer credit of US$15 billion to ASEAN countries, including loans with preferential terms of 1.7 billion dollars in aid for cooperation projects. China also planned to offer $39.7 million in special aid to Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar to meet urgent needs, inject 5 million dollars into the China-ASEAN Cooperation Fund, and donate 900,000 dollars to the cooperation fund of ASEAN plus China, Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK). China would provide 300,000 tons of rice for the emergency East Asia rice reserve to strengthen food security in the region. China would offer an extra 2,000 government scholarships and 200 master's scholarships for public administration students from the developing member countries over the next five years. ==

"The overall thought for China-ASEAN cooperation is that the two sides should rise to difficulties in face of the grim global financial crisis, and make efforts to convert unprecedented challenge into opportunity for closer pragmatic cooperation and common development," said Yang. All the envoys said the proposals would exert profound and active influence on China-ASEAN cooperation, and would enormously support ASEAN countries during the global financial crisis. ==

China Move Towards Better Relations with Southeast Asia

In October 2013, China's President Xi Jinping made his first visit to Southeast Asia (to Indonesia) and said his country's territorial disputes with Southeast Asia should be resolved in a "in a peaceful manner so as to safeguard regional stability and peace". "Southeast Asia is one important hub of the maritime Silk Road. China is ready to increase maritime cooperation with ASEAN," he said. "China attaches great importance to Indonesia's role in ASEAN and is ready to work together with Indonesia and other ASEAN countries to make the two sides share the same prosperity."[Source: AFP, October 3, 2013 <:>]

“Analysts said Xi's speech had a conciliatory tone aimed at repairing relations but offered little new of substance. Li Mingjiang, China programme director at Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said Xi's tone was one of openness, reinforcing his more accommodative and relaxed attitude to the disputes. "This shift is already taking place -- we haven't seen any aggressive patrolling in the South China Sea since Xi took the leadership," Li said. But Bantaro Bandoro, a professor at the Indonesian Defence University, told AFP he saw nothing new in Xi's comments. "China will certainly not sacrifice its principles of sovereignty," he said. <:>

“There was no sign of Beijing bending to ASEAN's long-held demand that China accept a legally binding code of conduct for handling disputes in the South China Sea. Analysts, however, agreed that Xi's visit to Southeast Asia -- just after US President Barack Obama cancelled parts of his visit to the region -- was a blow to the much-vaunted US "pivot" towards Asia. "You have this sharp contrast between Xi Jinping and Obama, so people will conclude that China is a near neighbour and it is committed," said Li. <:>

“A week later AFP reported: “Premier Li Keqiang called for peace in the South China Sea and expanded Chinese trade with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as he met the bloc’s leaders in the oil-flush sultanate of Brunei. “A peaceful South China Sea is a blessing for all. We need to work together to make the South China Sea a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation,” Li said. Li took the baton from President Xi Jinping, who underlined Chinese power by occupying centre-stage earlier this week at an Asia-Pacific summit in Bali while Obama was stuck at home due to the US government shutdown. [Source: AFP, October 9, 2013 <<<]

In sharp contrast to the often icy tone Beijing takes with perceived rivals like the United States, a smiling and energetic Li showered ASEAN with pledges of friendship and deeper economic integration. He called for China-ASEAN trade to be more than doubled to $1 trillion by 2020, from about $400 billion last year. The two days of talks in Brunei began with an annual ASEAN summit followed by the bloc’s separate meetings with Japan, South Korea, China and the United States.

China has succeeded in lowering temperatures in the sea disputes by agreeing recently to discuss a code of conduct with ASEAN. Even officials from the Philippines welcomed the tentative signs of a thaw. But President Benigno Aquino reminded his ASEAN colleagues of the risks of instability at sea, according to a text of his remarks during the closed-door ASEAN summit. “Clearly, our development as a region cannot be realised in an international environment where the rule of law does not exist,” he said.

Li and the Southeast Asian leaders were all smiles as they cut a giant blue and pink cake to mark the 10th anniversary of a China-ASEAN strategic partnership. However, some experts view Beijing’s recent moves as a bid to buy time while it continues to strengthen its regional clout. “(China) is not going to compromise on its claims,” said Ian Storey of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. ASEAN is also pushing an ambitious 16-nation free trade zone called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership that also involves China. The initiative is seen as rivalling the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade pact championed by Washington.

China, ASEAN and South China Sea

The South China Sea has become Asia's biggest potential military flashpoint. China's claim over the huge area has in particular set it against ASEAN members Vietnam and the Philippines.

AFP reported: ASEAN suffered deep splits in 2012 linked to territorial disputes with China over the resource-rich South China Sea. ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as China and Taiwan, claim parts of the sea, which is also home to some of the world’s most important shipping lanes as well as rich fishing grounds. But a push by the Philippines and Vietnam for ASEAN to send a united message to an increasingly aggressive China crumbled amid resistance from Cambodia, a close Chinese ally that held the rotating chair of the bloc in 2012. [Source: AFP, April 24, 2013]

See South China Sea Dispute

China Gives Cambodia $500 Million Aid for Help in South China Sea Dispute

In September 2012, Reuters reported: “China has pledged more than $500 million in soft loans and grants to Cambodia and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao thanked it for helping Beijing maintain good relations with ASEAN. A summit of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in July failed to issue a joint communique for the first time in the group's 45-year history after disagreement over the wording of a section on territorial claims in the South China Sea. Cambodia, which chaired ASEAN in 2012, was accused by some countries in the group of stonewalling in support of its ally, China. [Source: Reuters, September 4, 2012 \\\\]

“Four loan agreements for unspecified projects worth about $420 million were signed when Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen visited China. Another three loan agreements, worth more than $80 million, were expected to be signed this year, Cambodia's Minister of Economy and Finance Aun Porn Moniroth said, adding that Wen had also promised a grant of 150 million yuan ($24 million) as "a gift" for Cambodia to use on any priority project. \\\\

"The Chinese government also voiced high appreciation for the part played by Cambodia as the chair of ASEAN to maintain good cooperation between China and ASEAN," Aun Porn Moniroth said. According to China's Xinhua state news agency, Wen said China "will closely coordinate with Cambodia and support the country to make the upcoming series of meetings for East Asian leaders a success". Those meeting are in Cambodia in November. \\\\

ASEAN Woos India As a Hedge Against China

In December 2012, The Nation reported: “It took two decades for the leaders of ASEAN and India to have the courage to say that they are strategic partners in the truest sense of the world. They have been reluctant to say this all along, as they don't want to give the wrong impression that they are ganging up against common adversaries. But the rapidly changing regional environment and global uncertainties have made ASEAN and India to realise that they have to forge a closer relations beyond the economic and trade tracks. For years, they have negotiated a free-trade agreement to promote trade and investment, which by all records dealings were still small. At the summit meeting last week in New Delhi, the leaders of ASEAN and India exhibited the same wavelength - that comprehensive relations are important to peace and stability in the region. [Source: The Nation, December 23, 2012 >>>]

“Of course, the summit successfully concluded without mentioning the rise of China and perceived threats that come with it. Everybody knows the reason why the two sides got together and upgraded their relations beyond the 20th anniversary - to essentially balance the growing influence of China. ASEAN and India were very clear not to say the obvious. In the past, ASEAN has treated India as a middle-ranked power with an inward looking attitude, focusing on its own region. However, over recent decades, with growing trade and investment and other links with ASEAN, India has become an important partner to promote economic progress in Southeast Asia. ASEAN-India ties are now much more strategic than before. >>>

ASEAN feels comfortable with India, as a rising power. New Delhi has never been perceived as a security threat in the region. Its benign foreign policy and humility has encouraged ASEAN to woo India to increase security cooperation, especially maritime security. This will be a new area of security cooperation between ASEAN and India. Deep down, ASEAN is looking to India, the world's largest democracy, as another security guarantor. Of course, the US is the main superpower, which provides to an overarching security shield for the region. But ASEAN is keen for an additional strategic partner that has proximity. Although Australia is close to Southeast Asia, it is considered a Western power with a focus mainly on protecting its and US interests in the region. >>>

From now on, India should do more to maintain the confidence of ASEAN and demonstrate its commitment to make tangible progress on their bilateral ties. In the past, ASEAN also wooed China, thinking that it would help to strengthen the regional security. However, the rising tension in the South China Sea accompanied by Beijing's tough talk has recently changed the thinking within this region. ASEAN wants to make sure that along with US, India will walk side by side with the grouping to increase its support when it is placed on a line-up with China. In a similar vein, ASEAN's increased engagement with India will intensify in proportion to the degree of cooperation the region gets from Beijing on the drafting of a code of conduct for the South China Sea and other areas. >>>

Island Disputes

See Asia, China

The gas-rich Gulf of Thailand is contested by Thailand and Cambodia and the southern South China Sea is contested by Indonesia. Malaysia and Brunei. Neil Chatterjee of Reuters wrote: “The disputed boundary in the Gulf of Thailand's Pattani Trough, a gas-producing zone, involves no territory, and comes between a Thailand desperate for more domestic fuel and a Cambodia desperate for any kind of income -- factors that could all augur well for a resolution...Other prospective South China Sea spots are between Malaysia and Brunei, as well as northeastern Borneo, claimed by Malaysia and Indonesia. But it has been just a couple of years since opposing naval ships patrolled this area to stop exploration from the likes of Total and Eni. [Source: Neil Chatterjee. Reuters, April 30, 2007]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2014

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