OPINION: Test for China-Asean ties

Beijing (China Daily/ANN) - Since 2010, a series of conflicts and disputes arising from some countries' claims to China's territory in the South China Sea have affected China's image in Southeast Asia. China's hard-won image as a responsible power in Southeast Asia has encountered a crisis of trust.

For some Southeast Asian countries, China is "a partner that needs to be guarded against", and this mentality is reflected in their approach to strategic and traditional security issues.

Some countries that have territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea worry that China's military modernisation and growing nationalist sentiment will enable it to resolve the disputes by force or threat of force. They therefore deliberately seek to multilateralise the dispute by involving the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and the United States.

With the US "returning to Asia" and backing its allies, and Vietnam and the Philippines trying to portray their claims to China's territory in the South China Sea as a dispute between China and Asean, the South China Sea has become the focus of China's relations with countries in the region. And with foreign media also riding the tide and sticking their oars into the troubled waters, China needs to properly handle the South China Sea disputes and China-Asean relations.

There is a wave of public opinion in China that believes the South China Sea situation is grim, and there are even some extreme voices calling for the use of force and giving up cooperation with Asean.

However, Asean appreciates China's strategy of peaceful development and basically approves of China's principle of "shelving disputes and seeking joint development" in the South China Sea.

Overall, cooperation is still the mainstream of China-Asean relations, and most Asean members have taken a relatively positive attitude to the rise of China.

Whether the China-Asean relationship can withstand the "test" of the South China Sea disputes depends on all parties' correctly assessing the regional strategic situation. The US' strategic shift to Southeast Asia will not undermine the foundation of China-Asean relations, but will help ease some Asean countries' concerns and fears about China's rise.

The "China threat" promoted by some is one of the main factors restricting the benign development of China-Asean relations, but it cannot fundamentally reverse the overall trend of fast development of bilateral relations.

In fact, the continual updating of the China threat theory can be seen as a sign of progress in relations between China and Asean nations, as each time it emerges, China will fully demostrate its diplomacy in pursuit of good-neighbourly relations. China and Asean's ties advance each time they resolve a thorny issue.

Some Asean countries lack a proper understanding of China's intentions and policies and may feel uncomfortable about China's rapid rise. This results in them vacillating between viewing China's rise as a threat or an opportunity. Adhering to its good-neighbour policy will help China finally prove that the threat theory is groundless. Win-win cooperation has long been the driving force for the continuous improvement of China-Asean relations, and it will continue to be so.

There is no need to overestimate the US' capacity to get its hook in Asean. China also cannot expect Southeast Asian countries to act against Washington's will.

Therefore, China should continue to ignore the voices calling for the use of force to settle the disputes. The use of force against Vietnam and the Philippines would only serve to push the two countries, and probably all Asean members into the arms of the West, leading to China's decades-long diplomatic efforts in Southeast Asia coming to nothing.

The result is China would not achieve the desired strategic objectives, instead it would create a surrounding environment that was antagonistic. In that case, the South China Sea will have become a "trap" on China's path of peaceful development.

So China should focus its soft power on three things regarding the South China Sea: it should seek to seize the moral high ground; seek to increase the trust of neighbouring countries, so that they are confident that China's rise is peaceful; and build up the majesty of China, none of which should be ignored. In this way the international community - particularly Asean countries - will know that China is committed to its path of "peaceful development".

The author is a research scholar at the Institute of South and Southeast Asian Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.


Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Indonesian executions: key questions and answers
    Indonesian executions: key questions and answers

    Indonesia is set soon to execute eight foreigners convicted of drug offences, despite international outrage and desperate appeals for mercy from relatives. Authorities on Saturday gave formal notice to the eight -- from Australia, Brazil, Nigeria and the Philippines -- that they would face a firing squad imminently. If the executions go ahead, the seven men and one woman will be led to a clearing on a prison island to be shot by police marksmen -- after authorities have placed a black mark on …

  • Pagasa: Drought may worsen
    Pagasa: Drought may worsen

    The drought in 12 already dry areas in the country is expected to worsen as the summer season peaks next month, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) warned yesterday. In an advisory, PAGASA said the provinces of Albay, Bataan, Batangas, Biliran, Cavite, Cebu, Ilocos Norte, Leyte, Misamis Occidental, Pampanga, Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga del Sur will continue to receive “way below” or “below normal” rainfall in May. PAGASA defines …

  • Maximum restraint for Phl troops in West Phl Sea
    Maximum restraint for Phl troops in West Phl Sea

    The military has advised its pilots conducting surveillance in the West Philippine Sea to exercise maximum restraint even if they are being bullied by Chinese troops. Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala said all actions of the pilots should be consistent with the declaration of conduct signed by claimant countries. Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said the Philippines should remain on moral high ground when it comes to the territorial dispute. A …

  • MMDA simulates rescue march after quake, tsunami
    MMDA simulates rescue march after quake, tsunami

    The Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) yesterday led the annual rescue march from Quezon City to Manila, giving rescue volunteers a glimpse of possible scenarios if the metropolis is hit by a strong quake or is inundated by a tsunami. Cora Jimenez, MMDA general manager, said 700 volunteer rescuers walked from the Quezon City memorial circle to the Bonifacio monument in front of the Manila city hall to simulate a response-exercise to a magnitude 7.2 earthquake. Renato Solidum, …

  • Islamic State threatens Mindanao, Phl tells Asean
    Islamic State threatens Mindanao, Phl tells Asean

    Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario bared yesterday before the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) reports of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) threat to the Philippines through the Black Flag Movement in Mindanao. Speaking before ASEAN foreign ministers, Del Rosario said the ISIS threat to Philippine security is real rather than imagined because of the Black Flag Movement’s pledge of allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. …

  • ‘Chinese reclamation affecting Phl’s energy security bid’
    ‘Chinese reclamation affecting Phl’s energy security bid’

    China’s occupation and buildup of its military structures in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea is causing the country’s top energy official to get the jitters as the encroachment is seen as a huge dent on the Philippines’ efforts to achieve energy security. “It is a concern but if we don’t bring it to the United Nations, where will we bring it? We cannot bang heads with them,” Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla told The STAR in an interview over the weekend. The US Energy …

  • Phl to Asean: China getting de facto control
    Phl to Asean: China getting de facto control

    The Philippines yesterday urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to unite and stop China’s massive reclamation in disputed waters as it will give China “de facto control” over the area and cause $100 million in marine wealth losses annually. At the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting here, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario told his counterparts that the situation in West Philippine Sea had worsened just a year after the Philippines began to draw international …

  • Gov’t spends P11.8 M for Noy’s Asean trip
    Gov’t spends P11.8 M for Noy’s Asean trip

    The government has allotted about P11.8 million for President Aquino’s attendance at the 26th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi in Malaysia from April 26 to 28. “President Aquino’s participation to the 26th ASEAN Summit is important as the region gears toward the creation of an ASEAN community, which is envisioned to provide new opportunities for the peoples of this region, including the Philippines,” Ochoa said in a statement. He was with …


Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Poll Choice Options