The Chinese government is responding to the US-ASEAN summit and is warning Southeast Asian countries of US selfish interests in the region.
On May 12 and 13, the United States held the special summit of the United States Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Washington DC. The summit celebrated 45 years with the US-ASEAN partnership, looking into the future of the relationship and the importance of the US in the region, which has been increasingly dominated by China. The summit focused on economic recovery, health security, climate change, green energy, pandemic recovery, support for gender equality and women’s empowerment and the strengthening of human-to-people exchanges.
The growing importance of ASEAN in the world
The ASEAN countries have been at the center of rapid economic growth and have the potential to further increase global trade and economic development. According to a 2014 report by McKinsey, the ASEAN region was one of the fastest growing trading hubs along with an equally significant and diverse consumer market. The trade value of the ten countries accounted for $ 2.4 trillion in 2013. The huge markets enable uninterrupted product demand, while the countries’ geographical location makes it a vital trading destination along the maritime trade routes.
China’s close ties with ASEAN
The China-ASEAN Summit, which took place on 22 November 2021, celebrated the 30th anniversary of their relations. Through the summit, China expanded its influence in the region and strengthened its economic ties with the ten Southeast Asian countries. China established diplomatic relations with the countries of the region in 1991, and since then trade relations have improved exponentially. Trade between China and ASEAN valued at $ 684.6 billion in 2020, of which trade between the United States and ASEAN was $ 362.2 billion. China’s economic ties with the region have thus made it an important partner. China also considers ASEAN an important economic partner as it first ranked as Beijing’s largest trading partner. In addition, international initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank have brought China and ASEAN closer together due to the deep economic and financial ties with each other.
China’s perspectives on the summit
China does not view the US-ASEAN summit in a positive light and has expressed its dissatisfaction with US political and economic interference in the region. On May 12, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian referred to the summit and called on the United States to play a positive and constructive role in the region instead of creating divisions. Zhao said: “The United States should not use cooperation as a cover to force others to take sides or play with fire in matters of China’s core interests.”
China has criticized the US-ASEAN summit for the following reasons:
First, the increased U.S. presence in the region is part of the U.S. strategy for the Indo-Pacific. China sees the summit as the Biden administration’s ticket into the region and fears that the rise in interest is part of the US strategy for the Indo-Pacific. The Chinese government expects increased US involvement in the Indo-Pacific region and has warned Southeast Asian countries that the US was only trying to get beyond China by using ASEAN as a tool against it. Chinese media agencies have highlighted the positive response from countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia at the summit. The heads of state of these countries clarified their position on the cooperation and refused to take sides. Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech techo Hun Sen said: “We do not have to choose between the United States and China.”
Second, the United States has its selfish interests in the region. At the summit, the United States promised investments of 150 million. USD. However, Chinese analysts expect that $ 60 million will only be spent on helping US partners establish and maintain maritime defenses. Political analysts see these expenditures as an attempt to control the South China Sea through Southeast Asian countries. The United States has also been criticized for its one-sided goal of focusing on security or creating resistance to China’s influence in the region, while talking about other goals such as clean energy, climate change, education, gender equality and more. Chinese media agencies also stressed the tendency of the United States to make decisions unilaterally without taking into account other countries and their convenience. The United States was accused of setting a date for the summit on its own; which later had to be postponed as not all managers were available on the previously mentioned dates. U.S. actions showed its exclusive mindset, according to the Global Times.
Why is China against US involvement in ASEAN?
First, the economic balance of Southeast Asia. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations with ASEAN in 1991 and then achieved full status as a dialogue partner in 1996, China and the ten ASEAN member states have been closely dependent on each other’s trade, markets, production hubs and service sectors. Since 2009, China has continued to be ASEAN’s largest trading partner. According to data revealed by the Chinese government, ASEAN ranked first in terms of trade in the period January-April 2022, followed by the EU and then the US. Although the United States already has extensive relations with the countries in various areas, China is reluctant to abandon one of its safest centers of economic activity. Increased US presence may once again pit Chinese and American goods and services against each other.
Secondly, the political interference. US President Joe Biden’s primary political focus has been on the Indo-Pacific region and countering the growing Chinese influence in both global politics as well as the global economy. China is aware of the intentions of the United States and therefore wants to limit its presence close to its territory. In addition, US interference in what China considers to be its internal affairs, such as the violation of human rights in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region and Tibet, the implementation of the National Security Act in Hong Kong, the issues in the Taiwan Strait and the aggression in the South China Sea have further annoyed the Chinese government to draw clear borders while trading with the United States. China therefore believes that the US is aiming to interfere in its affairs while hiding behind the ASEAN countries.
“The China-ASEAN relations are being expanded into a comprehensive strategic partnership” Asian News InternationalNovember 22, 2021
“China calls on the United States to promote regional peace and stability at the forthcoming US-ASEAN summit” Xinhua NetMay 12, 2022
“US-ASEAN Summit” US State Department
“Understanding ASEAN: Seven Things You Need to Know” McKinseyMay 1, 2014
“ASEAN is not a tool for the United States in its fight against China: Global Times editorial” Global TimesMay 15, 2022
“ASEAN gets to know China’s inclusiveness versus US selfishness” Global TimesMay 15, 2022
“ASEAN-CHINA ECONOMIC RELATIONS” ASEAN
China Reader Daily Brief is a new initiative from the NIAS course on Global politics at the Science, Technology and International Relations Program at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS). The course provides an introduction to modern world affairs with a research focus to identify, analyze and predict trends in world politics.
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