Home>News Center>China

Solidifying China's regional partnerships
By Eric Teo Chu-cheow (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-05-15 11:25

Relations between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have improved tremendously over the past decade and are set to develop further, as outlined by President Hu Jintao at the opening of the Boao Forum in Hainan late last month.

And when China and ASEAN open their annual think-tank dialogue in Beijing next week, they will be actively looking for ways to promote co-operation across multiple areas of common concern, from economics and social issues to politics and security.

With the current tension and uncertainty in cross-Straits relations and on the Korean Peninsula, China's relations with Southeast Asia have become a major factor in consolidating regional stability.

In fact, the successful strengthening of ASEAN-China relations, despite historical animosities and some recent economic concerns, can be attributed to China's successful political, economic and cultural cultivation of ASEAN.

China's soft influence has risen substantially in Southeast Asia, which has in turn boosted Beijing's clout and standing within ASEAN.

At the close of the annual National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference sessions in Beijing in early March, Premier Wen Jiabao described China as a friendly elephant, which poses no threat to ASEAN.

ASEAN countries today embrace unequivocally and acknowledge publicly the one-China policy, and actively engage Beijing in regional co-operation.

On the other hand, ASEAN countries have also witnessed a major perceptual change regarding China, from what was dubbed a "China threat" (in economic, trade, investment and social/job terms) just three years ago to one of a benign China, with ample opportunities for ASEAN. This is the result of three decisive factors.

First, Beijing's pragmatic policy of political stabilization has reassured ASEAN leaders.With greater sophistication in foreign policy, Beijing espouses strategic engagement with and has extended its hand of friendship to ASEAN.

Second, China presents major economic opportunities for ASEAN, thanks first to Beijing's political decision not to competitively devalue renminbi during the 1997-98 Asian Financial Crisis, and then to the current trade surpluses accorded to ASEAN countries by Beijing.

China seeks stability for its own economic and social development, based on its current line of promoting stability, development, reforms. The common feeling in ASEAN is that they could now do business with a more pragmatic generation of Chinese leaders, as Beijing promises trade, investments, human resource development and co-operation with ASEAN countries, thus consolidating regional growth and stability.

Third, the perception of China as a "reduced threat" is also due to Beijing's new and active sophisticated diplomacy, from Deng Xiaoping, through the Jiang Zemin-Zhu Rongji team to the present Hu Jintao-Wen Jiabao leadership.

ASEAN countries are constantly assured of a benign China, a responsible regional player and stabilizer, which in turn has considerably reduced the former perception of this country as a military or political threat.

Commensurate with China's rise as an economic and political power has been a concurrent rise in China's soft power in Southeast Asia.

Chinese culture, cuisine, calligraphy, cinema, art, medicine and fashion fads have strengthened the region's culture.

Fascination for popular Chinese culture amongst ASEAN youth in films, pop music and television is noticeable, even though such popular culture may have emanated from Hong Kong or Taiwan and not necessarily, the mainland.

Joint Chinese film productions, such as "Hero" or "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (which pooled the best acting talents from the mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong) have hit international box offices and given Chinese culture a further boost. Mainland cinema idols, like Zhang Yimou and Gong Li, are beginning to command greater following.

Meanwhile, the mainland's flagship consumer brand names (like Haier, TCL and Huawei) are becoming increasingly popular in ASEAN, particularly for economical electronic and telecommunication products in Indonesia, the Philippines and Viet Nam. This branding of Chinese goods upwards in ASEAN markets will have positive soft power and imaging effects on ASEAN societies.

Even more importantly in Southeast Asia today is the rise of the role of ethnic Chinese in the region. This group has now swung towards a more benign China outlook and appears to be riding on the emerging China for trade and investments.

Most significantly, the attitude of these people has become less biased and they are making a real contribution towards the strengthening of China's soft power in the region.

The convergence of China's rise in economic, political and soft power, ASEAN's softened threat perception of China and the rise of ethnic Chinese power in Southeast Asia all presage healthy future development and growth in ASEAN-China relations.

  Today's Top News     Top China News

Banks urged to follow policies in offering loans



Taiwan's Chen urged to cancel inauguration



Firms notified of new food import policies



Diamonds worth US$1m stolen while on show



France: U.S. must accept end of occupation



President Roh gets back his seat


  Solidifying China's regional partnerships
  China had 113.9 million migrant workers in 2003
  Two more wounded Chinese back from Pakistan
  Tide containing toxins swells near Zhoushan
  Four regions struck in series of disasters
  Taiwan separatists courting danger
  Go to Another Section  
  Story Tools  
  News Talk  
  When will china have direct elections?