Op-Ed Contributors

China, the US and ASEAN

By Pang Zhongying (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-09-22 08:11
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The role of regional powers is increasing even at high-level meetings of big countries, paving the way for multilateralism

It might be one of the most feasible arrangements of diplomacy for the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to hold a summit this month in New York on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly session.

Not long ago, an article published by the Hawaii-based Pacific Forum with the US Center for Strategic and International Studies suggested that the summit be held in Washington. But there are technical obstacles to that.

US President Barack Obama met his counterparts from the 10-member ASEAN during the first US-ASEAN summit held last year in Singapore. To reflect Washington's renewed policy for the region, the US changed its stance and finally joined the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia.

By criticizing that former US president George W. Bush's team neglected Southeast Asia, the Obama administration had promised it would reinvigorate US policy toward ASEAN.

At the Asian Regional Forum held this July in Hanoi, ASEAN also announced its decision to expand the East Asia Summit (EAS) to include the US and Russia. As such, the EAS will experience its second expansion, from "10 plus 6" to "10 plus 8".

When the US and ASEAN made up the "10 plus 1" mechanism, the ASEAN-dominated mechanism had already changed in nature. The 10 ASEAN member nations confirmed their need for a US role in Asia and hoped that it would fulfill its security "commitment" in Southeast Asia.

After the September US-ASEAN summit, the Obama administration will have more opportunities to engage closely with ASEAN member nations in a series of multilateral events late this year, such as the G20 summit scheduled to be held in the Republic of Korea, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) high-level meeting in Japan and the EAS in Vietnam. During these meetings, US-ASEAN ties will further warm up.

Indonesia will assume the rotating presidency of ASEAN next year. Obama had planned to visit Indonesia where he spent his childhood. Indonesian officials and people were looking forward to the trip. But it was postponed because of various reasons.

Attending the EAS in Indonesia next year will be a good opportunity for Obama to retrace his childhood. US-ASEAN relations will hit a new high when that time comes.

On Jan 2 this year, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also spelled out the Obama administration's blueprint for the Asia-Pacific "regional architecture". Obama will host the 2011 APEC high-level meeting in Hawaii, an important step toward such a new "Asia-Pacific" rather than "Asian" (East Asian) regional order.

The stance and policies of ASEAN member nations are key to the construction of the framework. Currently, ASEAN members are generally supportive of the framework. The Hawaii APEC meeting will be a sign of the culmination of US-ASEAN ties.

By inviting a larger role for the US in Southeast Asia, the ASEAN is obviously to balance "China's rise". Such an act is not new.

Over the past 20 years since the end of the Cold War, China-ASEAN relations have witnessed tremendous progress. Because of the economic recession caused by the international financial crisis, the importance of US and European markets for ASEAN is growing smaller, while the Chinese market is becoming increasingly significant. China is now ASEAN's largest trade partner, and bilateral trade and investment are maintaining good momentum.

The Chinese government also provides development assistance for nations in the region. In addition, China and ASEAN have become partners in many multilateral events.

China is committed to the development of bilateral relations with ASEAN. It also supports ASEAN-led regionalism and inter-regionalism. And it insists on resolving disputes with Southeast Asian nations through dialogue and cooperation.

In the Asia-Pacific region, there have been several de facto critical trilateral relations or interactions such as the China-Japan-US one. A new triangle is now forming: China and the US have to meet in ASEAN.

For a constructive and positive interaction among China, ASEAN and the US, based on regional multilateralism and broader regionalism, the three parties can hold trilateral contacts formally and informally to a new spirit of trilateralism.

The author is a Beijing-based scholar and analyst in global affairs. He teaches global governance at Renmin University of China.

(China Daily 09/22/2010 page4)