Effective communication, cooperation best for ASEAN

By Li Qingqing Source:Global Times Published: 2019/7/31 22:03:40

The 52nd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers meeting is being held in Bangkok, Thailand from Monday to Saturday. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will attend a series of related meetings, including the ASEAN Regional Forum, and is scheduled to co-chair the US-ASEAN Ministerial. 

"The United States is back," said former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton during her trip to Thailand in 2009. Since then, every time high ranking US officials visit Southeast Asia, they seem to have a clear target - China. As the US adjusts its China policy and adopts more containment policies, it can be predicted that Pompeo will not let China off easily as well.

However, the US can never rope in Southeast Asian countries by launching a trade war with China. Instead, the more Washington tries to rope in ASEAN members to oppose China, the more they will move closer to China. The reason is simple: The US cannot provide ASEAN with what the intergovernmental organization really needs.

What ASEAN members need the most is peaceful development and prosperity. But just look at what Washington has been doing in ASEAN: On one hand, the US keeps reaffirming its so-called commitment to ASEAN; on the other, it has been forcing ASEAN members to pick sides between China and the US and claims ASEAN members would benefit from the China-US trade war. The US verbally defends ASEAN's interests, but its actions benefit only itself.

ASEAN has been moving toward a prosperous future by cooperating with China. 

The rapid change in relations between China and ASEAN has far exceeded the Americans' expectations. China's State Council Information Office on Wednesday said China has surpassed the US to become the largest trading partner of ASEAN, and ASEAN has become China's second-largest trading partner. The two sides have set up a good model of cooperation.

The China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has also been operating well among ASEAN members, bringing convenience to the region's connectivity and infrastructure construction. As the US promotes trade protectionism and unilateralism, some Chinese enterprises' investment in ASEAN has boosted its members' economic development and strengthened people-to-people exchanges.

However, China understands that ASEAN is in a difficult situation. As Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at the 33rd ASEAN summit in November 2018, "Time may come when ASEAN may have to choose one or the other [China or the US]. I am hoping that it's not coming soon." 

China understands that it is unrealistic for ASEAN to completely stand against the largest economy in the world, and China will never force ASEAN members to choose between Beijing and Washington. This is a cooperative and pragmatic solution.

ASEAN members surely know what is good for them. We believe that effective communication and mutually beneficial cooperation, instead of the hollow promises that the US used to coax ASEAN members, is the best way for regional prosperity.

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