Economic concern prompts ASEAN to tilt toward China

By Liu Jianxi Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/3 22:58:40

The 30th ASEAN Summit concluded in Manila over the weekend. Compared with last year, ASEAN has taken a softer stance on the South China Sea issue. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte dropped references to "land reclamation and militarization" from his chairman's statement, and visited Chinese warships in Davao City following the summit, cementing Beijing-Manila ties with concrete actions.

Some Western media outlets argue that Asian countries have been "pulled into China's orbit" as US President Donald Trump takes on an "America first" doctrine. The summit is a clear sign that a "fundamental geostrategic shift is gathering momentum" in Southeast Asia, according to Reuters.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, was quoted as saying that "If China continues to be shrewd and takes ASEAN on another ride, then ASEAN will be much worse off."

ASEAN countries are leaning closer to Beijing because the latter has instilled much impetus to regional development. China's One Belt and One Road initiative advocates extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits. Although suspicious of the initiative at the very beginning, more ASEAN countries are angling for a slice of the infrastructure investment projects.

Immediately after taking office, Trump announced the US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and said that Japan and South Korea should bear more costs of hosting the US military. This demonstrates that the US has limited capability or desire to aid the economic development of its Asian allies.

In addition, Washington has constantly hyped up the "China threat" theory, and attempted to drive a wedge between Beijing and ASEAN. This is jeopardizing regional peace and stability, negatively affecting regional economic development, and forcing ASEAN countries to pick sides. Southeast Asia wants development, rather than to be a pawn for the US' Asia-Pacific strategy.

ASEAN relies on China for its economy and the US for security, and attempted to strike a balance between the two. However, as Beijing keeps providing development dividends to the region, such a balance can hardly be maintained. Economic cooperation is also laying the foundation for regional countries to establish a new order.

Unless Trump puts more efforts toward promoting regional development and peace, ASEAN will continue to move closer to China.


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