China-ASEAN integration to deepen despite US disruption

Source: Global Times Published: 2020/7/16 20:26:36

Illustration: Tang Tengfei/GT

With the novel coronavirus pandemic wrecking the global economy, economic ties between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), as well as regional economic integration in Asia, will be enhanced despite the US' interruptions in the South China Sea amid its intensifying presidential election season.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently said in a statement that China's maritime activity in the South China Sea were "completely unlawful", trying to stir up animosity in the area while most Asian countries and regions are focusing on epidemic prevention and economic recovery. 

Meanwhile, ASEAN topped China's trading partner list in the first half of the year despite the damaged global trading system amid the pandemic, with foreign trade increasing 5.6 percent to 2.09 trillion yuan ($299 million), according to the latest data from China's General Administration of Customs.

As the US has witnessed the highest number of COVID-19 cases ahead of the presidential election, its recent move to sow discord in the South China Sea will not be the last or the most abominable trick it will roll out to serve the White House's election demands.

Regional economic integration in Asia, however, maintains its long-term political and economic foundations and the inertia of the trend will not be easily changed by any move by the US. Conversely, ASEAN members have been long acknowledging the rivalry between China and the US and are inclined to seek balancing stances between the superpowers - a strategy in accordance with these countries' own interests.

Economically speaking, Southeast Asian countries, such as the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia, have developed stable economic ties with China in recent years. China has remained Malaysia's largest trading partner for 11 consecutive years and accounted for 17.2 percent of Malaysia's total trade in 2019, read a statement of Malaysia's Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

Though there are differences among trade ties between China and each ASEAN country, overall economic cooperation has been stably promoted in recent years. In fact, economic ties between China and ASEAN countries have been further enhanced since the Trump administration launched the trade war against China in late 2018. Potential reasons include transferred export, industrial relocation within Asia, as well as China's inclinations to the nearby regional market.

In contrast, the US has been ramping up efforts to promote its so-called "re-globalization," with its main purpose to retrieve its industries from overseas and block emerging economies' value chain involvement. And the US' economic structure has seen trends of contracting consumption, especially as the country struggles to curb the coronavirus spread. 

With a weakening role of the US in the global trading system, Asia's regional economic integration and value chain will be enhanced in the short and medium-term. 

FTA negotiations have been promoted as planned, including the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the China-Japan-South Korea Free Trade Agreement. With years of negotiation, the agreements will help facilitate trade ties between Asian economies.

The article was compiled based on a Global Times interview with Shen Minghui. Shen is the secretary-general of the Center for APEC and East Asian Cooperation with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.


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