China-ASEAN relations and the geopolitical developments in Southeast Asia


A special summit is held today, dedicated to the 30th anniversary of dialogue relations between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China. During the summit, the parties agreed formally modernize their relationship to a “comprehensive strategic partnership.”

This process is natural, given that China and the ASEAN countries are each other’s largest trading partners and the most significant partners for peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. Thus, according to official statistics, in January-October, trade between China and the member countries of the Association amounted to $ 703.33 billion, a yearly increase of 30%. This indicator significantly exceeded the volume of trade between China and the European Union ($ 670.37 billion) and the United States ($ 609.93 billion) over the same period. In addition, on November 15, 2020, China and 14 countries in the Asia-Pacific region signed the world’s largest free trade agreement, which is likely to enter into force in 2022.

Territorial disputes in the South China Sea

According to ASEAN Briefing, a comprehensive strategic partnership will further bring Southeast Asia closer to China, give a significant impetus to trade, and allow resolving disputes in the South China Sea. It is important to emphasize that China and several ASEAN members have overlapping claims over the islands and their surrounding shipping lanes. This leads to regular clashes between fishing fleets, oil exploration vessels and warships, which in turn negatively affect regional peace and stability. However, in August of this year, a code of conduct was agreed that would lay the foundation for the settlement of maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

Speaking at the summit today, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that Beijing has never sought hegemony or use of its powers to intimidate its neighbors and will work with ASEAN to eliminate interference.

At the same time, yesterday, the European Union press secretary once again pointed out to China the importance of observing freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and spoke in support of the code of conduct, which is being developed by the ASEAN countries.

Geopolitical developments in the region

The scale of Chinese influence in Southeast Asia is pushing the United States to become more actively involved in the affairs of the region in order to expand its strategic capabilities, thus making the region a field of confrontation.

In thıs context, Global Times writes that many observers note that the ASEAN bloc has never clung to the United States or turned into a map used by the United States to contain China. Moreover, China and ASEAN have sought to improve their relationship solely based on the practical needs of both parties, which are not targeted or affected by any third party.

On the other hand, Henrick Tsjeng, an international studies scholar at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, thinks that Washington will view the modernization of ASEAN-China relations as an attempt by Beijing to gain further influence in Southeast Asia and use the region to counter China’s influence. Thus, several senior US officials have visited Southeast Asia in recent months, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Vice President Kamala Harris and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, each of whom has pledged new military and political partnerships.

As This Week in Asia reports, in connection with the rise of China and the reorientation of U.S. strategy to counter China in all spheres, in which the announcement of AUKUS is its latest manifestation, is increasingly undermining peace and stability and could turn Southeast Asia into frontline states. According to Sarang Shidore, such a bleak future can be averted if India and the ASEAN, led by key member states such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Singapore, can develop common strategic convergence in their relations with the US and China. Consequently, the way ASEAN interact and manage its relations with two great powers will have a significant impact on the future of the region.


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