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Different strategic priorities of Southeast Asian states displayed in the run-up to the ASEAN-China Summit

Updated On: Oct 31, 2006

This week, ASEAN and Chinese leaders are expected to reiterate the importance of their bilateral relations, review the cooperation efforts thus far and propose plans for the future.

Although the China-ASEAN Summit to be held on Monday (30 October) was to be the key meeting, many bilateral meetings between the ASEAN leaders and some of the Chinese leaders have already been held. The spread of issues covered in these bilateral meetings are yet another reminder of the diversity of the ASEAN members.

The ASEAN China Commemorative summit is held to mark 15 years of dialogue relations between ASEAN and China. The summit, held in Nanningin Guangxi province coincides with the third China- ASEAN Expo and the China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit. The political significance of the summit is that it is held outside of ASEAN. The last time ASEAN held a summit with a dialogue partner was in Japan in 2003 when both sides celebrated 30th anniversary of dialogue relations.

Both China and ASEAN emphasise the importance of the ASEAN-China FTA and pledge political will on the ongoing negotiation. In his opening speech, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has called for speeding up of negotiations on the ACFTA particularly the services and investment chapters so that the FTA could be in place by 2010. The negotiations for both these chapters have taken longer than expected. Wen also suggested signing a new agreement to expand economic ties but did not offer any further detail.

The North Korean nuclear testing issue was mentioned as President Arroyo praised China for its ‘hands-on role’ in sponsoring the Six Party Talks on the North Korea nuclear issue. However, another issue- the possibility of a regional “code of conduct” in the South China Sea is also likely to be included on the joint statement. President Arroyo is particularly keen on this inclusion. However, given that both China and ASEAN have already signed an agreement over the code of conduct in the South China Sea, it is unknown as to what the new code will add to the original agreement.

Whilst the ASEAN-China summit is likely to attract much media attention, it is in the bilateral meetings between the ASEAN leaders and the Chinese where the individual ASEAN members’ strategic priorities are shown. 

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Chinese Vice-Premier Huang Ju attended a signing of a memorandum of understanding on energy and mining cooperation in Shanghai on Saturday, 28 October. Yudhoyono said that energy security is a “key factor in allowing China and Indonesia to achieve peace, stability and development.” Both Yudhoyono and Huang attended the second Sino-Indonesian energy forum, the first of which was held in Baliin 2002. An estimated US$4 billion worth of contracts (between Indonesian state oil company Pertamina and Chinese firms) covering 9 energy-related projects was signed at the forum. Earlier this year, Indonesia had agreed to supply annually 2.6 million tons of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from its Tangguh gas field to China’s Fujian province from 2009 to 2034.

The Philippines President Arroyo held talks in Xiamen in the Southeastern province of Fujianover the weekend as part of her five-day visit of China. Arroyo met with Lu Zhanggong, the provincial party secretary of the Communist Party to discuss closer economic relations. Prior to her trip, Arroyo highlighted the importance of Chinese investment in the Philippines and Chinese tourists in the Philippines. The Chinese are also helping to rehabilitate a railway system in the north of Manila. Arroyo even went to the extent of urging China to be “a good big brother” of ASEAN.

Then she visited Nanchang on Saturday (28 October), making a speech at Nanchang University before meeting with Meng Jianzhu, secretary of the Jiangxi Provincial Committee of Communist Party of China and Huang Zhiquan, governor of Jiangxi. Both Meng and Arroyo agreed to promote economic cooperation and promote investment between the two countries. Arroyo witnessed the signing of an agreement between the leaders of Jiangxi province and Bohol province of the Philippines, which mean that both province would become “sister provinces” in May 2007.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met with Guangdong Party Secretary Zhang Dejiang on Friday (27 October) to discuss greater economic cooperation. Zhang called for more Singaporean businesses to make use of the 9+2 grouping to expand in the Pearl River Delta region. The 9+2 grouping was started in 2004 and included Guangdong, Guangxi, Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Hunan, Jiangxi, Fujian, Hainan Island, Hong Kong and Macao.

Lee then left for Chengduin Sichuan Province on Saturday (28 October). This is his first visit there. Singapore is currently the fourth largest investor in Sichuanprovince. A Singapore-Sichuan Trade and Investment Committee has been set up in 1996 with Singapore’s Minister of National Development, Mah Bow Tan as the Advisor to the committee. In his meeting with the Governor of Sichuan Province, Zhang Zhongwei, Lee agreed to work together to boost bilateral tourism.

Lee subsequently met with Mr Liu Qibao, Guangxi’s Party Secretary who briefed the former on the proposal for an economic corridor from Nanning to Singapore. The proposal (“China-ASEAN M-Shaped Regional Economic Cooperation Strategy”) had been earlier announced in July would, if realised, link seven countries by road and rail. It would also link up several existing economic projects including the Pan-Beibu Gulf Economic Cooperation Zone, the Greater Mekong Subregion and the Nanning-Singapore Economic Corridor. This project is also supposedly supported by Wen Jiabao.

More importantly for Singapore is the initiation of its bilateral free trade agreement negotiation with China. The FTA is likely to cover not only trade in goods, services and investments but also cooperation in a number of sectors such as health-care, IT, education, transport and tourism.

The Thai prime minister installed by the coup leader took the opportunity at the summit to reassure his regional colleagues that democracy would return to Thailandwithin a year.  What would also be interesting would be the dialogue between Thai interim prime minister and Singapore as the fact that Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont had skipped Singapore in his “familiarisation” visits to Southeast Asian neighbours had set tongues wagging.

With all these meetings taking place in the run-up to the Summit, the Chinese seems to have succeeded in their aim of promoting closer political ties with the various ASEAN members. China’s increasing “comfort level” with ASEAN is also reflected in Malaysian Foreign Minister’s appeal to China to help with “nudging”Myanmar towards more reforms. Although Syed Hamid emphasised that Myanmar was primarily ASEAN’s problem, he conceded that China (and India) had a role to play. He said, “I think wherever they can exercise their influence to encourage, we would be very happy.”

Sources

ASEAN-China Summit Urges Talks on North Korean Issue (The Star Online, 30 October 2006)

China Wants to Deepen Military, Economic Ties With ASEAN (The Straits Times, 30 October 2006)

China and ASEAN Determined to Meet 2010 Deadline for Free Trade Area (The Straits Times, 30 October 2006)

China Wants Economic Corridor From Guangxi to Singapore (The Straits Times, 30 October 2006)

Beijing Lays the Ground for Soft-Power Influence (The Straits Times, 30 October 2006)

Any Chinese Help on Myanmar ‘Welcome’ (The Straits Times, 30 October 2006)

China-ASEAN Ties ‘Moving Ahead With Strong Momentum’ (New Straits Times, 30 October 2006)

Arroyo Holds Bilateral Talks With China, ASEAN Leaders (Philippines Daily Inquirer, 30 October 2006)

Roundup: Southeast Asian Leaders Gather in China for China Summit(Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 29 October 2006)

ChinaIndonesia Sign Energy, Mining Cooperation Agreement (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 29 October 2006)

China, ASEAN To Hasten Moves for Free Trade Zone (The Straits Times, 29 October 2006)

Malaysia Welcomes China’s Help on Myanmar (The Straits Times, 29 October 2006)

China- ASEAN Summit to Discuss North Korea (Japan Economic Newswire, 29 October 2006)

Philippine President Arroyo Visits Jiangxi Province (Xinhua General News, 29 October 2006)

Guangdong Leaders Calls for More Singapore Investment, Cooperation (The Business Times, 28 October 2006)

Guangdong Wants Singapore Investments; PM Lee Hopeful that Opportunities For Cooperation Will Multiply (The Straits Times, 28 October 2006)

PM Lee Makes His First Visit To China’s Sichuan Province(ChannelNewsAsia, 28 October)

Yudhoyono Sets Out to Boost Ties with China (The Straits Times, 28 October 2006)

ASEAN-China Ties Reaching New Milestones (The Straits Times, 28 October 2006)

ChinaSingapore Kick Off Free Trade Talks in Beijing (The Straits Times, 27 October 2006)

Roundup: Philippines Leader Begins Five-Day Visit to China(Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 27 October 2006)

Arroyo Looks to China for Investments; Philippine Leader will Seek to Boost Trade and Secure Cheap Loan on Visit (The Straits Times, 27 October 2006)