China’s maturing relations with ASEAN and US’s checkered attention

Updated On: Oct 27, 2006

The upcoming commemorative ASEAN-China summit is likely to be a showcase of the close political ties between China and ASEAN with all the ASEAN leaders attending.

The ASEAN-China Expo will also be held around the same period, highlighting the importance of rapidly growing economic ties between both parties. In an interview with Xinhua, the ASEAN Secretary-General, Ong Keng Yong has called for both sides to avoid competing head-on and more “physical involvement byChina in our [ASEAN] industries and trade.”

Beyond economics, the Chinese are also trying to broaden the depth of their relations with ASEAN beyond the economic and political aspects to the social aspects. A women forum will be held on the sideline of the ASEAN-China Summit to discuss joint efforts to cooperate on various issues socioeconomic and cultural development.

The US is also seemingly increasing its attention on Southeast Asian region and ASEAN However, while there will be a summit-level meeting between US President Bush and his ASEAN counterparts at the sideline of the coming Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, not all the ASEAN leaders will be present. Only the APEC members will be present. A formal US-ASEAN Summit is unlikely for now complicated by Myanmar and the recent coup in Thailand.  The USgovernment is constrained by Section 508 of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act which essentially calls for the suspension of military assistance to a country whose elected government is overthrown by undemocratic means. The US has thus far suspended military aid worth approximately US$25 million. Military cooperation in other areas has also been put on hold.

On the FTA front, the China-ASEAN FTA is proceeding fairly smoothly with the goods chapter agreed. Negotiations on the services and investment chapters are still on-going. Singapore and China have also started negotiating on a separate bilateral FTA.

On the other hand, the United States’ FTA negotiations with its Asian partners such as ThailandSouth Korea and Malaysia have been dogged by controversy. There have been massive protests against the FTA negotiation with US in Thailand and South Korea. Protests have also been planned against Malaysia’s FTA negotiation with the US. The US’ FTA negotiations with Thailand have also hit a standstill with the coup. The US has declined to negotiate a FTA with the Philippinesciting the lack of time (before the President’s fast-track powers expire) and the need for greater reforms on the Philippines’ side.

While the US’ relations with ASEAN are not developing as smoothly as that of China with ASEAN, the US should be credited for continuing to give some attention to the region. Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew observed that while the United States had an enhanced partnership with ASEAN, it did not have “the thrust behind it because the energies are being consumed by the Middle East.” A larger part of US’ Asian diplomacy is also tied up in Northeast Asia, particularly now with the Korean peninsula issue. Fortunately, on this issue, both the US and China seem to be cooperating.


Singapore’s Lee Heads to China To Celebrate ASEAN Links (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 26 October 2006)

PM Lee in China to Commemorate 15th Anniversary of ASEAN-China Ties (The Business Times [Singapore], 26 October 2006)

Myanmar PM To Attend China-ASEAN Summit (Xinhua General News, 26 October 2006)

China, ASEAN Should Not Compete Head-On (Business Daily Update, 23 October 2006)  

Washington Not Disengaging from Asia (The Straits Times, 23 October 2006)

US Faces Delicate Situation in Thailand; It Condemns Coup But Harsh Action May Push Bangkok Closer to Beijing (The Straits Times, 23 October 2006)

Anti-Free Trade Alliance Plans Mass Protest During US-Malaysia Trade Talks at End-Oct (The Associated Press, 19 October 2006)

Private Sector’s FTA Push (The Nation [Thailand], 19 October 2006)

No Early RP-US Trade Deal (More PhilippinesReforms Needed; US Law To Expire Soon), BusinessWorld, 12 October 2006)