Amidst the gloom cast by the haze in the region and the setback for democracy in Thailand, there was at least something to celebrate in the coming weeks.
The Chinese are going all out to showcase their blossoming relationship with their Southeast Asian counterparts. A commemorative ASEAN-China Summit is scheduled on 30-31 October and it will coincide with the 3rd ASEAN-China Exposition in Nanning (scheduled on 31 October- 3 November).
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is expected to welcome the ASEAN leaders including the new Thai Prime Minister, Surayud Chulanont at the commemorative summit to mark the 15th anniversary of China-ASEAN Dialogue relations. However, the significance of the event is not so much the number of years of establishment of dialogue partnership but that the Chinese succeeded in winning the ASEAN leaders’ agreement to hold a summit in China.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Tong Xiaoling said that the leaders would issue a joint statement highlighting the achievements since the establishment of dialogue relationship between China and ASEAN as well as sketching out the future direction of China- ASEAN relations in various aspects such as in the political, economic, diplomatic, social and cultural. Wen would also meet the ASEAN leaders bilaterally.
The increasing cosiness of relations between China and ASEAN could be explained in part by the expanding economic ties between the two. In 2005, the bilateral trade rose by 23% (compared to 2004) to US$47 billion. There is also an impressive 644 regular flights operating between China and ASEAN weekly.
No wonder then that the ASEAN members are reportedly sending large delegations comprising of diplomatic and business representatives to both the commemorative summit and the Expo. For instance, 180 participants representing 120 companies are expected from Malaysia alone to attend the ASEAN-China Exposition.
The Japanese must be wondering what the fuss is all about. After all, Japan is still by far the largest investor in ASEAN. The Japanese invested a whopping US$32 billion in ASEAN in 1995-2004 compared to the paltry US$1 billion invested by the Chinese in the same period. The Chinese are only the third largest investor in the region, after the South Koreans who have invested US$4 billion in the same period. Yet, Japan does not seem to have been able to transform its large economic clout into political capital in the region. Koizumi did not seem to have put in much effort in his 6 years of reign. Will Shinzo Abe be any different in its policy towards its poorer Southeast Asian neighbours?
Malaysia Sending Big Team to China Expo (New Straits Times, 14 October 2006)
Wen to Meet ASEAN Nations’ Leaders (Chinadaily.com.cn, 14 October 2006)
China, ASEAN Leaders to Set New Agenda at Summit (Malaysia General News, 13 October 2006)
644 Flights Operated Between China and ASEAN Weekly: Civil Aviation Authority (Xinhua, 13 October 2006)
Japan Pumps US$32 BLN in FDI to ASEAN Countries from 1995-2004 (Asia Pulse, 12 October 2006)