China: A Catalyst for Asian Regional Integration

2003

Dr Baogang He

In the past China was reluctant to accept Asian multilateralism. China was not a founding member of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum and was initially against the concept of a ‘Pacific Community’. China was also reluctant to engage in multilateral security dialogue such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). However, the political costs of non-participation in the ARF were much greater for China. At the first ARF Ministerial Meeting in 1994, China strongly resisted addressing the Spratley Islands issue. In the Fourth ARF Ministerial Meeting, China opposed the proposal that the ARF move from its first phase of confidence-building to its intended second phase of preventative diplomacy. China’s attitude towards the ARF has become warmer as reflected by the shift in position in recent years.

China has developed a close relationship with ASEAN. In November 2000, Prime Minister Zhu Rongji advocated working towards a Free Trade Area (FTA) between China and Southeast Asia within ten years. Beijing now wants an ASEAN-China FTA by 2010. China has also signed the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation at the ASEAN Summit in Bali in October 2003. Two or three years ago, China’s economic development was perceived by some ASEAN commentators as a threat to ASEAN economies. However, with its current trade deficit with ASEAN countries, China is now seen as an engine of ASEAN growth and a catalyst for regional integration.

China’s regional cooperation with ASEAN is aimed towards accruing economic benefits from the regional free trade regime, and at defusing the fear of a threat from China in the Southeast Asian region. China’s economic development needs overseas markets not only in the US and Europe, but also in Asia. In addition, China needs to be engaged in regionalism to counterbalance the increasing power of the US in East Asia and the Bush administration’s hawkish policy toward China.

China is attempting to balance its integration into the global, Asia-Pacific regional and East Asian contexts. China has not only developed links with maritime ASEAN regionalism, but has also initiated and promoted continental regionalism, for example through the development of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). On 15 June 2001, the six SCO member states signed the Shanghai Convention, officially bringing the organization into being. China has hosted the office of the SCO Secretariat in Beijing in 2003. Thus, it seems that China is attempting to balance its regional cooperation on both the maritime and continental regionalism fronts.

WATCHPOINT: China will increasingly support regionalism due to the expansion of economic forces in Asia. Whether or not China will develop a greater vision for Asian regionalism will have tremendous implications for both Asia and beyond.

 

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AFG Venture Group is an Asia and Australia based corporate advisory and consulting firm with over 20 years experience in creating alliances, relationships and transactions in Australia, South East Asia and India; including a 15 year history of corporate and equities advisory in Australia, undertaking merger, acquisition, divestment, fund raising and consulting for private and public companies.

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