Zhao Yi: Current Relations between China and ASEAN Countries: Challenges and Opportunities

Author:Zhao Yi Date:2018-12-12

On the evening of December 10th, 2018, the Institute of International and Strategic Studies (IISS), Peking University (PKU) held the 27th seminar of "North Pavilion Seminar" series. Zhao Yi, Associate Professor and Tutor of Postgraduates of National Security College of National Defense University, PLA, China and an expert in the Steering Committee for National Military Professional Degree Postgraduate Education, gave a seminar entitled "Current Relations between China and ASEAN Countries: Challenges and Opportunities". The seminar was hosted by Gui Yongtao, Assistant President of the IISS and Vice President of the School of International Studies (SIS), PKU.

Zhao Yi introduced the development history of the relations between China and ASEAN countries and the current opportunities and challenges in the relations from three aspects, i.e. the importance of Southeast Asia to China, the ASEAN's strategic direction, and thoughts on deepening the relations between China and Southeast Asian countries. He pointed out that among the external environmental factors affecting China's neighboring regions, the traditional factors and non-traditional factors in Southeast Asia are intertwined, and the complexity of them is far beyond our imagination. The importance of Southeast Asia to China is reflected in four aspects: (1) Southeast Asia is an irreplaceable place for carrying out multilateral diplomacy; (2) it is a strategic hub for going to high seas; (3) it is an important international factor affecting the reunification of the two sides of the Taiwan Straits; (4) it is the key to building the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. Therefore, China has always given priority to its relations with Southeast Asian countries.

Zhao Yi held that the ASEAN is pursuing a "hedging and balancing" strategy externally to highlight its position as a "driver" in the East Asian order. In recent years, the ASEAN's attitude towards extraterritorial powers has changed, which may affect its future strategic choices. The change is mainly reflected in the following three aspects. Firstly, the ASEAN is seeking the balance between it and powers, while pursuing an unprecedented political and security cooperation with the U.S. Secondly, the ASEAN's acceptance of Japan has increased markedly because of Japan's economic assistance. Thirdly, the ASEAN hopes to take a free ride on China economically, but politically, it has been increasingly alienating from China.

Zhao Yi emphasized that China and Southeast Asian countries have a long history of communication, and the communication is very fruitful. But there are indeed contradictions between the two sides. In this regard, China should strengthen cooperation with Southeast Asian countries based on the existing mechanisms such as the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (also known as "ASEAN+1"), the ASEAN Plus China, Japan, South Korea cooperation mechanism (also known as "ASEAN+3"), the East Asia Summit, and joint law enforcement mechanism in the Lancang-Mekong River Basin. China should strengthen the work on the Mekong River Basin countries while effectively safeguarding its rights and interests in the South China Sea. While striving to promote the upgrading of China-ASEAN Free Trade Area, China should also handle trade issues from the perspective of national security to deepen relations between China and Southeast Asian countries, ease conflicts and contradictions, and better promote Southeast Asia's geographical advantages and role of strategic channels for China.

In the discussion and question-and-answer session, Zhao Yi had in-depth exchanges and discussions with the teachers and students present at the seminar on issues such as the southward policy of Taiwan, the significance of the joint law enforcement of the four countries of China, Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand in the Mekong River Basin, the role of Hainan Island in developing relations between China and Southeast Asian countries, and the background of changes and the trend in China-Philippines relations. (Contributed by Zhang Qiqi)

Editor: Li Fangqi, photography: Zheng Peijie

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