China and Southeast Asia: Global Changes and Regional Challenges

Article excerpt

China and Southeast Asia: Global Changes and Regional Challenges, edited by Ho Kaho Leong and Samuel C. Y. Ku. Singapore: Institute for Southeast Asian Studies; Taiwan: Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, 2005. xxviii + 327 pp. S$49.90/US$32.90 (paperback).

This book is the result of a conference on China-Southeast Asia relations held on Taiwan in March 2004. One focus is the negotiations over a China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (FTA). Articles concentrating on the FTA are placed in an early section while the remainder of the book looks at more general aspects of China-ASEAN relations. The latter articles are of varied quality and focus mostly on the "regional challenges" of the subtitle, giving relatively little attention to the "global changes".

Wang Gungwu's lead article provides a global context and a framework for the ensuing discussion, and Evelyn Goh's concluding article on Singapore's reaction to a rising China and its simultaneous maintenance of a strong connection to the US also ties into global developments. According to Vincent Wei-cheng Wang's article on the FTA, one important reason for the increasing popularity of Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs-what Wang calls Preferential Trade Agreements) is the "seemingly bleak prospects for progress on the multilateral agenda" of trade negotiation. A discussion of the degree to which development of Asian FTAs constitutes a threat to multilateral efforts aimed at further promoting free trade would have been more interesting. Bernard K. Gordon has recently argued elsewhere ("Asia's Trade Blocs Imperil the WTO", Far Eastern Economic Review [November 2005]) that this is indeed the case and that US initiatives in promoting RTAs are responsible for this state of affairs.

Several contributors believe the real driver of China's interest in FTAs is the "economic statecraft of 'peaceful ascendancy'", to quote Wang. In other words, China pursues RTAs because they complement and facilitate its broader goals; it uses economic means to reach political objectives. China's foremost goals are to ensure its survival and expand its power-perennial core realist premises. All writers concede that China currently has conciliatory policies which allay suspicion about its long-term political objectives, but some wonder what will happen in the future as its power increases. Two economists, Suthiphand Chirathivat and Sothitorn Mallikamas, argue that both sides will benefit economically from the China-ASEAN FTA, especially through increased trade.

Other interesting contributions in the book include Jurgen Haacke's rundown on the attitudes of individual Southeast Asian countries to China. Alice D. Ba details important political and economic issues between China and ASEAN, especially their competition over foreign investment since 1997 and evidence that the Southeast Asian regional economy "driven" by the US market is already reorienting itself around China. …