Japan and China in Rivalry over ASEAN

Manila Bulletin, December 9, 2003 | Go to article overview

Japan and China in Rivalry over ASEAN


JAPAN has communicated its intention to accede to the TAC (Treaty on Amity and Cooperation) which is the foundation stone of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations. Japan hopes that this act of accession can be perfected in the forthcoming ASEAN-Japan commemorative Summit to be held in Tokyo on December 11-12.

The accession will be one of the highlights of the Tokyo Summit which will bring ten ASEAN heads of government to Tokyo, holding a summit for the first time outside the region of Southeast Asia. In fact, critics in and outside Japan say Tokyo has acted somewhat tardily in acceding to TAC, as both China and India had acceded earlier during the ASEAN plus Three Summit in Bali, Indonesia. The ASEAN leaders and ministers are impressed by the nimbleness of Chinese diplomacy. At the Bali Summit, China also declared its readiness to enter into a Free Trade Agreement with ASEAN within ten years, or beginning in the year 2010, while Japan is still mulling over a comprehensive economic partnership with individual ASEAN nations.

Is Japanese foreign policy in Asia losing its edge? I do not think so. The Japanese have to be more circumspect in entering into foreign treaties which may impinge on its security alliance with the United States, which is the centerpiece of Japanese foreign policy, although such doubts have been magnified by its bureaucrats beyond reason.

Nevertheless, the feeling is inescapable that Japan and China are vying for pride of place in the attention and affection of the ASEAN countries.

The Tokyo Summit is commemorating 30 years of the Japanese-ASEAN economic partnership, very fruitful years when the ASEAN sub-region, with the help of Japanese investments, technology and markets, emerged as the worlds most dynamic region, giving rise to new economic tigers. Japan remains the No. 1 trading partner of most countries in the region, the principal source of direct foreign investments, and the leading donor nation.

As Southeast Asia develops, it becomes more important as a market for Japanese capital goods. The region now absorbs 37 percent of Japanese exports as the demand for capital goods soars with the rising pace of development. This nearly equals in dollar terms the value of Japanese exports to the US market.

But while the Japanese economy faltered under the weight of bad bank loans and a spiral of unemployment, the new Chinese economic powerhouse sustained its miracle growth rate of 8-10 per cent in real terms and sucked most of the worlds investible capital from the rich countries such as the United States and Europe as well as the affluent overseas Chinese communities. …

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