ASEAN-China Relations: Realities and Prospects

By Rosenberg, David | The China Journal, July 2006 | Go to article overview
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ASEAN-China Relations: Realities and Prospects

Rosenberg, David, The China Journal

ASEAN-China Relations: Realities and Prospects, edited by Saw Swee-Hock, Sheng Lijun and Chin Kin Wah. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2005. xx + 375 pp. US$34.90/S$49.90 (paperback).

The global implications of China's rise are nowhere more evident than in its relations with ASEAN. To the growing mountain of literature on ASEAN-China relations, this conference volume adds the authoritative views of thirty scholars, policy experts and government officials from China and almost every country in ASEAN, including the ASEAN secretary-General as well as senior representatives from China's Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defense and Commerce and from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The ASEAN-China Programme of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) convened the conference in June 2004 as part of an ongoing study of ASEAN-China relations.

At the outset, the editors provide a very useful and well-organized chronology and overview of ASEAN-China relations, serving as an executive summary for the book. Twenty-four chapters explore two main themes: regional security (ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEAN + 1, ASEAN + 3, maritime security), and economic integration, in particular through the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Selected highlights follow.

Eric Teo Chu Cheow describes three waves of the East Asian socioeconomic transformation: liberalization and globalization in the 1980s and 1990s, the economic crisis of 1997, and the SARS epidemic of 2003. Each reinforced ASEAN-China relations and created a stronger "Asian identity". He outlines three models for East Asian integration: networking existing or proposed FTAs into a new huge East Asian Free Trade Area, a Japanese state-led "flying geese" model of vertical integration, and a China-centered "bamboo capitalism" model based on intra-regional FDI flows. He proposes a synthesis with a firm social dimension (p. 16).

Of all the bilateral and sub-regional FTAs that have been implemented or are under negotiation in East Asia, CAFTA is the most influential one with the largest growth potential, involving the most members. It will compose a unified market with 1.8 billion people, US$2 trillion of GDP, US$1.7 trillion total trade volume and more than US$600 billion of foreign reserves. What effects will CAFTA have on domestic economies? Zhang Xiaoji examines how CAFTA can help avoid damage from the trade diversion effects of the European Union and the North American Free Trade Agreement. Japan is by far the most powerful economy in East Asia; however, the author asserts that its weak political status and mercantilist and conservative agricultural policies have prevented it from playing a core role in the region. He details how national growth capabilities can be enhanced by expanding intra-regional trade; for example, in IT products and components (p. 75). He cautions, however, that ASEAN's consensus decisionmaking principle requires "ten separate negotiations with ten ASEAN countries" (p. 81).

Suthiphand Chirathivat reports on a CAFTA simulation indicating substantial gains for China's textile and apparel, motor vehicle and electronic equipment sectors and a decline in agricultural goods. According to the model, the CAFTA will benefit ASEAN food exports and primary commodity exports, especially chemicals, rubber and plastic, textile fibers and electrical components. ASEAN would face declines in imports of fruit and vegetables, as well as apparel (pp. 237-44).

Several chapters reflect the candid exchanges on security relations at the conference. Mohamed Jawhar Hassan provides a frank assessment of the accomplishments and shortfalls of the ASEAN Regional Forum, along with a list of remedial proposals: for example, ASEAN plus non-ASEAN co-chairs and back-to-back ARF and APEC summits. Hassan is one of several authors to note massive military modernization efforts in the region, especially by the United States (p. 39).

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