Southeast Asia & China

Manila Bulletin, July 27, 2005 | Go to article overview

Southeast Asia & China


Byline: PETER HARMSEN Agence France Presse

VIENTIANE Nowhere is Chinas rise as an economic great power more visible than in Southeast Asia, and nowhere are the fears of being crushed under the weight of the mighty dragon bigger, analysts say.

A meeting of foreign ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Laos this week will serve as yet another reminder that China is gradually assuming the leadership role seemingly abandoned by Japan.

But China still needs to demonstrate to the nations of the region that this is a change for the better, according to Shaun Narine, a political scientist at St. Thomas University in Canada.

"In a nutshell, Chinese power is certainly considered more ominous than Japanese power precisely because it is so much more unpredictable, he said.

"The exercise of Japanese power in the shadow of American influence has helped make for a stable region. It is not yet clear that the emergence of China will maintain that stability though there are many reasons to be optimistic about this.

For starters, the mere presence of China at the gathering in the Lao capital of Vientiane shows that it cares about the region.

Chinas Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing is scheduled to join the talks Wednesday, whereas his American and Japanese counterparts will send their deputies in a move seen by many here as a snub.

"China is very good at these gestures, said Joseph Cheng, a China watcher at the City University of Hong Kong.

"The Southeast Asian countries appreciate that China shows respect for ASEAN, accords prominence to ASEAN, gives face to ASEAN and helps to create a good atmosphere in the region.

China has been carefully building its relations with Southeast Asia, beginning with its decision in the late 1990s to keep its currency stable even as competitive devaluations were rocking the entire region.

More recent Chinese moves applauded in the region include willingness to sign on to steps to dismantle tensions in the potentially oil-rich South China Sea and plans to create the worlds largest free-trade zone covering most of East Asia. …

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