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HomeGeopolitical CompassEast AsiaThe ASEAN-China Partnership: Balancing Merits and Demerits

The ASEAN-China Partnership: Balancing Merits and Demerits

Authors: Farah Nadine Seth & Sharon Seah 

Affiliation: Research Officers at ASEAN Studies Centre, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute

Organization/Publisher: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute

Date/Place: September 10, 2021/Singapore

Type of Literature: Article

Word Count: 3467


Keywords: China, Southeast Asia, ASEAN, diplomacy


Considering the increasingly inter-connected economies and the crucial geopolitical space that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has with China, it is not surprising that Beijing has been pushing for closer diplomatic relations and strategic partnership for the last 30 years. Recently, Beijing has accelerated its engagement by pushing for an ASEAN-China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (AC-CSP) which it introduced on the 30th Anniversary of ASEAN-China dialogue this year. The author analyzes the ASEAN-China cooperation and its opportunities and concerns in three important sectors: economic, socio-cultural, and political and security cooperation. The advent of AC-CSP is Beijing’s gesture to improve its foreign affairs policy with ASEAN and to extend its cooperation across multiple sectors. Since 2009, China has been ASEAN’s top trading partner, and in 2020 the ASEAN bloc surpassed the EU as China’s top trading partner. Accordingly, economic cooperation is China’s key pillar of cooperation with ASEAN; in order to synchronize ASEAN Connectivity with China’s wide-raging Belt Road Initiative, China has invested across ASEAN states from communication and science technologies to transportation and smart cities. In the socio-cultural pillar, China has been strengthening its soft power in the region, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, in the political and security pillar, cooperation is subject to changing pull-and-push tensions—the dispute in the South China Sea has been a central issue between ASEAN states. Despite many opportunities that AC-CSP offers, ASEAN is concerned that China’s economic influence and military may be used to threaten ASEAN interests and sovereignty. Additionally, as Southeast Asia becomes a geopolitical battleground between the US and China, the AC-CSP may force ASEAN to take sides in the ongoing major power rivalry, which alignment the bloc has been avoiding. Thus, ASEAN must initiate a pragmatic view of what the AC-CSP offers. Stronger economic ties with China may bring a big benefit for the region, however, it is still unclear what China would bring on political-security cooperation. 

By: Salman Nugraha, CIGA Research Inter



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