Mon, Dec 06, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Beijing rising in southeast Asia

By Lin Cheng-yi林正義

A year ago, China began talking of its "peaceful rising," but only six months later, they gradually stopped mentioning it, instead replacing it with the phrase "peaceful development." This does not mean, however, that Beijing has given up on realizing its peaceful rising. The phrase "peaceful development" sounds softer and is less likely to raise suspicions in the outside world.

"Rising" implies rapid ascent as well as the appearance of a new hegemon and competition for power and conflict, and it also carries certain differences from Deng Xiaoping's (鄧小平) more cautious policies. Although Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) avoided mentioning "a peaceful rising" during a visit to Laos, the world still sees the rise in Southeast Asia of a well prepared China eager to lead.

Southeast Asia is what China wants most, and this is also the region where we can first expect to see a multipolar situation substitute the current US unipolarity. The leaders in Beijing are very fond of saying that Chinese development cannot ignore Asia, but that Asian prosperity also is dependent on China. If China is unable to become a dominant power in Asia, there can be no talk of a Chinese rise in the region. China has already become the biggest target for foreign investment in Asia, and it is also the region's largest importer.

ASEAN, Japan, South Korea, India and China all enjoy trade surpluses. Trade between China and ASEAN is expected to break through US$100 billion this year, approximately three times the amount of trade between Taiwan and ASEAN last year.

China's rise in Southeast Asia not only relies on its economic strength, but also on carefully thought out strategic planning. It is leaving even Japan, the US and South Korea in the dust. In contrast to Japanese Premier Junichiro Koizumi and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, Wen made at least 10 concrete suggestions at the APEC summit in Chile last month.

These suggestions included: China and Indonesia agreeing to increase annual trade to US$20 billion; building a mechanism for dialogue and cooperation between China's and ASEAN's chief prosecutors and ministers of youth affairs and energy based on the existing mechanism for cooperation between their ministers of foreign affairs, economy, communications and customs; making 2006 a year of China-ASEAN cooperation and suggesting the setting up of a China-ASEAN group of leadership figures; Beijing will set up a US$15 million fund for the promotion of Asian cooperation to the purpose of strengthening cooperation between China and ASEAN.

Other suggestions from China included leading an academic study into the feasibility of an East Asia Free Trade Area (EAFTA); setting up an East Asian Community with the long term goal of cooperation between ASEAN, China, Japan and South Korea, and supporting a leading role for ASEAN; backing the ASEAN suggestion to hold an Southeast Asian summit and suggesting that Malaysia organize the first summit; participating in the draft for a Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone at an early date and having China become an observer in ASEAN's East ASEAN Growth Area.

After China occupied Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in 1995, it has taken a softer and more friendly approach to the countries in Southeast Asia. Although some of these countries want the US, Japan and India to balance Chinese influence, Beijing's aggressive behavior is transforming the region into its own playground.

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