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ASEAN divides

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In Brief

In 2010, as ASEAN celebrated the 43rd year of its existence as a regional organisation, signs of its division became increasingly manifest.

Despite repeated urging for members to move towards the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015, it is becoming obvious that most of the mainland Southeast Asian states (CLMV) see their political and economic futures tied to China far more than to their insular Southeast Asian erstwhile brethren.


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While the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta pursued its ‘Initiatives for ASEAN Integration,’ lauded ‘ASEAN Centrality’ and dutifully held its 300+ meetings over the year, the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), under the guidance of the Asian Development Bank and China, went from strength to strength in developing a wide array of new linkages, alliances, interactions and interdependencies in mainland Southeast Asia. The GMS has thereby moved steadily from “subregion” towards “region,” and we are seeing the cracks which will almost inevitably produce a permanently-divided ASEAN.

The Greater Mekong Subregion nominally comprises the CLMV countries (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) as well as Thailand and the two Chinese provinces of Yunnan and Guangxi.

However, China in toto is in fact the member with national-level technocrats engaging in the various GMS initiatives.  The idea of equality of GMS members can thus be dismissed immediately and entirely, with China completely dominating the arrangement. It is thereby that this country of 1.3 billion people is drawing into its various systems the polities and economies of mainland Southeast Asia.

Under the GMS Economic Cooperation Programs, a multitude of new developments have been brought to much of mainland Southeast Asia. About US$11 billion has been injected into infrastructure investment in the GMS region over the last decade with one-third of this coming from the ADB.  This aid has been channelled into three so-called economic corridors — multi-country transport arteries now being built across mainland Southeast Asia. The North-South Economic Corridor connects Kunming to Bangkok, while the East-West Corridor ties the Indian Ocean coast of Myanmar with the South China Sea ports of Vietnam. The Southern Economic Corridor connects Bangkok with Phnom Penh, Ho Chi Minh City and Vung Tau. Apart from such hardware, the GMS is also planning and implementing software initiatives in terms of trade and investment facilitation.

China openly declares that the GMS is the most effective economic mechanism in the region.

How are the new policies of Chinese engagement with mainland Southeast Asian states and these GMS projects affecting or being responded to by the respective polities?

A full analysis is available here.

Geoff Wade is a historian with interests in China-Southeast Asian historical interactions and comparative historiography.

This piece originally appeared here, on New Mandala.

One response to “ASEAN divides”

  1. Your prescient Asia Divides commentary reflects China’s re-emergence to regional ascendancy after senescence for several centuries.

    Ii is as inevitable as the tragic Queensland floods which happened because most of the state is a massive flood plain where torrential rains naturally course southwards to replenish Australia’s inland seas.

    Unfortunately, the implications derived from your Asia Divides see our analysts trapped in denial thereby inhibiting the ability to create strategies serving our best interests when coping with China’s rise.

    The present self-defeating US foreign policy using coercive strategies to bend China to its imperial will is economically unsustainable and doomed to fail.

    China’s military encirclement reflects how the military is merely the tool used by powerful US military-industrial industries designed to maintain their unsustainable revenue base at the expense of an insolvent economy reliant on foreign debtors that is becoming less enthusiastic overtime.

    We have started the journey towards realism when Hugh White (a leading Australian military analyst) recognized that China’s rising economic and military ascendancy will compromise Australia’s ability to enjoy the fruits of western values and norms presently prevailing in Asia courtesy of US hegemony reinforced by the now fading EU and Britain.

    His strategy is to constrain a rising China by promoting “Concert of Asia Pacific powers including China” using the Concert of Europe template to preserve a balance of power as in the 1800’s.

    Both Australia and Japan believe a similar Concert of Asia will do the trick because US, Australia, Japan, India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Korea together can militarily prevail should China become bellicose.

    I suggest Australia and Japan remain in denial with respect to coping with a rising China?
    Australia remains psychologically trapped in a strategy of “Managing Asia” that was only possible as long as Britain and the US rules the waves.

    China is a major creditor nation with a huge market and a hybrid economy (with sophisticated industrial and peasant economy and state directed market economy) that is using a “win – win” trade strategy to grow African and Asian economies to satisfy its need for resources and exports.

    The US is an insolvent economy with worsening domestic class tensions.
    Japan is a demographically shrinking and export dependent economy.

    Australia is a debtor quarry dependent on China for export revenue and the import of commodities as well as capital to maintain our high living standards. India will lag behind China because its economy is controlled by a few oligarch families’ makes foreign investments difficult.

    China has started the process of investing in Idaho as a beachhead into the US as well as using collaborative R&D to further improve its technological prowess just as Japan did in the past.

    The economic integration of the Asian region (from India thru to Singapore to Laos) has begun using contiguous high speed rail links, roads, resource acquisition to create oversupply and redundancy, and Yuan denominated commerce as well as ‘spoke and rods’ strategy whereby parts and assembly manufacturing is underway.

    Finally, all the above Asian countries became wealthier after they were liberated from the yoke of western colonialism and will develop policies more in line with their cultural inheritance – this means seeking future Asian solutions at the expense of US and Australian preferences.

    Ultimately, Australia, Japan, India and other Asian countries will become more dependent on the benefits of working with the above growing china because the US and Europe will be economically and financially prostrate for at least another decade.

    Ultimately, Australia and the US can better dictate its interests by having their own industrial base and an export market – somewhere. Japan has the industrial base and needs the China market more and more each year – the problem for Australia is infinitely worse.

    The US is a huge market…but unless the paradigm changes its local industry will contain a huge China presence.

    It seems, over time, New China’s cultural norm will become as prominent as the West’s imprint was for the last 200 years?

    Put simply, Australia failed to use the last 100 years to protect its future independence because mining and farming was too seductive and borrowing offshore too easy.

    I hope that I am wrong.

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