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Saturday, November 13, 2004

 

PRC adds panache to nationalism to 'lead' E Asia

According to Eric Teo Chu Cheow, council secretary of the Singapore Institute for International Affairs, many Chinese academics and intellectuals suspect that Washington intends to choke off the Peoples Republic of China’s “access routes to regional energy and natural resources to try to contain China's growth”.

Writing in The Japan Times, he said the PRC itself “is now convinced” that having provoked the disintegration of the USSR and “successfully moved into Central Asia, India and the Middle East (notably Afghanistan and Iraq)”, the USA “seeks to curb China's rising power by blocking trade access to the Pacific”.

As a result, Beijing is pursuing a more active diplomacy around its southern periphery in Southeast Asia where, Cheow stated, “Beijing has shown real panache and sophistication” in dealing diplomatically with individual members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Myanmar, Malaysia and Thailand), while touting an ASEAN-China free trade agreement.

Recent PRC initiatives in ASEAN include a $400 million soft loan to the Philippines for a rail link between Manila and Clark ("which prompted Manila to conclude a defence cooperation pact" with the PRC); an "early harvest" agreement a year ago on fruits and vegetables with Thailand (which lead to the Asian Cooperation Dialogue hosted in Qingdao); and convincing Vietnam to delay "tourist excursions" to the disputed Spratley Islands after discreet backdoor intervention by the Communist Party with its Vietnamese counterpart.

“In all cases, Beijing has been using nationalism and the ‘glories of the Chinese civilization’ to try to instill a sense of unity among Chinese nationals in and outside of Southeast Asia”, Cheow concluded.

“Although Beijing may acknowledge that rampant nationalism poses a danger to its own internal stability, it has astutely harnessed it to build a ‘new’ Asian pride that it hopes will help establish a new Asian system of politics, economics, security and culture within the ASEAN-plus-Three (Japan, South Korea, China)" framework - which Beijing hopes will be transformed ultimately into an East Asian community under its leadership.”

The PRC's trade with its ASEAN has risen on average 20 percent annually since 1990 and should surpass US$ 100 billion dollars this year.

The economic co-operation framework agreement in signed by the PRC and ASEAN in 2002 is designed to lead to the world's biggest free trade zone of more than 1.7 billion people with a combined gross domestic product of $2 trillion by 2010.

In September, the two sides completed negotiations on the trade of goods and will begin to implement tariff cuts in 2005. The next phases of an FTA will concern trading of services and investment.

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