Spotlight on Geopolitics

The 17th annual ASEAN summit and related meetings (East Asia Summit – EAS, ASEAN plus One and ASEAN plus Three) have taken place last weekend in Hanoi amid heavy security. For the first time, the United States and Russia were invited to hear the decision of the EAS asking them to join the 16-nation group as of next year. The invitation extended to the US, as it came out, was a strategic mistake.

According to John Garnaut, editorialist for The Sydney Morning Herald, “the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushed China’s acrimonious territorial disputes [with Japan] into the center of yesterday’s East Asia Summit”. In so doing, the US Secretary of State has politicised a gathering primarily concerned with economic integration issues. Not only that, but the Australian premier, whose country is a major supplier of raw materials to China, was reportedly forced to “walk a tight rope” between representatives of the US and China in Hanoi. As for the ASEAN prime ministers present, they were more concerned about the expected flooding of the American banking system with dollars by the US Treasury, which had caused their currencies to appreciate and exports to diminish, than with Japan-China spats.

Since 2005, when ASEAN together with China decided to merge their economies into a single Asian market, intra-ASEAN trade has increased by some 44 percent. China is ASEAN’s most important trading partner, followed closely by Japan. To date, China has pledged 25 billion dollars for investment in ASEAN infrastructure and development credits. During the 13th ASEAN-China summit this weekend, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao has promised an additional 100 billion dollars in FDI for ASEAN over the next five years, and an increase of bilateral trade to 500 billion dollars. In regard to India, the Chinese premier has stated in the run-up to the summit that Asia is big enough for both countries. During his meeting with Indian premier M. Singh in Hanoi, he has assured the latter that they will work together in order to resolve border disputes and increase bilateral trade.

Wen Jiabao has refused to meet with Japanese premier Naoto Kan for more than ten minutes, however. Chinese diplomatic sources claimed that the offensive behaviour of Japan’s foreign minister since he took office in September was unacceptable to Beijing. To be sure, Mr Seiji Maehara had dubbed the Chinese reaction to the fishing vessel incident as “hysterical”, which calls into question his judgement and “diplomatic” skills in dealing with Japan’s largest trading partner and neighbour. With or without US support, Mr Maehara’s counterperformance in regard to China is a liability to Naoto Kan’s cabinet, and Chinese diplomats seem determined to hold off normalising relations with Japan until he’s gone.

The ASEAN summit has adopted a Master Plan for Connectivity, which is supposed to further integrate the economies of the 10 South-East Asian nations, their rail & road networks and communications. Again, China has promised full support of their efforts and has vowed to work together with South Korea and Japan towards strengthening the ASEAN plus Three strategic cooperation. If everything goes according to ASEAN planning, by 2015 the economic integration of ASEAN countries will lead to the creation of the world’s largest and newest trade bloc. (sources: Viet Nam Plus, Voice of Viet Nam News, The Sydney Morning Herald, Brunei Times, The Hindu Times, People’s Daily, Asahi Shimbun, Washington Post, ASEANSEC.org)

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