China-ASEAN Relations: Hamstrung Soft Power In South China Sea? – Analysis


China’s multi-faceted relations with Southeast Asia is often hamstrung by Beijing’s hard line position on territorial claims in the South China Sea. Is it possible to isolate the maritime disputes from other aspects of the Sino-Southeast Asian relationship?

By Lim Kheng Swe

CHINA AND Southeast Asia are more intertwined than ever. Trade between these two regions is booming, and Chinese investors are pouring into Southeast Asia. China is fully involved in most regional security meetings organised by ASEAN. This era of Sino-Southeast Asian relations should therefore be a golden age bringing mutual peace and prosperity for all concerned.

Nevertheless, there is a shadow hanging over this idyllic picture: the South China Sea conflict. Vietnam and the Philippines have had several diplomatic and military spats with China. In the most recent crisis, Vietnamese and Chinese ships faced off near the Paracel Islands over China’s deployment of an oil rig in disputed waters. For the casual observer of Sino-Southeast Asian ties the problems in the South China Sea would be cause for doom and gloom. However, amid all of the media noise about plummeting relations, a broader view of relations between the two sides would be instructive.


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