An East Asian Summit (EAS) was held despite tensions that came out on the later process of its formation. The Summit was China’s floating balloon for the realization of an East Asia Community, which was inspired by the case of the European Union. China saw an opportunity to steer East Asian multilateralism along the lines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to serve Beijing’s strategic goals and further weaken the US influence in East Asia1. Beijing’s diplomatic offensive was met by the strategy of including India, Australia and New Zealand by Japan and ASEAN members that were wary of an East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere under China’s leadership. In effect the 2005 EAS was a proxy battle between China and Japan.

China had been the dominant power in East Asia for centuries before the arrival of Western imperialism in the nineteenth century. Now, after nearly 30 years of spectacular economic growth, China is once again poised to re-take its place as the regional hegemon. This essay will argue that China, despite its aspirations for renewed dominance in East Asia, is not yet currently in a position to challenge the United States’ military pre-eminence in the Western Pacific. Using the objective epistemology of neo-realism and the theoretical tools of offensive realism, this essay will also examine why China wants to be the dominant regional power. This desire for hegemony has led to its overly aggressive actions in the East and South China Seas, as well as a growth in Chinese nationalism, which has led to some regional countries rejuvenating their ties with Washington. This has made it likely that there will be an attempt to form a balancing coalition, to contain Beijing’s bid for regional dominance. Nevertheless, it will be acknowledged that the seemingly unstoppable growth in the Chinese economy, in conjunction with its increased defence spending, could prove an irresistible force in the long-term. This could lead to a situation where a majority of regional actors give into economic necessity, as well as military reality, and accept Chinese primacy within East Asia.China had been the hegemonic power in East Asia for centuries before the Europeans and Americans opened the region up for commerce in the nineteenth century. Now, after the success of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms, China is once again a player in the region and on the world stage. According to offensive realism theory, it is likely that Beijing will make a bid for regional hegemony. Its behaviour in the East and South China Seas, as well as its military build-up and the rise of nationalism in China itself, make it appear that the process has already started. However, China does not yet have the military capabilities to challenge the United States in a direct confrontation. If Washington can create an effective balancing coalition, Chinese power will be contained. It is not yet a regional hegemon, but if its power continues to grow both economically and militarily, it may prove too much of an irresistible force to contain. Regional actors may have no choice but to accommodate Beijing for the sake of their own economic survival and for want of capability to counter it militarily.With its new air bases and leading-edge air power,China now has the strategic initiative in South East Asia.There are plenty of reasons Asia has been multipolar for almost all of recorded history, and Beijing understands them all.A highly selective reading of the past two centuries leads many analysts to view geopolitics as a contest between the two most powerful states in the system at any given time. It is as if the planet is a frictionless table on which the United States and China alone are playing a game of Risk. But the global system as a whole bears no little resemblance to the narrow European historical template on which this power transition theory is based. Europe is composed of societies that share a small region and have common culture and religion, with each fearing conquest by a neighbor.But to understand Asia, it makes more sense to look at Asia’s geography and history. In the West, “Asia” has become shorthand for East Asia or Greater China. In reality, Asia’s vast landscape stretches from the Mediterranean to the Sea of Japan, a diffuse constellation of unique civilizations centered on fertile regions such as the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, the Indus Valley, the Gangetic Plain, the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, and the greater Mekong region. Unlike a Risk board, Asia is not flat but extremely bumpy. The Tibetan Plateau and Himalayan Mountains, Taklamakan Desert, and other harsh terrain are among the major natural barriers to power projection across Asia.With geographies so distant and cultures so distinct, Asia has remained multipolar for almost all of recorded history, with Mongol suzerainty in the 13th century the sole exception (for the Mongols were themselves nomadic rather than sedentary people). Rather than seeking far-reaching conquest, Asians’ attitude has generally been to live and let live. Over centuries of Silk Road interaction, commerce and cultural exchange are far more the norm than conquest. Even the Mongols ruled by way of adopting local religions and languages. A proper appraisal of Asian geography and history thus reminds us that Asia is not a set of dominoes that will fall before an expansionist China. China may be as nationalistic as ever, but the Chinese are not the new Mongols.Understanding the patterns of centuries past helps us forecast the evolution of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which President Xi Jinping himself proclaimed as “the project of the century” at its first convening in 2017. Even though the Belt and Road Initiative is an informal coalition with the sensible aim of coordinating trillions of dollars of desperately needed infrastructure investment across more than 60 countries, a narrative has taken hold in Washington that Belt and Road is a nefarious plot aimed at neocolonial hegemony through debt traps that result in militarized extraterritorial ports and control over foreign economies. Reality veers between both versions of this story. Importantly, consistent with Asian history, China alone does not determine the outcome as much as the rest of Asia’s powers, which have thus far been neglected in geopolitical conversations.For those uninitiated in China’s nearly three decades of sustained infrastructure investment in its periphery dating to the collapse of the Soviet Union, China’s grand strategic motivation for the Belt and Road Initiative is as much defensive as offensive. Over this period, China has become the world’s largest commodities importer as well as largest exporter of finished goods, heightening its exposure to the so-called Malacca trap by which its physical trade depends on the narrow chokepoint of the Strait of Malacca passing between Singapore and Indonesia over which it has no control. Its aggressive maneuvers in the South China Sea are an effort to at least secure the waters on the eastern side of the strait, as it cannot control the Indian Ocean—which Belt and Road projects in Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Pakistan are meant to enable overland access to. And as China’s trade rapidly expands with the European Union (with whom China trades $500 billion more per year than it does with the United States) and the Arab world, it’s only logical that it would seek overland corridors toward Europe and the Gulf region of West Asia, too.

A cargo ship navigating one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, near Hambantota. Every time Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, turned to his Chinese allies for loans and assistance with an ambitious port project, the answer was yes.Yes, though feasibility studies said the port wouldn’t work. Yes, though other frequent lenders like India had refused. Yes, though Sri Lanka’s debt was ballooning rapidly under Mr. Rajapaksa.

International media outlets have covered the growing wariness toward the Belt and Road Initiative, especially among China’s closest neighbors. Following pledges to review Chinese-invested projects during his campaign, in August newly-elected Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad decided to walk back agreements for two Chinese-invested infrastructure projects, implying that the $22 billion pricetag was unaffordable and akin to a “new version of colonialism.” The government of Myanmar recently signed a memorandum of understanding giving a greenlight to the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, but not without significant debate among line ministries and concern among local communities about affordability and benefits. The fate of Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port, to which China holds a 99-year lease after the Rajapaksa government defaulted on ballooning loan debt, serves as a cautionary tale.However, commentators who portray China as having a thousand-year vision and presume an unwavering path to its achievement both overstate China’s wisdom and underestimate that of its neighbors, who have thousands of years of historical engagement with China. China today seems an unstoppable force but Asia is full of immovable objects in the form of civilizational states such as Russia, Iran, and India, whose ancient histories allow them to stand up to China whenever it suits their interest to do so. China dares not trespass on Russian soil even as the two increasingly coordinate their military exercises, and Iran has shown little remorse in canceling Chinese oil contracts despite its dependence on China to withstand Western sanctions. The 2017 Doklam Plateau standoff between India and China was similarly instructive, for it was China that blinked first, withdrawing its army and suspending some of its controversial road construction activities in disputed Himalayan terrain. China is known to play the long game now so, too, is everyone else.China bears the additional burden of having to juggle a bewilderingly complex 360 degree array of neighbors all at the same time. China shares borders with 14 countries, a reminder that throughout history, it has far more often been invaded than been the invader. China has not been immune to defeat at the hands of Arabs, Turks, Japanese, and Europeans, and been forced to stalemate by Russia and Vietnam. Today it is all too keenly aware that even if its high-tech but untested and inexperienced military were to swiftly defeat a neighbor, the cost in terms of diplomatic blowback from other neighbors would be severe.This is a reminder that even with all of China’s investments in military modernization, there it is little reason to believe it will purchase any more political leverage beyond its immediate periphery than America’s mighty forces have in Iraq and Afghanistan. From the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean, China’s naval footholds, access points, and probing have awakened multidirectional countermeasures in the form of new coalitions such as the Quad (made up of the United States, Japan, India, and Australia) and smaller powers they now back such as Vietnam and Indonesia. Littoral powers are thus crowding in across the Indo-Pacific to make clear that none should dominate. Even if China builds the modern military equivalent of the its fabled 15th-century Treasure Fleet, it will never dominate maritime Asia. A much talked about restoration of the Ming-Qing tributary system is not Asia’s most likely scenario.In defiance of superficial colonial analogies used to describe China’s behavior, today’s world features deterrence and sovereignty, democracy and transparency, instruments and forces that severely restrict China’s ability to dictate affairs. Consider again the Indian Ocean, where China has made significant commercial and diplomatic inroads from Sri Lanka and the Maldives to Pakistan and Kenya. In Sri Lanka, a near-default situation led to China taking control of the Hambantota Port that China itself built on a 99-year lease. The issue has become so central to the country’s politics that no leader, not even Chinese-backed former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa—now opposition leader after a failed attempt to unconstitutionally depose the government in December—could conceivably bow any further to China if he eventually returns to power.There has been a sharp regional strategic shift. In the South China Sea, China has built six large islands, three substantial air bases and three sizeable electronic surveillance installations. China has effectively moved some 1100km closer to Australia, deep into the geographic heart of the ASEAN region.  Such territorial expansionism is particularly worrying given recent Chinese military developments. Chinese airpower is being rapidly transformed through a major decade-long modernisation program that, as President Xi Jinping directed in 2014, is now accelerating. China’s air force has moved from having obsolete 1950s technology to today operating modern combat aircraft and highly-advanced surface to air missile systems.  With its new air bases and leading-edge air power, China now has the strategic initiative in South East Asia. Whenever it chooses, China can deploy to its South China Sea airbases an air combat force larger and more capable than any ASEAN air force.  Of ASEAN’s air forces, Singapore’s is the most capable, operating some 100 modern fighters, albeit many are normally located offshore at foreign training bases. Given typical maintenance processes and adequate warning, some 50-75 fighters could be surged in a crisis. In contrast, China operates more than a 1000 modern fighters and could deploy 75-100 aircraft across the three islands. China has some further advantages in having sophisticated, readily-deployable surface-to-air missile systems for high-quality island air defence while its fighter aircraft operate elsewhere. Singapore is less well equipped and would need to retain a sizeable fighter force for home air defence purposes. Moreover, China has a variety of long-range land-attack missiles; Singapore does not.  In considering the new Chinese air bases in more depth, most public satellite pictures available date from mid-2016 (though there are also some images from November) and show feverish building activity. The civilian flights to Fiery Cross Reef early in January 2016 also give an indication of the size of facilities there (and the ramp space available). A recent CSIS analysis concludes that each of the three air bases can accommodate 24 fighters and four large transport-sized aircraft for extended periode. Logistic support for these aircraft is considerably simplified in that each airfield has its own adjacent protected port facilities where tankers and resupply ships can offload. Moreover, the islands are only a couple of days steaming time from China, allowing continuing sea transport support. This proximity – about an hour's flying time – also means aircraft can be swapped into and out of the island bases easily.  With such capabilities, China can now easily enforce an Air Defence Identification Zone across the South China Sea when it deems the time is right. Moreover, for the first time, China poses a realistic air threat to Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.China now dominates militarily the central ASEAN region. In times of peace and crisis, this military capability could be used to intimidate, bully or cajole regional states. In a time of limited regional war, China is now the odds-on favourite.Current strategies to counter Beijing's behaviour in the South China Sea have failed dismally. ASEAN’s multilateral push has stalled on Chinese intransigence and China’s splitting of the organisation through peeling away Cambodia, Laos and the Philippines. America’s approach of occasionally sailing ships close to the islands is for China a momentary annoyance, at best. President-elect Trump’s tweets expressing his displeasure seem similar. China will not suddenly abandon its costly new facilities. They are now a permanent part of our Region.In response, Australia should move from observing failure to active involvement. Adopting a regional risk management approach could markedly improve ASEAN's resilience to Chinese pressure, threats and coercive diplomacy. Such a strategic reorientation would limit the harm that China’s new island bases could inflict on ASEAN countries. Given Australia's limited resources, the key ASEAN states we need to work with are the closest: Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.In the 1960s the Indonesian government again prohibited the Chinese from exercising free choice of residence, requiring them to live in cities and towns. In 1960, Sukarno issued a decree banning "aliens" (Chinese) from doing business in the countryside. It was aimed at the Chinese engaged in the rural retail trade, long dominated by the Chinese. Nearly 100,000 Chinese were forced to shut down their businesses and return to China. Those that remained moved to the cities, where many struck it rich. In the wake of the 1965 coup's failure, there was a violent anticommunist reaction. By December 1965, mobs were engaged in large-scale killings, most notably in Jawa Timur Province and on Bali, but also in parts of Sumatra. Members of Ansor, the Nahdatul Ulama's youth branch, were particularly zealous in carrying out a "holy war" against the PKI on the village level. Chinese were also targets of mob violence. Estimates of the number killed--both Chinese and others--vary widely, from a low of 78,000 to 2 million; probably somewhere around 300,000 is most likely. Whichever figure is true, the elimination of the PKI was the bloodiest event in postwar Southeast Asia until the Khmer Rouge established its regime in Cambodia a deng the Suharto years, nearly all Chinese Indonesians obtained Indonesian citizenship, often at high cost and as a result of considerable government pressure. Popular resentment persisted toward Chinese economic success, however, and nurtured a perception of Chinese complicity in the Suharto regime’s corruption. Suharto placed rigid restrictions designed to wipe out Chinese identity on Chinese who chose to become Indonesian citizens. A 1967 presidential decree banned Chinese New Year celebrations and various Chinese arts. Despite this some wealthy Chinese businessmen prospered in the Suharto years presumably because they developed schemes in which the Suharto family were given large slices of the pie. In May 1998, riots broke out in which hundreds of Chinese stores were burned and Chinese women were raped and murdered. When many Chinese Indonesians fled the violence, the subsequent capital flight resulted in further economic hardship in a country already suffering a financial crisis. By 2005 many had returned, but the economic and social confidence of many Chinese in the country was badly shaken by the experience. The Suharto government’s program of assimilation for the Chinese began to be phased out in 1998. Long- discouraged symbols of Chinese identity such as Chinese-language newspapers, schools, and public rituals, and the use of Chinese names, are no longer subject to strict regulation. 

The China-Africa Summit held in Beijing in November 2006 showed the state of China’s appreciation for the participation of civil society organizations in geo-political events. NGOs were not part of the big meeting, which was attended by 43 African heads of state. A stronger civil society participation in ASEAN affairs will most certainly not be championed by China.

China’s Economic Relations with Indonesia: Threats and Opportunities.The paper examines the development of China’s economic ties with Southeast Asia over the last two decades, culminating in the inauguration of the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA) in 2010. Particular reference is made to China’s trade ties with Indonesia. Although two-way trade between China and Indonesia has grown rapidly since 2000, Indonesian exports to China are dominated by primary products, while imports from China are dominated by manufactures. While this pattern might reflect short-term comparative advantage in both economies, it is causing some concern in Indonesia. The paper assesses these concerns, and possible political reactions.Given the nature of the Chinese challenge, the focus should be on enhancing regional air defence, and for this a useful framework already exists. The 45-year old Five Power Defence Arrangement (FPDA) encompasses Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand and Great Britain. With careful diplomacy and some adjustments, Indonesia could become a partner.   FPDA could provide the peacetime backbone for a region-wide network that in times of crisis could quickly integrate the air defence capabilities of the participating nations. It would give regional leaders confidence to stand up to Chinese pressure. While taking time to build, such a regional air defence framework would build on the trust fostered over many years during multinational air exercises in Darwin.Some might say that the China challenge is larger than regional collective defence can manage. But the Chinese party-state has considerable prestige invested in the reclaimed islands. It has stoked strong nationalist feelings that have made the islands a strident part of contemporary Chinese national identity. In military terms China’s airbases are strong but brittle, with some vulnerabilities that a remade and enlarged FPDA could exploit. Regional defence measures need only create uncertainties in the minds of Party leaders to deter them from employing harassment tactics and coercion. To influence these leaders, the region needs simply to suggest that China may not easily win a conflict. Both individually and collectively, these leaders would suffer a potentially fatal loss of public support if the new air bases were rendered ineffective or damaged.     Ideas for regional collective defence have previously been stillborn. Western governments showed a clear tactic of obfuscation. Citing the need to counter terrorism and extremism, the government trumpeted its efforts to bring development and security to Xinjiang, and claimed that the so-called “vocational training centers” in the province were educational facilities, provided free of charge and with consent, and had “nothing to do with religion.” The prevention of terrorism was a national security prerogative, they said.With this framing, any chance of a clear pushback from the region, similar to what we have seen regarding the Rohingya and deeply important to some domestic constituencies, disappeared. In its place, governments at best avoided the question entirely, or at worst lined up to lend their supportIn short, many countries are weighing anew the tradeoff between Chinese investment and other national interests, and finding their voice to say “No.” But will these countries transition from criticism of China’s overseas reach to raising concerns about China’s domestic human rights record?The Chinese delegation presented a rosy view of its domestic situation, grounded in its massive poverty alleviation efforts. They further highlighted China’s growing role abroad, including in South-South cooperation, and the importance they place on multilateral institutions respecting national contexts and sovereignty in the implementation of human rights obligations.Even without consideration of Chinese influence, statements like those above would not cause most Asian governments to even bat an eye. The embrace of a “right to development” for states, and the long-standing assertion of “Asian values,” “national sovereignty,” and “noninterference” are widely shared by governments in the region.However, information from civil society groups and media about the situation in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region should have been enough to cause some Asian governments pause.President Xi Jinping called for more countries to join China's sprawling infrastructure-building initiative as other leaders expressed support for a project Washington worries is increasing Beijing's strategic influence.Xi said market principles will apply in all Belt and Road cooperation projects and that his signature initiative to recreate the old Silk Road joining China with Asia and Europe will deliver green and high-quality development."More and more friends and partners will join in Belt and Road cooperation," Xi said in his closing remarks. "The cooperation will enjoy higher quality and brighter prospects."Data from Refinitiv shows the total value of projects in the scheme stands at $3.67 trillion, spanning countries in Asia, Europe, Africa, Oceania and South America.Some partner nations have complained about the high cost of projects of BRI, which was launched in 2013, while some western governments view it as a means to spread Chinese influence abroad, saddling poor countries with unsustainable debt.

China increased its involvement in the East Asian regional economic cooperation to enhance its global competitiveness. The Chinese government shifted its diplomatic strategy from that of a developing country focused on issues of domestic concerns towards one that is taking regional and global leadership. This raised questions concerning the nature of China’s rise and its implications.
China is indeed rapidly becoming the predominant power in Asia Pacific and is starting to challenge the role of both the United States and Japan in the region. The question is: will China’s increasing importance in the region make ASEAN countries more prosperous, more stable, and equitable? To address this question, one must understand the current importance of China and the many challenges that come with China’s new role in the..  The countries within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) started to strengthen their bilateral relationship with China in recognition of China’s growing role as a source of investment. The ASEAN-China relations began in 1991 when China first expressed its interest for closer cooperation with ASEAN during the 24th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Kuala Lumpur. But it is only during  the 29th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Jakarta in 1996 that China gained full dialogue status with ASEAN.All mechanisms at the working level were coordinated through the ASEAN-China Joint Cooperation Committee. During this meeting China also agreed to the establishment of the ASEAN-China Cooperation Fund. The ASEAN-China Senior Officials Political Consultation was also set up as a forum on political and security issues. A Code of Conduct in the use of the South China Sea was also established as a means to prevent conflict and promote peace in the region.The financial crisis that hit Asian countries in 1997 brought together the region’s north and south to discuss common responses to the crisis during the ASEAN meeting that year in Kuala Lumpur. The evolution of the Asean Plus Three (Japan, China and South Korea) came as a result of a recommendation of the East Asian Vision Group that was formed to propose possible substantive areas of cooperation.The ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreements (ACFTA) is a crucial component of East Asian regional economic integration. In 2002, Chinese and ASEAN Leaders signed the Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and decided that an ASEAN-China FTA would be set up in 10 years.When realized, the ASEAN-China FTA will be the largest FTA in Asia. It will also be the biggest FTA between developing countries and biggest in terms of population covered representing a market of 1.85 billion consumers and a combined gross domestic product of almost 2.5 trillion dollars. The ACFTA will be fully implemented for the ASEAN-6 in 2010, and will integrate Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia by 2015.On January 1, 2004 the two parties began implementing what China called an “Early Harvest Plan” or EHP. This plan grants a 3-year duty free entry for ASEAN goods into the Chinese markets. After this, China’s manufactured goods will have full free tariff access to Southeast Asian markets. This secures China’s access to the region’s raw materials and at the same time removes barriers to China’s exports. The EHP cut tariffs on more than 500 products as part of the efforts to facilitate the FTA. The ACFTA will strengthen China’s clout by making it the center of gravity in Asia and surpassing the influence of Japan and the US.The 8th China – ASEAN Summit on November 29, 2004 in Vientiane resulted in a package of agreements on trade in goods and dispute settlement. China and the Asean began to cut tariffs on more than 7,000 products, a move indicating the start of the substantial tariff reduction phase between the two parties.Trade between China and ASEAN has been on the rise, growing at an annual average of 19% between 1995 and 2002. The 2002 trade record is US$ 54.8 billion2. This leapt to more than US$100 billion for the first time in 2004 and further increased to US$130.37 billion in 20053. ASEAN trade with Japan and the US remained higher at $136 billion each in 2004, but this is expected to be overtaken by ASEAN-China trade soon.Supporters of ACFTA argue that Chinese and ASEAN economies complement one another. But China’s expansion is not being welcomed by everyone. In fact, reaction to China’s growing economic presence is increasingly becoming negative especially from small farmers and manufacturers in the region. Those in electronics, furnitures, motorcycles, and fruits and vegetables, increasingly see China as a threat. In Thailand, farmers are despairing that they could not sell their own produce anymore because of the low-priced Chinese vegetables that invade the markets in rural towns and cities in the countr. Malaysian and Indonesian workers are also complaining about jobs being lost to Chinese workers due to closures of enterprises that are losing orders to China. Increased Chinese textile exports since 2005 to Cambodia and Vietnam started to supplant local producers in the two countries.The strong drive and interest by the ASEAN elite to deepen economic ties with China is not shared by farmers and small businesses that fear the competitive advantage of China in churning out low-priced goods. Environmentalists and interests groups also worry about the impacts of Chinese demand on natural resources in the region.ASEAN is the “mother of all regional formations” in Asia. It has gone through a long history, challenges and rebirths. The presence of China in the evolving regional community and its role in the governance of the region’s economic, political and security relations have potential benefits to member countries. China’s leadership in combating drug trafficking in its border could contribute to the solution of transnational crimes. Its initiatives for deeper cooperation on health issues like the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS and HIV/AIDS will certainly give a big push to the efforts towards addressing these problems.If successful, China’s efforts to solve its internal problems through its new social policies for the countryside may provide a good model for a redefined activist state’s role in economic governance. However, China’s growing influence does not necessarily ensure human security, deeper democracy, political transparency and protection of the environment and human rights in the region. Despite growing sentiment of anti-Americanism in the region, the US is still considered by many as a more democratic country and a better supporter of human rights.What has changed now is China building large military facilities in the South China Sea and becoming assertive. The domestic focus of some regional states might seem to preclude collective defence but building resilience is an internal measure, not outward directed. Resilience threatens no one while limiting the political, diplomatic and military usefulness the new islands might have for China in times of peace, crisis or limited conflict.

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