Riding on China&’s aspirations
The tempo of China&’s integration with Asean nations and the wider Asian continent under its new leadership has been dizzying.
It was on show at the leaders’ summits of APEC, Asean and the East Asia bloc this month when President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang shared duties to lay out China&’s collaboration plans that could produce the world&’s largest trade area linking 16 countries in Asean and North Asia, the Indian Ocean and South Pacific.
The existing Asean-China trade pact is also to be “upgraded” to take account of new requirements in tradable goods and services, but specifically in services and infrastructure investment.
It is no accident the 2015 target for concluding the review coincides with the planned start of the Asean Economic Community. The year is also China&’s intended launch date for the 16-nation trade bloc, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), although it looks optimistic.
The Beijing momentum rolled on when Zhang Gaoli, a member of the Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee and a vice-premier, paid a visit and agreed on deals with Singapore in currency and capital trading, besides cooperating in market-opening moves in third countries in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.
Singapore has cultivated ties with China methodically since Lee Kuan Yew&’s early years, and the depth of understanding in each other&’s needs (and limitations) is beyond compare in Asean.
But special relationships serve each party&’s permanent interests. Three decades after Deng Xiaoping&’s opening of post-Mao China, it is running up against renewed American interest in Asia.
Beijing is responding by creating a web of relationships in Asia and beyond which is part economic, part security and part cultural to enhance its soft-power appeal. Hence the Asia-centred RCEP to rival the American-dominant Trans-Pacific Partnership, and tending to the needs of emerging nations in Asia, Africa and South America.
Singapore does not become a smaller cog in the Chinese big wheel as a consequence; quite the contrary, as its networking in America and the English-speaking world is useful to Beijing as it expands its global aspirations. But benefits should be mutual, so cold-eyed evaluation is obligatory.
The Straits Times