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|Date: 27 September 2010 - Author: Antara|
|A summit meeting between the leaders of the Unites States and the ten ASEAN member countries was held in New York last Friday.Has China`s growing influence in this region been contained?|
|Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa was quick to deny it, especially when Indonesia`s national interest was concerned. "The summit was held without the intention to benefit only certain groups or interests, and to serve Indonesia`s interest," Minister Natalegawa told a press conference in New York following the summit Friday. Natalewagawa pointed out the summit was not held by Indonesia to belittle China, one of Indonesia`s important partners in Asia. China remains Indonesia`s main partner in various fields of cooperation, he stressed.|
"Indonesia and China has now even a strategic partnership to the mutual benefit of both countries," he said, adding that it would be wrong to say that the summit was aimed at belittling China in favour of the U.S. The U.S. and China may have problems in their relations with Indonesia trying to reduce the differences to prevent a wider conflict between them, Natalegawa said. The summit, however, also has another perspective. It was indeed thought to be a way for Washington to re-fill its influence in the region that was neglected during the administration of President George W. Bush as he had been too busy with the Middle East.
"Under the Bush administration, the U.S. had ignored ASEAN, focusing on the Middle East. But under President Barrack Obama`s administration, the U.S. has started to shift its role in the region," political observer Dewi Fortuna Anwar said in an interview with ANTARA last Saturday. Anwar, chief international researcher of politics with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), was asked what she thought about the ASEAN-US summit meeting held on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, something seen as a containment of the Chinese influence in this region.
Washington did not want to see others to dominate the ASEAN region, she said, apparently referring to China`s increasing influence in this region. The U.S. had neglected ASEAN when it was preoccupied with problems of the Middle East during the administration of President Bush.
The vacancy was used by China to approach ASEAN and play a role, she said.
Anwar, chief international political planner for Indonesia during the government under President B.J. Habibie a decade ago, said actually Indonesia and ASEAN could enjoy the benefits of wider choices of cooperation in security, social, cultural, political and economic sectors with a greater role of China in this region. However she warned ASEAN against destabilizing stability in the region due to a possibility of becoming a pawn of any country. "If China dominates ASEAN, the expansion of democracy would be halted," said Anwar who refused to use the term "containment" and instead used "dynamic balancing".
The most possible growth in relations between China and ASEAN has been in trade. The China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA) which also involved Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore since January 1, 2010, China and ASEAN had become duty-free for more than 7,000 products. A zero-tariff rate is applied to 91.5 percent of goods from the 10 ASEAN member countries and the average tariff was reduced by China from 9.8 percent to 0.1 percent.
The six original ASEAN members have also imposed a zero tariff on 90 percent of Chinese products. The four newer ASEAN members (Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Vietnam) will not have to cut tariffs on Chinese goods until 2015. CAFTA was heralded as the world`s largest FTA as it covers 1.7 million consumers with a combined gross domestic product of US$2 trillion and a total trade of US$1.3 trillion. By 2015, the latest ASEAN countries - Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, will join the zero-tariff arrangement.
China undoubtedly is a major driving force in Asia. The other Asian countries enjoyed the benefit of China`s growth because China provided an opportunity for the export of raw materials from these countries. In 2003 and 2004, demand from the fast growing Chinese economy was a key factor in the growth taking place in Southeast Asia. This robust growth followed a period of low growth in post-Asian financial crisis in 1997 and 1998, and was a major driver of growth in most economies in the region. China`s imports exceeded its exports from its Asian counterparts.
The ASEAN economies are banking on a repetition in history in the ongoing economic crisis as China continued to march ahead with GDP growth rate of 8-9 percent. The first in H1-2010 bilateral trade reached US$136.5 billion, a year-on-year increase of 55 percent. Chinese imports from ASEAN touched US$71.9 billion, a 64 percent increase over the same period last year, while exports to ASEAN reached US$64.6 billion, a 45 percent increase compared to last year`s. Imports exceeded exports, with a Chinese deficit of US$7.3 billion. Bilateral investment increased: ASEAN investment in China rose from US$2.93 billion in 2003 to US$4.68 billion in 2009, while China`s investments in ASEAN expanded from US$230 million to US$3 billion. By the end of June 2010, accumulative mutual investment stood at $69.4 billion, with $59.8 billion invested from ASEAN and US$9.6 billion from China.