According to Zheng Yongnian, a prominent political economist, China needs to strengthen its ties with Southeast Asian countries in order to build regional influence and economic supremacy over the United States. Zheng suggests that China should open up more to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to bring them closer to China’s economic orbit. ASEAN has become a main battleground between China and the US, and Zheng calls on China to open its borders to Laos and make better use of the railway link between the two countries as a model to attract other Southeast Asian countries.
The ongoing trade war between the US and China has escalated tensions and spilled over into technology, resulting in restrictions on Chinese companies by the US. Meanwhile, the ASEAN bloc has surpassed the US and the European Union to become China’s top trading partner. The Southeast Asia bloc plays a crucial role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative and is also part of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade pact.
On the other hand, the US is also aiming to strengthen alliances with ASEAN countries through its Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, which seeks to counter China’s rising influence in the region. While ASEAN has been developing relations with both superpowers, Zheng suggests that in the event of a real conflict between the US and China, most ASEAN countries would turn back to the US due to their security ties.
China’s former ASEAN ambassador, Xu Bu, also emphasized the need for China to strengthen economic and trade cooperation with ASEAN to counter the political impact of the US. Both China and ASEAN are negotiating an updated version of their free trade area agreement, aiming to expand trade cooperation in digital and green emerging areas. While China’s approach may face challenges due to US restrictions, more economic engagement on equal terms is generally welcomed in Southeast Asia.
In conclusion, Zheng Yongnian and Xu Bu argue that China should cement closer ties with ASEAN to build regional influence and economic supremacy over the US. This can be achieved through greater economic and trade cooperation, opening up borders, and using successful models like the railway link between China and Laos. However, the US is also actively working on strengthening alliances with ASEAN countries, and the outcome will depend on various factors including trade restrictions and the overall geopolitical dynamics in the region.