China-ASEAN relationship far deeper than just economics: Singaporean expert

BY: shamin, 30 Aug 2016

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is not doomed to be anyone's puppet and can instead be a worthy partner, Chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) Simon Tay said.

ASEAN and China share a strong relationship which is economically critical, Tay told Xinhua on the sidelines of a forum on ASEAN and Asia.

China has already remained the largest trade partner for ASEAN, and it's time to export some of its jobs to ASEAN at this stage, he added.

"Besides trade, we see that investment has picked up. And China is also important for infrastructural development," Tay said. "It's no longer just trade alone that we need to really understand."
Tay explained that the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that China and ASEAN signed may have looked good at that time, but when reviewed from today's perspective, it is still limited. He believed more can be done, such as in service sectors.

"There is a deeply strong relationship beyond just trade, and the relationship (between China and ASEAN) is already there. It can grow further," he said.

"Some areas like services are not yet open. So if we open them up more, the relationship will go up further."

The SIIA chairman also underlined the importance of China's Belt and Road Initiative and establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), saying physical infrastructure can make a difference.

"A trade agreement is like a policy to connect. But without the physical connection, the policy is hard to work," explained Tay.

He stressed the development of China's western region, as he thought it will be great if western China can be connected to Southeast Asia, resulting in a surge in logistics.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in July at an ASEAN meeting in Laos that "over the past 25 years, the China-ASEAN partnership has become the most broad, fruitful and closest ties among ASEAN's dialogue partners."

There was a need to review the China-ASEAN relationship and develop it more broadly.

Tay said the China-ASEAN relationship cannot be expanded just economically, as the overall context of the relationship can help to fully understand it.

As for the disputes in the South China Sea, he used the analogies of "hot egg" and "lunch box" to illustrate his opinion on the China-ASEAN relations.

"You cannot hold the hot item by yourself, but you can put it into the lunch box to handle it," said Tay. "When you put the egg into the lunch box, the lunch box itself will get warm, but hopefully the other things in the lunch box will make it containable."

The expert mentioned that the Belt and Road Initiative and the AIIB are "the other things" in the lunch box, which have shown China is creating a much more cooperative space.

"Some people think China will dominate ASEAN, but I don't think this is inevitable, both China's own restraint plus ASEAN's efforts can make this a more positive partnership," said Tay.

INGAPORE, Aug. 30 (Xinhua)

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