Much happening in Asean beyond South China Sea

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KUALA LUMPUR: It’s not inevitable that China, while a key player in Asean, will dominate the region, stressed Simon Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA), in a curtain raiser for the 9th Asean & Asia Forum on August 22.

Patently, agreed the SIIA Chairman, a naval incident between China on the one hand in the region and the US and Japan, would be destabilising.

“Political differences can spill over into economic engagement,” said Tay. “Bilateral development assistance can dry up when relations sour.”

However, he does not see negative outcomes as inevitable. “Asean is not solely dependent on China.”

“It’s well balanced between Beijing and other partners. The trade and investment figures tell the story.”

China may be Asean’s top trading partner at 15.2 per cent in total bilateral trade. However, Japan, the European Union (EU) and the US are not far off with 10 per cent each. Investment data, according to Tay, has the EU leading at 16.4 per cent of total inflows, with Japan, the US and China following at 14.5 per cent, 10.2 per cent and 6.8 per cent respectively.

The SIIA Chief expects the US to play a leading role in the region through the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), innovation, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, followed by Japan and other donors and partners.

China, not to be outdone, has sketched a “One Belt, One Road” initiative, a grand vision which covers building land, air and sea routes. Beijing hopes to increase infrastructural connectivity in the region by funding parts of the vision through its newly-created Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Amidst all this, said Tay, concerns on the South China Sea is dominating the news in the region. The trigger came in the form of the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling in favour of Manila, against Beijing, on the South China Sea.