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Asean seeks stable US-China partnership

Brian Badzmierowski  Khmer Times Mon, February 15, 2021

Asean countries are concerned over the rivalry between the US and China and wish to see a stable and constructive partnership between the two top global economies.

This was indicated by respondents from 10 Asean countries in a survey released last week by the ASEAN Studies Centre and the Yusof Ishak Institute.

In the survey, 53.8 percent of respondents believed Asean should enhance its resilience and unity to fend off pressure from the two major powers and 29.9 percent said it should continue its position of not taking sides.

Chheang Vannarith, president of independent think tank Asian Vision Institute said the rivalry between the US and China is concerning Asean.

“Concern is growing with regard to the unfolding geopolitical rivalries between the US and China. Asean member states are not interested in taking sides. They wish to see a stable and constructive partnership,” he said.

Kin Phea, director-general of the International Relations Institute at Royal Academy of Cambodia, said Asean should maintain its independence and resist becoming a proxy for another superpower.

“Accommodating two superpowers is not an easy task, but Asean should make it clear that it is not the proxy of any superpower, and all Asean member states should balance their national interests and regional interests,” he said.

As far as the perception that Asean is losing influence, Phea said he did not believe this to be the case.

On the contrary, he said Asean was gaining influence and has become a major player with bargaining power in regional and global dialogues

The respondents via the survey indicated that Asean is becoming an arena of major power competition and its member states may become proxies of a major power.

Some 71.5 percent of the respondents’ biggest concern was Asean is slow and ineffective, and thus cannot cope with fluid political and economic developments.

They also said Asean is unable to overcome current pandemic challenges.

The United States and China were recognised as having more political-strategic influence in Southeast Asia than Asean, but 83.4 percent of respondents agreed with the statement  “I welcome its growing regional political and strategic influence” in regard to Asean, a score much higher than the other two regional influencers received.

Vannarith said: “Asean is at an inflection point. It is forced to change and take bolder decisions with regard to complex regional issues such as human rights and democracy. The ongoing political crisis in Myanmar for instance demands urgent diplomatic engagement from Asean in order to restore democracy and the rule of law – the key values enshrined in the Asean Charter.”

He said Cambodia’s chairmanship, beginning in 2021, would focus on environmentally friendly and inclusive pandemic recovery and strengthening the Asean community.

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SOURCE: Khmer Times, Cambodia Mon, February 15, 2021

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