Paradigm Shift | ASEAN AND America-China’s Trade War

THE CURRENT trade war between China and the USA ensures that relations will continue to be difficult because China is about to overtake the world as the number one power.However, the United States does not want to admit that they will slide to second place. During Donald Trump’s election campaign before he became the U.S. President, Trump criticized China by announcing, “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country.” He also declared he would not let the United States be taken advantage of anymore and would always guarantee that America was first. According to President Trump’s view on US relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), it was not important. ASEAN, in fact, is very important to the United States for many reasons. Perhaps most importantly, ASEAN has successfully pursued good politics alongside good economics. The United States badly needs regional powers that can counterbalance China’s growing geopolitical power. With its motto of “One vision, one identity, one community,” ASEAN welds great power because collectively the ASEAN countries have an intergovernmental force. According to an ancient Asian proverb, “When elephants fight, the grass suffers.” Undoubtedly, the trade war between America and China will have victims. Most likely, ASEAN will be one of the victims.

One of the reasons that China is being careful and pragmatic in the short term is because for China time is the best aspirin, thinning the blood stream to avoid clots. China knows that in time its economy will become number one, and especially neighboring countries will very carefully adjust to the new reality. While America is wasting money in wars that drain its economic resources and lives, China remains vigilant and keenly aware that each regional conflict gives America an opportunity to step in; the debate over the South China Sea is a great example of this. America strongly supported the judgment of the international tribunal, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, when it came to the South China Sea dispute between China and the Philippines. One of the reasons why ASEAN started very strong at its inception was because America and China strategically worked together to make sure it had clout. But now, America and China are trying to use ASEAN as an instrument for their regional rivalries.

The interdependence of the world’s economy creates challenges as well. President Duterte made important strategic decisions in terms of the South China Sea. Everyone knows that nothing will deter China in its claim to the South China Sea, but if ASEAN joins America’s campaign, then that union will have very bad consequences in the region for China. Both America and China are working hard to lure ASEAN into joining their camp, because ASEAN is important for both China and America. In the near future China will be leading the economy and power. As a sign, some of the ASEAN member countries have already adapted to China’s pragmatism and have recognized China as the most powerful; that’s why the Philippines has maneuvered to have a closer relationship with China than with America. China is ASEAN’s largest external trade partner. America is the third or fourth largest when it comes to the trade. President Obama began sinking America’s ship, and President Trump is expediting the plunge.

Similarly, America left the Middle East under the fate of Iran, Russia, and Turkey, and now is leaving Asia under the fate of China. As a key part of his election rhetoric, President Trump abandoned a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with ASEAN countries, an alliance which would bring some of the members of ASEAN countries and the United States into a free trade zone.

With all fairness, there is no doubt that for decades China has engaged in a one-sided trade war with America that does not involve tariffs but does involve widespread and wide-scale stealing of copyrights and intellectual property. For decades China has exported its goods without any tariffs while America’s goods have to have tariffs. It is true that America’s consumers get cheaper things from China and thus have caused the demand side to support this practice. Nevertheless, a mutual relationship makes for good relations, but a one-sided relationship ensures a bad one. ASEAN countries will have to develop innovative new strategies to deal with the current regional rivalries between China and America. In this regard, James B. Steinberg, professor of international relations in Syracuse University and former Deputy Secretary of State of the United States, points out that China and the US do not necessarily have to agree on everything. The US, however, would benefit from more cooperation with ASEAN in addressing transnational issues.

Dr. Aland Mizell is President of the MCI and a regular contributor to Mindanao Times. You may email the author



Posted in Opinion