Comparative Connections v.4 n.4 - China-Southeast Asia Relations
January 1, 2003
China capped a year of significant gains in relations with its Southeast Asian neighbors with a series of summit-level agreements with ASEAN in November, dealing with trade, investment, infrastructure, and security issues. Responding to increasing ASEAN concerns that China’s success in attracting foreign investment, at their expense, will keep their economies depressed, Beijing promised early trade liberalization measures, and agreed with ASEAN on a framework for negotiating the world’s largest free trade agreement (FTA). A long road remains, however, and Southeast Asian countries are realizing that a China-ASEAN FTA will require painful structural adjustments on their part. After several years of stalemate, China and ASEAN also agreed on a pledge of restraint in the South China Sea, although its provisions are vaguer than ASEAN wanted. A separate summit of the six Mekong states led to agreement on accelerating transportation and energy programs in the Mekong subregion. China committed to expand agricultural cooperation with ASEAN, to increase cooperation on "nontraditional" security issues, including narcotics and terrorism, and to sign on to ASEAN’s regional nuclear weapons free zone.