Southeast Asia pushes ahead on China partnership . . .
It seems that China drew a winning hand at last weekend’s ASEAN Summit in Bangkok. The Association agreed to move quickly to negotiate a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with China, announcing that the agreement would be finalized by the end of 2019. ASEAN members decided that amid the escalating trade dispute between the U.S. and China, keeping trade open was a top priority. The announcement was also a sign that Southeast Asian economies don’t want to take sides in the U.S.-China trade war.
A narrow window for reluctant economies . . .
RCEP was designed as a comprehensive Pan-Asian trade agreement that included not only China, but also Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea, in addition to all 10 ASEAN countries. However, India has had serious reservations over duty-free manufacturing goods flooding into Indian markets, and Australia and New Zealand were holding out for the inclusion of labour and environmental clauses. Nevertheless, it looks like China, with ASEAN’s help, will be able to close the deal quickly, though it is leaving the door open for reluctant countries to sign on later.
Not all easy sailing for China . . .
The ASEAN Summit participants also made clear that hostile engagements in the South China Sea should not be tolerated. The Philippines protested China’s sinking over one of its fishing boats, to which Vietnam added a long list of grievances, punctuating the need for a comprehensive Code of Conduct for the South China Sea. Negotiations of the code won’t start until 2020.
- Nikkei Asian Review: ASEAN seeks a mid-path between China and the US
- South China Morning Post: ASEAN Summit splits over China put Thailand’s Prayuth Chan-ocha in the hot seat
- Inquirer.net: Duterte to push for ‘Code of Conduct’ at ASEAN Summit