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China ASEAN's most reliable partner: Poll

By LEONARDUS JEGHO in Jakarta | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-12-06 09:41
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The Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway is a signature BRI project in Indonesia. [XU QIN/XINHUA]

Expert: Manufacturing lays foundation for SE Asia's economic ties with Beijing

China is the most relevant and reliable partner for Southeast Asia's future, said a recent survey by an independent foreign policy organization involving people in the region.

The poll, which also covered Japan, India and the United States, was conducted from September to November in the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations members — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — as well as in Timor-Leste, which is in line to be the bloc's 11th member.

"When asked about who is the most relevant partner for the future, it is not Japan; it is China," Shofwan Al Banna Choiruzzad, a senior fellow of Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia, said at a discussion forum in Jakarta on Saturday.

Shofwan, as the coordinator, presented the Survey of ASEAN People's Perceptions on China, India, Japan, and the USA during a session at the Conference on Indonesian Foreign Policy 2023 held in the Indonesian capital.

He was among five panelists at the survey discussion forum. The other four came from Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, and Japan.

More than 5,000 participants attended the conference, including government officials, foreign diplomats, academia, business figures and NGO leaders.

On ASEAN-China economic relations, the Belt and Road Initiative was the most popular among a total of 1,722 respondents, including government officials, businesspeople, civil organizations, academia and students.

More than 84 percent of the respondents said they had already heard of and were most familiar with the BRI proposed by China.

Japan's Official Development Assistance and Integration Fund came in second and third, respectively, ahead of the US' Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity in fourth among similar programs.

Jittipat Poonkham, an associate professor at the faculty of political science at Thammasat University in Bangkok and a panelist in the discussion forum, said he had little doubt about Japan's relations with ASEAN.

"I don't think Japan is today and China is tomorrow. I would say Japan and China will be the tomorrow of ASEAN, of course," Poonkham said.

By now, many ASEAN countries perceive the US stance as potentially bypassing ASEAN centrality and instigating unilateralism, he added.

Joseph Liow, dean of the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said China-Southeast Asia economic relations have been built primarily on two very good decades on the back of Chinese manufacturing.

However, China is changing and ASEAN countries accordingly need to think about Chinese economic development, said Liow, who is also Tan Kah Kee chair professor in comparative and international politics at Nanyang Technological University.

At the forum, the US was not discussed as much as China and Japan, with India mentioned only in passing.

Shofwan of the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia said there are limited studies on the voice of the people in ASEAN and how they view the great powers in the region.

"We tried to capture the opinions of the people and we will show them to the public. We will show them to policymakers and try to give nuance to our foreign policies," he said.

The writer is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

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