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Resurgent China re-asserting South-East Asia claims

by Adrian David

HONG KONG, 27 MAY – A resurgent China is believed to be re-asserting its claims in South-East Asia, which is experiencing an ongoing uncertainty.

According to a University of Hong Kong don, China’s intentions were due to its large economy, vast population and changing political image.

Associate Professor Enze Han, from the university’s Department of Politics and Public Administration, reckoned that there was debate as to whether China was re-asserting historical tributary relations, replicating the historical imperialist tactics of the west, exporting communist ideologies or focusing on fostering regional economic interdependence.

“This is complicated by China’s complex historical ties with the region and the diverse impacts of various Chinese non-state actors,” wrote Han, based on his recent book ‘The Ripple Effect: China’s Complex Presence in Southeast Asia’.

Han figured that there was considerable uncertainty in South-East Asia following China’s resurgence in the region.

“Over the past four decades, the once impoverished communist country has emerged as the world’s second-largest economy, transforming the image of Chinese people from famine-stricken to major consumers and investors.

“Due to the immense size of the Chinese economy, its vast population and its enigmatic authoritarian government, China’s intentions towards the region remain a significant question mark for South-East Asian countries,” Han said.

He analysed debates that abounded within South-East Asia regarding the implications of the resurgence of a historical hegemon for the region.

“This is primarily due to the deep, historical inter-connectedness between China and South-East Asia, established through tribute, trade and migration.

“Uncertainty stems from a lack of consensus on the nature of the great power China represents and may become.

“Some suggest that China is the celestial kingdom of the past, seeking to reassert its former tributary relations with South-East Asia, while others worry it will resemble the colonial powers of the imperial west, which seized control of the region, plundered resources and enslaved people,” Han wrote.

He delved into whether the Chinese government and its Communist Party would repeat their revolutionary past by exporting communist ideologies and an authoritarian system to the region, or if Beijing was primarily interested in economic development and fostering further regional economic interdependence.

“South-East Asia as a region must address the challenges posed by a neighbour that is both enormous and complex.

“This situation arose for two primary reasons.

“First, the contemporary People’s Republic of China is a complex great power in the sense that despite its colossal economic and military power, the country is populous, diverse, still in the developing stage and full of contradictions. “Additionally, China has complex historical relations with South-East Asia through centuries of economic and political interactions, with a long history of Chinese migration to the region.

“China’s reception in the region is varied, conditioned by historical relations as well as contemporary encounters with a variety of actors from China,” said Han.

Han’s second reason focused on differentiating between the intended and unintended consequences of China’s presence in South-East Asia, particularly when people wanted to understand what kind of ‘influence’ China wielded in the region.

“The Chinese state intends for some of its policies or actions to cause deep repercussions in South-East Asia.

“But we must also consider the unintended consequences of a variety of Chinese actors to fully comprehend the nature of interactions between China and South-East Asia,” Han said.

He opined that the substantial impact of Chinese non-state actors on state–society relations in South-East Asia also affected state-to-state relations.

This focus, Han said, on non-state actors complemented the extensive body of literature that had already studied China–South-East Asia relations from a state perspective, while importantly shifting gears to investigate the complex nature of diverse non-state actors from China, which held significant implications for Southeast Asia.

“Sociological theories of ‘unintended consequences of purposive social action’ demonstrate how intentionality, or the absence thereof, is crucial to understanding the nature of China’s presence in the region.

“The Chinese state has been more explicitly involved in trying to influence South-East Asia, with a specific focus on authoritarian regime durability in the region, economic relations and China’s promotion of Chinese language and culture.

“Non-state actors from China also impact South-East Asia.

“For example, Chinese consumption demand has generated an agricultural transformation in the region.

“Other non-state actors include the Chinese illicit economy in South-East Asia, the influence of outbound migration from China and the socio-economic impact on host societies in South-East Asia.

“Additionally, China’s diaspora governance policies have affected its historical and contemporary relations with South-East Asia,” Han wrote.

For instance, he viewed the illicit economy included the recent growth of the online casino economy, which had been deeply tied with Chinese capital looking for investment opportunities in South-East Asia.

“Closely associated are the online scammers that specifically target ethnic Chinese communities across national boundaries.

“The lack of state regulation and capacity, as well as rampant corruption in the region, have facilitated the growth of these illicit activities by Chinese criminal networks,” Han summed up.

He concluded that understanding China’s influence through the lens of intentionality, or lack thereof, was essential to understanding China’s relations with South-East Asia.

This approach, he said, allowed for a fuller understanding of the complex network of state-affiliated and private entities that shaped China’s actions in the region. – airtimes.my

#AirTimes #Global

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