With world governments seeking to recover from the socio-economic ramifications of the Coronavirus outbreak, the geopolitical landscape across the globe is likely to undergo paramount changes with shifting dependencies. Amid the pandemic outbreak and subsequent restrictions, a media report stated that the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) became China’s largest trading partner in the first three months of 2020, surpassing both the United States and the European Union. Until 2019, ASEAN was China’s second-largest trading partner, with the EU serving as the largest trading partner for Beijing.
Significantly, in the global COVID-19 response, Southeast Asian nations collaborated with China on multiple instances which intensified cooperation and interdependency between the two regions benefitting both sides.
Reportedly, ASEAN members including Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore provided essential medical supplies to China in response to the pandemic crisis. In return, China also supplied medical aid and experts to the Southeast Asian region.
At a recent press conference, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi acknowledged that cooperation between Beijing and ASEAN has deepened with both regions attempting to amplify their partnership on various sectors such as public health and safeguard multilateral trading system for the welfare of people from both sides. Essentially, 2021 will mark 30 years of establishment of China-ASEAN dialogue relations.
Furthermore, earlier in May, economic ministers of 10 member states of ASEAN and China’s Minister of Commerce issued a joined statement announcing partnership in combating COVID-19 pandemic and mitigating its impact on trade and the economy in the region. They emphasized the importance of open markets while addressing the “economic disruptions that have affected regional supply chains, the financial markets, and human capital.”
Additionally, negotiations are underway for the proposed free trade agreement – Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) – between ASEAN member states and their FTA partners China, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand, India, and Australia. It is important to note that the escalating economic uncertainties owing to the ongoing US-China trade war have triggered several multinational corporations shifting large portions of their production capacities to ASEAN member states which is being seen by many experts as a major upside for their economies. The increase in foreign direct investment into the 10-nation bloc amid the trade war has led to a surge in capital into the region.
Such developments provide potential opportunities to the 10 ASEAN member states in establishing revamped relationship with China which proves favourable for both sides. With Beijing appearing to augment its participation in the global geopolitics in the post-pandemic world, ASEAN could boost its efforts to make the most opportunity.