Asian Century By Herman Tiu Laurel
To the surprise of the Japanese government, 48 percent of respondents from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations consider China as their country’s “most important” future partner, ahead of Japan and the United States.
This was the finding of the multinational Ipsos poll commissioned by the Japanese government in January to find out which of the three countries, Japan, China or the US, citizens of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations think will be, as one Japanese newspaper put it, their country’s “paramount” partner in the coming years.
This is clearly a watershed moment as it is the first time China has taken precedence over Japan in the eyes of ASEAN citizens in the Japan-commissioned poll.
The Japanese-commissioned Ipsos findings also dovetail with a 2021 poll conducted in the Philippines. In July 2021, PUBLiCUS Asia, a Manila-based political consultancy, reported that 1,500 respondents from a pool of 100,000 voters found that 53 percent of the Filipinos are keeping an open mind, neither naming China as a foe nor a friend, but certainly showing openness to China’s goodwill toward the Philippines — a 180 degree turn in the mindset of the Filipinos about China since 2015. That sentiment is common throughout ASEAN.
Over the past decade, the Philippines has seen the deft “win-win” diplomacy of China in the region and its all-out efforts to assist the ASEAN members in the Belt and Road connectivity projects. Chinese-funded infrastructure projects in the Philippines have begun to be put into use. Most endearing of all have been the delivery of Chinese global public goods, such as the 600 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
For China and ASEAN, the future is today. ASEAN is the top trading partner of China once again, surpassing both the European Union and the US, and this growth trend is expected to continue despite Western headwinds blowing against China.
Indeed, the prospects for the future progress of China-ASEAN economic ties look bright and vibrant, but with one caveat: the US’ attempts to provoke conflict in the region do not succeed.
The US “war on terror” that wrought havoc in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen and other countries, was signaled and justified by a series of staged incidents and fabricated pretexts.
Today, there are ample signs from the launch of AUKUS to the escalating provocations over China’s Taiwan that the US is up to its old tricks again.
ASEAN is the key to stopping the US ramping up its provocations and destabilizing the region. ASEAN leaders should pay close attention to the stance of former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad who was so incensed by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan that he forcefully advised ASEAN to stay away from the US’ provocations against China and called on ASEAN to pivot toward China.
Life in ASEAN today may not be paradise, but because there is no war — or putting it more positively, because there is peace — people can struggle through the challenges of natural catastrophes, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, earthquakes, tsunamis and the like that we have successfully overcome in recent years.
But man-made disasters, such as the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, will have impacts on the region that maybe felt for decades.
Today’s Asia, of which ASEAN is a major part and China is a central factor, is bullish about its future. Geopolitical analysts have declared the coming era as “the Asian Century”.
But it is precisely the ascendance of Asia that has prompted the vestiges of previous colonial and imperialist powers to attempt to frustrate and undermine this Asian Century, as it will still take many decades for nations in the region to enjoy prosperity.
ASEAN must not be complacent. We should not allow the Western interlopers to spoil the “forever peace” that Asia pursues.
More prominent voices should speak up, like Mahathir, and denounce the provocations of the US and express support for China’s efforts to promote peace and prosperity through practicing true multilateralism and the vision of building a community with a shared future for mankind.