Jun 24, 2019 / 17:09

ASEAN fastens economic strength amid US-China tensions

The Hanoitimes - The 10-member bloc pins out economy as a major factor to bargain power globally.

Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have agreed to work together for their better position in terms of economy and security to face growing US-China tensions. 
Leaders of ASEAN members. Photo: Pom.gov.my
Leaders of ASEAN members. Photo: Pmo.gov.my
All 10 leaders reached a consensus as they wrapped up the 34th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok, Thailand on Sunday [June 23], according to Reuters.

The 10-member bloc will need its collective economic strength for bargaining power globally, especially amid the trade tensions between the world’s top two economies, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha as chairman of the summit said at a news conference.

Prayuth urged ASEAN nations to complete negotiations this year for the China-initiated Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) pact that includes 16 countries but has been held up by disputes between China and India over access to markets and protected lists of goods.

Negotiations on RCEP including 10 ASEAN members and six Asia-Pacific countries namely China, Japan, India, and South Korea began in 2012, which envisages the creation of a free trade zone encompassing 45% of the world’s population and more than a third of its GDP, but does not involve the US.

“This will help ASEAN handle the changes and uncertainty that will happen in the region going forward, particularly the impacts of trade tension between ASEAN’s important trade partners,” Prayuth said.

Currently, ASEAN has existing free-trade agreements with all six countries.

“If we can do this, we will have the bargaining power and base for negotiation. Because when combined, we are 650 million people, the largest regional bloc in the world,” the Thai prime minister said of ASEAN.

Four ASEAN countries including Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam will discuss the trade war in next week’s G20 summit, which assembles 20 major economies, in Tokyo, Prayuth said. Thailand will host the next ASEAN summit in November.

ASEAN in the world's map. Photo: Asia-Europe cooperation
ASEAN in the world's map. Photo: Asia-Europe cooperation
Common approach on US-led Indo-Pacific initiative 

ASEAN members also agreed on a common approach on a US-led Indo-Pacific initiative on Sunday, at a time when US-China tensions are rising and forcing ASEAN countries to take sides.

Prayuth hailed the bloc’s agreement on the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific as a “significant step,” as it will help guide cooperation in the region in an increasingly polarized geopolitical landscape. The outlook is aimed at “helping to promote an enabling environment for peace, stability and prosperity in the region in addressing common challenges”.


ASEAN is a 10-member bloc with combined GDP of US$2.4 trillion, a population of 630 million, and a land mass covering more than 4.4 million square kilometers. 

ASEAN holds semiannual ASEAN Summits, numerous ministerial meetings, and convenes Asia Pacific powers to discuss security and political issues. ASEAN seeks to promote economic growth and regional stability among its members through consultation, consensus, and cooperation, according to Washington-based East-West Center. 

By combining the member states’ influence, ASEAN has been able to influence Asia Pacific economic, political, and security trends to a much greater degree than its members could achieve individually. 

ASEAN’s community building effort comprises three pillars: the Political-Security Community; Economic Community; and Socio-Cultural Community.

ASEAN member states are key diplomatic, economic, and security partners for the US. ASEAN occupies a critical geographic position straddling the sea lanes between the Indian Ocean in the west and the Pacific Ocean in the east. With over US$5.3 trillion in trade passing through the disputed waters of the South China Sea each year, including US$1.2 trillion in US trade, maritime security is a priority for both the United States and ASEAN.