chapter  11
14 Pages

China–ASEAN relations: the core of Asian regionalism

ByNicholas Thomas

The China-ASEAN relationship is the key nexus for wider moves towards Asian integration. At the heart of that relationship are the economic and trade ties between China and the ten economies of Southeast Asia. Although often described in modern terms, these ties stretch back to antiquity. Later, the Tang, Song and Yuan dynasties all encouraged trade with surrounding nations and tributary states. The Ming and Qing also relied on foreign trade, of which the fifteenth-century travels of Ming admiral Zheng He are the most famous. In more recent times, while the exigencies of the Cold War and the later Sino-Soviet split restricted China’s ability to engage in international trade relations with its traditional regional partners, the 1970s heralded a return to a pragmatic – rather than ideological – foreign economic policy. Throughout this decade China (re)established diplomatic relations with most of Southeast Asia. These political acts had a positive impact on economic relations, with a sustained renewal of Chinese-Southeast Asian trade relations. Importantly, these relations were not restricted to central-level engagements but also drew upon the geographic trade benefits afforded by China’s southern provinces, especially Guangxi and Yunnan. Both provinces established land-ports with their Southeast Asian neighbours, ensuring that China-ASEAN economic relations would not only be multilevel but would also draw upon local-level business and their overseas counterparts.1