China is going to set up an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) which is scheduled to start in 2015. All ASEAN countries, South Korea, Mongolia, etc. – totally 16 nations – will join the AIIB. In addition, Canada, Australia and New Zealand also show their interest in becoming members. India, the US and Japan were not even asked. In 1996 a similarly functioning bank named Asian Development Bank (ADB) was established in Asia. The ADB has 67 member countries, and its largest investor is Japan with 15.6%. The new AIIB could now compete against the already established ADB.[1]

At the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in Shanghai in May 2014, the Chinese President Xi Jinping declared that problems in Asia should be resolved within Asia, and that forming alliances with third parties could instill fear in Asian neighbors.[2] This statement obviously points to the security tie between the US and Japan. The US and Japan are not members of CICA, but joined as observers.

China also excluded Japan from its planned (but later cancelled) naval parade in April 2014. Correspondingly, the US informed China that it would not send an American warship to the parade to show its solidarity with Japan.[3] It seems that China tries to eliminate or at least neutralize two existing powers in Asia, namely Japan and the US.

Since Vietnam and China lately had armed conflicts in the South China Sea near the disputed Paracel Islands, tensions between them have been increasing. Anti-China demonstrations have been tolerated in Vietnam. The ASEAN Foreign Ministerial Meeting, held in Myanmar in May 2014, stated its deep concern about the South China Sea.[4] This statement was not strongly worded at all, and the ASEAN does not take any concrete steps. Shortly after this incident between Vietnam and China another incident near the contested Spratly Islands happened, this time involving the Philippines and China. A little surprising was that both Vietnam and the Philippines joined this year’s CICA summit in Shanghai. The ASEAN countries are seemingly not willing to confront China although they fear and have concerns about China’s aggressive politics.

China and Russia are conducting joint military exercises in the East China Sea in May 2014. Russian President Putin was visiting China a few days ago and successfully negotiated about gas exports. Russia remains neutral to the clashes between China and Vietnam, as does China to the Ukraine conflict. These two nations are getting closer to maintain their respective interests. However, the Russian interest in exporting gas to the Japanese market still remains. Thus, Japan should avoid imposing additional sanctions on Russia.

China tries to strengthen its power and influence in Asia. The ASEAN countries might be a key factor in Asia as to whether China’s influence and power in this region prospers or not. If the ASEAN hopes to establish a harmonious situation and sound economic development, it should try to keep a balance between China and Japan and the US in Asia. Otherwise, China’s hegemonic demeanor and development in this region cannot be stopped. It is obvious that China is trying to exclude American and Japanese influence in Asia, but only the US and Japan can currently play a credible counterpart to China. Therefore, the current ASEAN nations’ myopic view should widen to also include the future.

 

About author:

Kumiko Ahr-Okutomo

Born in Japan.

 

She wrote her doctoral thesis, supervised by Professor Albert A. Stahel (Strategic Studies) at the University of Zurich, about power shifts in East Asia and Japan’s security politics. She is now a research associate at the Institute of Strategic Studies of Professor Stahel.


[1] Asahi Shinbun: Chugoku, Nippon hazushi no Infra Ginkou, Ajia 16 kakkokuto (China, Infrastructure Bank with 16 Asian countries excluding Japan), May 3, 2014. [accessed May 23, 2014] digital.asahi.com/articles/ASG533Q6QG53UHBI006.html

[2] The Diplomat: Confronting Moscow With the Help of Beijing, May 25, 2014. [accessed May 24, 2014] thediplomat.com/2014/05/confronting-moscow-with-the-help-of-beijing/

[3] The Guardian: Chuck reaffirms US ‘strong commitment’ to protect Japan, April 5, 2014. [accessed April 6, 2014] www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/05/chuck-hagel-us-commitment-japan-visit-china

[4] CNN: Vietnamese protesters target Chinese embassy, May 12, 2014. [accessed May 23, 2014] edition.cnn.com/2014/05/12/world/asia/south-china-sea-drilling-duplicate-2/index.html

 

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