China uses tried-and-true tools to charm Asean

China uses tried-and-true tools to charm Asean
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (middle) is welcomed by Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah (left) and his wife, Hajah Saleha (right).

As part of its new charm offensive in the South-east Asian region, China has placed its hopes on two tried-and-tested foreign policy tools, though these have received mixed responses from South-east Asian countries.

One is the comprehensive strategic partnership, which is among the highest levels of cooperation arrangement China inks with foreign countries.

Another is the "treaty of good neighbourliness, friendship and cooperation" - a Chinese initiative that has been signed with six countries, mostly in Central Asia.

President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang deployed both tools in their visits to the region in the last two weeks, their first since taking power last November.

During his stops in Indonesia and Malaysia, Mr Xi said China would build comprehensive strategic partnerships with both, adding them to five ASEAN countries it has inked such pacts with: Vietnam in 2008, Laos in 2009, Cambodia in 2010, Myanmar in 2011, and Thailand last year.

Comprehensive strategic partnerships - usually expanded from strategic partnerships and which are broad-ranging, covering political, economic and cultural exchanges - are not new to China. Out of the 50-plus partnerships inked from as early as the 1990s, at least 10 are such pacts, including with France, Britain, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa.

Separately, Mr Li, at the ASEAN-China summit in Brunei, proposed the treaty of good neighbourliness "to consolidate the political foundation for our strategic mutual trust".

A Chinese brainchild, this treaty was first signed with Russia in 2001, followed by Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan in 2002, Pakistan in 2005, Afghanistan in 2006, and Tajikistan in 2007. China is also party to a similar pact in 2007 signed by members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which also includes Central Asian states and Russia.

Analysts say China's familiarity and relative success with both tools explain why it is using them in South-east Asia, where its influence and ties have been roiled by maritime disputes in the South China Sea and strategic rivalry with the United States and Japan.

The treaty "has helped improve (China's) strategic relations with Russia and maintained its influence in Central Asia", said Singapore-based analyst Li Ming- jiang, adding that Beijing aims to replicate this in the region.

Specifically, the treaty, being important to China as it has helped consolidate its influence in Central Asia and promote its cooperation with respective states, is being proposed in South-east Asia to show the increased focus it attaches to the region, said East China Normal University observer Yang Cheng.

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