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Publication Date : 01-06-2012
Two dynamic changes in Asia came to the forefront at the 2012 World Economic Forum East Asia's session on "Geopolitics: the rise of China and the opening up of Myanmar", and the views of the two world superpowers could not have been more contrasting.
The United States presented itself as a Pacific nation that finds the rise of China quite alarming. "We are deeply concerned with some of China’s recent activities, especially in the South China Sea, and cyberspace," Susan Collins, a Republican senator from Maine, said.
In contrast, Zha Daojiong, an International Relations professor from Peking University, lamented on the US's efforts to equate China to the likes of Adolf Hitler or wartime Japan. "It is difficult for us to comprehend [this] - the idea that China is assertive."
He added that Asean was indispensable to peace and security in East Asia, which he highlighted as being in stark contrast to a similar grouping in Africa, where the spirit of mutual consultation was almost negligible.
The professor said China was participating in Asean's formulation of the codes of conduct for the South China Sea and was "controlling its impulses".
He added that the freedom of navigation, which the US had raised fear over, was never an issue. Zha went on to say that the agenda of fisheries and marine population as well as climate change were more important than the points of conflict between China and the Philippines or China and Vietnam.
Kim Sunghan, South Korea's vice minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, offered a strategy related to his country, which is a key military ally of the US with respect to threats from North Korea, and a neighbour and major economic partner of China. "We can try to induce China at political and other regional institutions so it becomes a more responsible stakeholder," he said.
India's Biswas Rajiv, chief economist of IHS, said China's rise was economic in nature and also closely linked to the military, especially since spending in this area is also on the rise. In addition, he said, there was the added tension of competition over resources. To him, the rise of Asia and China would have to be accompanied by more security dialogues.
In response to this, Asean secretary general Surin Pitsuwan said progress was being made in addressing potential conflicts in the area, and that China had agreed to be part of the process of drafting the codes of conduct for the South China Sea.
Both Collins and Zha dove into their own perspectives and detailed information over the spats in the South China Sea. Zha called for "patience" but noted that the escalation of the claim against the Philippines, which saw the involvement of paramlitary vessels, was "better than having to send the Navy".
As for Myanmar, Collins expressed cautious optimism following her twoday visit there, adding that the changes were not "irreversible yet" as the military might still have a firm grip. However, she said, the US will do what it can to see democracy take root in the nation.
Zha welcomed the changes in Myanmar but quipped that China might be good at infrastructure but "not [as a] political institution". However, he underscored the need for stability as the most important factor for Myanmar to move forward.
Surin said the two most vital agendas for Asean on Myanmar was the reconciliation process between the military and the opposition as well as the ethnic groups.
Among those listening to the panellists was Myanmar's prodemocracy icon, Aung San Suu Kyi.