China hits hard at US for ASEAN campaign

China hits hard at US for ASEAN campaign
US Defense Secretary James Mattis Monday told reporters in the Philippines that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) "gives voice to those who want relations between states to be based on respect, and not on predatory economics or on the size of militaries." Since US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson accused China of being a predatory economy in the Indo-Pacific a few days ago, a similar remark by Mattis seems quite eye-catching and some media prominently reported the comment.

Those media analyzed that Mattis is trying to draw ASEAN against China. But whether such an idea, which obviously serves the interests of the US, will be accepted by ASEAN, is another thing.

To those US elites keen on a geopolitical mind-set, the whole value of ASEAN is probably that it can be used against Beijing. During former US president Barack Obama's presidency, ASEAN was the crucial region for the US rebalance strategy and Washington invested in the area politically, economically and militarily. The investments were not much, but the US made a gesture for all-round development of its relationship with ASEAN. The inclusion of some ASEAN members in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was a move to transfer some of its interests to the area. 

However, during the final stage of Obama's term, the rebalance was already as good as dead. The Philippines took the lead in rebelling against the US. The root cause was Washington's small investments with numerous requirements which made ASEAN countries feel it was not worth keeping in step with the US. 

The current US administration even pulled out of the TPP. Only pretentious Washington elites still believe that ASEAN would follow the US closely under whatever banners the White House holds high. 

Developing a good relationship with China, especially expanding economic collaboration with Beijing, serves the interests of every single country in the region. Granted, some ASEAN members have concerns over the emergence of China and are willing to see external forces balance it. Nevertheless, while pursuing that balance, they should focus on their own interests and regional peace instead of turning themselves into pawns of the US.

China is ASEAN's largest trading partner. When Washington portrayed China as a predatory economy, it did not get the reaction it sought. No ASEAN government has ever made the same complaint about Beijing. The region's development in recent years has been smooth and China has been its largest driving force from the outside. The Belt and Road initiative is warmly welcomed by ASEAN members. How can anyone possibly describe that as predatory?

ASEAN will welcome the US if the latter asks for a hug with a smiling face. Yet Washington's elites should stop their fantasy over establishing a united front against China.