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Priya Suresh asked: China's foreign policy is becoming more assertive. Is this assertiveness of China seen as a threat by ASEAN countries?

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  • Rahul Mishra replies: China’s foreign policy has traditionally been considered hawkish, which is evident from China’s long-standing territorial disputes with its neighbours, and the wars it fought in the past. It was only after the end of the Cold War that China started projecting its benign image. The recent Chinese moves on the Spratly and Paracel islands disputes have however tarnished this image.

    Within the ASEAN member countries, there are varying perceptions and responses to China’s assertive behaviour.

    For instance, while countries like Indonesia and Singapore tread a cautious approach in dealing with China by keeping the US on their side. Malaysia, Laos and Myanmar are to a great extent positive about China and its rise. This goes in contrast to the Philippines and Vietnam, which have no intention to strike a compromise deal with China on the South China issue.

    As an institution, ASEAN considers engaging China through multilateral forums as its best strategy. China is also considered a partner country, which has helped ASEAN come out of a number of crises in the past. However, one cannot deny the fact that it was the Southeast Asian threat perception of China, which led to formation of ASEAN in 1967. The same persists even today, though manifestations are different.

    Therefore, what is apparent at the national level, gets transformed when the constituent countries of ASEAN come together as a unit on a matter of concern; thus resulting in ASEAN’s balanced approach towards China.