When news of the AUKUS agreement broke on 16 September 2021, it caught everyone in Southeast Asia by surprise. While its understood that AUKUS is not an alliance, it had portent to agitate the strategic landscape for ASEAN.
Covid-19 has disrupted labour markets around the world, causing a global manpower shortage. Lockdowns in the early months of the pandemic triggered an exodus of millions of rural migrant workers from booming megacities like New Delhi and Dhaka. In the global north, the United Kingdom has experienced the largest decline in its foreign-born labour force since World War II. ASEAN countries have also been affected: Vietnam’s labour shortage recently worsened after the easing of travel restrictions in Ho Chi Minh City led to a large outflow of migrant workers.
Chinese President Xi Jinping told leaders of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at a summit on Monday that Beijing would not “bully” its smaller regional neighbours, amid rising tension over the South China Sea.
President Xi Jinping announced on Monday several major initiatives to boost economic cooperation between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including striving to import $150 billion worth of agricultural products from ASEAN countries over the next five years, offering additional financial assistance to the bloc’s economic recovery and anti-epidemic efforts, as well as providing advanced technology.
Photo taken on May 27, 2020 shows a container truck carrying Vietnamese lychees exported to China at Kim Thanh II International Border Gate in Vietnam’s northern Lao Cai province, which borders China. (VNA via Xinhua)
China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations decided to establish comprehensive strategic partnership on Monday, a new milestone in the relations between the two sides which will inject fresh impetus into regional and world peace, stability and development.
China and the ASEAN are expected to officially upgrade their relations to tap into more high-quality cooperation potential – including COVID-19 vaccine research – at the upcoming special summit commemorating the 30th anniversary of ASEAN-China dialogue relations on Monday, Chinese observers said, after the two sides deepened mutual interests through “Asian means” of mutual respect, friendly negotiation and win-win cooperation throughout the past 30 years, creating the most successful example of cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region.
ASEAN has been vital for achieving cooperation and economic growth in Southeast Asia. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, health security has become the primary concern shaping its regional aspirations. The human and economic devastation caused by COVID-19 is unparalleled, despite the region experiencing several economic and health crises before. The region’s key sectors, including tourism, retail and manufacturing, took a big hit. Yet ASEAN stepped aside and let its member states combat the virus independently.
China’s global value chain (GVC) links with ASEAN are both less dominant and more beneficial than they appear at first sight. But there are major challenges ahead for ASEAN. With ASEAN public opinion seeking more alignment with the United States and less with China, ASEAN’s GVC dependence on China might be seen as a cause for concern.
Between 2019 and 2020, Southeast Asia reported 530 natural hazards — from earthquakes to cyclones and floods. COVID-19 has significantly heightened the financial constraints on the disaster management sector, with only 38 per cent of UN appeals for emergency response funding met in 2021. With the likelihood of concurrent disasters only increasing, the pressure to finance ASEAN’s disaster management is increasing.