Asia — Right as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s political thought is being enshrined in the country’s constitution, cementing the leader’s control of the government, it was reported Tuesday that some of China’s neighbors are taking the Asian superpower up on its offer of cooperation.
From the South China Morning Post:
“China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations plan to deepen their military relations and will go ahead with a joint maritime exercise proposed by Beijing, according to a statement from Singapore’s defence ministry, in a sign of greater engagement between the 10-member bloc and the region’s leading economic power.
“China’s defence minister, Chang Wanquan, and his Singaporean counterpart, Ng Eng Hen, met on the sidelines of an Asean security meeting in the Philippines, and the two discussed ‘further practical initiatives to advance Asean-China relations’ and plans to conduct an inaugural Asean-China maritime exercise, the statement said.”
Ng said the idea of joint exercises, presented by the Chinese side, had been “openly floated” during the discussion and that so far he hasn’t “heard any objections to it.” The defense minister said Singapore, the ASEAN member country responsible for dialogue with China, is fully behind the idea:
“Singapore supports it. We will push it…for the very reason that all of Asean and China want that. If you exercise, you at least build understanding and trust.”
The relationship between China and ASEAN has been strained in recent years, mostly due to territorial disputes in the South China Sea, where China claims sovereignty over 90 percent of the waters. Military cooperation could be an important first step toward mending relations.
Carlyle Thayer, a regional defense expert at the University of New South Wales, took his assessment a step further. He told the South China Morning Post such a move would equate to ASEAN “signaling that China is not the enemy.”
In fact, Thayer said China’s offer is putting an even larger question before ASEAN countries — one with great implications for the future:
“This is a marker: do [Asean nations] want to cooperate with China or not? China is putting out this cooperation, and is saying are you going to treat us like Japan, the US, Australia, or other countries?”
News of the potential drills — the details of which Defense Minister Ng says will be worked out later — comes as China’s leader attains a level of power not seen in the country for decades, as Reuters reports:
“China’s ruling Communist Party enshrined President Xi Jinping’s political thought into its constitution on Tuesday, putting him in the same company as the founder of modern China, Mao Zedong, and cementing his power ahead of a second five-year term.”
Zhang Lifan, an independent political commentator in Beijing, says the official adoption of the president’s ideology marks the true dawning of an era.
“In every sense, the Xi Jinping era has begun in earnest,” Zhang told the Associated Press. “Only Mao’s name was enshrined in the party ideology while he was still alive. We’re opening something that hasn’t been broached before.”
H/t reader kevin a.
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