China’s Belt and Road Initiative in ASEAN: Growing Presence, Recent Progress and Future Challenge

Professor

Suthiphand Chirathivat

(He/Him)

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Faculty of Economics

About

The book offers us an overview about the impact China’s Belt and Road Initiatives projects have had on the ASEAN region by analysing the global context of the Belt and Road Initiatives, the impact it has had on connectivity, and the major challenges that come along with it.

The aim of this book was to provide a regional perspective on the developments apart from the common Chinese- and American-led research. It gives a voice to local scholars on the impact the Belt and Road Initiative has had on their respective home countries. The concrete, practical significance of the Belt and Road Initiatives for both China and ASEAN countries will be looked into, and the need for ASEAN governments to have more agency in determining the conditions of the implementation of Belt and Road Initiatives projects will be demonstrated.

Key Findings

China’s Belt-and-Road-Initiative-related investments and construction contracts differ greatly in their nature and scale. Today, Indonesia is the most popular location for investments, then Singapore and Malaysia, followed by Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Thailand, the Philippines, Myanmar and Brunei are yet to be less focused on.
Generally, ASEAN economies form - from China’s perspective - the ideal terrain for investments and SOEs given the wide range of sectors to be covered, the proximity to South China and opportunities as well as demand for development and connectivity. Overall, ASEAN is the region in which China can embrace the Belt and Road Initiatives as the third phase of China’s reform and opening-up policy, rationalisation and outward orientation striving to reorientate the global supply-chains especially given tensions with the US.
China can be criticised regarding the disrespect of mutual trust in terms of adherence to the principles of equality and mutual benefit, the disrespect of non-interference in ASEAN internal affairs and not determining fair conditions when making foreign investments. Therefore, one can observe that Belt and Road Initiatives projects, despite encouraging connectivity in the ASEAN region, do oftentimes fail to respond to the needs of the locals.

How to use

This book serves as an urgent appeal to all policy makers in the ASEAN region to reposition themselves. The new response of ASEAN requires collaboration between ASEAN leaders at the top level and asks for an in-depth interaction with China as an actor at a policy level.
More clarity about ASEAN’s goals in connectivity projects and pro-activity when determining the conditions of projects is needed instead of sending solely signals of open and blind assistance to China.
Since the pandemic made the attention of policy makers shift to other issues such as health, inflation etc., our findings should serve as a demonstration of the need not to neglect the multidimensional impact the Belt and Road Initiative has regionally as well as globally, ranging from environmental to generational questions.

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About this research

This book was part of a collaborative effort

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Buddhagarn Rutchatorn

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Anupama Devendrakumar

This research was independently conducted and did not receive funding from outside of the university.

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About this research

This research was independently conducted and did not receive funding from outside of the university.

This paper was co-authored

Single-Person-BLUE.png

Buddhagarn Rutchatorn

Single-Person-BLUE.png

Anupama Devendrakumar

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What it means

This insight means in practice that ASEAN member states should not only count on China to implement connectivity projects, such as the construction of railways, but rather work autonomously together on strengthening connectivity themselves. Their more active, autonomous role should be embraced in line with the Master Plan on ASEAN connectivity (MPAC).

A great example demonstrating the downsides of China’s Belt and Road Initiative-related investments is the Bangkok-Nong Khai high speed railway, which is currently constructed as the very first high-speed line in Thailand. The project is partly funded by Chinese companies, illustrating perfectly how it is them setting the rules of the game: they determine the exact itinerary of the railway following their own benefits and not the need of local economies and population.

Methodology

China’s BRI in ASEAN: Growing Presence, Recent Progress and Future Challenges is the third in a series motivated by China’s rising presence as an actor in ASEAN economies. It is a product of collaborative effort of colleagues specialising in the ASEAN region, who met altogether for a workshop in Bangkok before starting the research and concrete planning of the book. The ASEAN studies centre provided much existing data and literature on the topics, enabling us to use sources across all ASEAN member states but also newspaper coverage about BRI projects.

The full paper is not available open access

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