The Countries of Southeast Asia and the Chinese Initiative Belt and Road: a Model of Interaction

DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2021-65-10-91-102
N. Rogozhina (,
Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO), 23, Profsoyuznaya Str., Moscow, 117997, Russian Federation

Received 23.03.2021.

Acknowledgements. The article was prepared within the project “Post-crisis world order: challenges and technologies, competition and cooperation” supported by the grant from Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation program for research projects in priority areas of scientific and technological development (agreement 075-15-2020-783).

Abstract. The choice of the countries of Southeast Asia as an example for analyzing the nature of interaction between developing countries and China within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative is not accidental. The very logic of China’s stated goals of gaining dominant positions in the world economy and politics makes it inevitable that the countries of Southeast Asia located in geographic proximity to it are included in its long-term economic and political plans. The question, however, is to what extent do they meet the interests of the Southeast Asian countries themselves? The solution to this question is the main subject of research in the article. There are objective prerequisites for mutually beneficial cooperation. The Belt and Road projects are viewed by China as a tool for economic expansion into the region with the prospect of taking a leading position there, using the interest of Southeast Asian countries in the inflow of foreign investment to create modern infrastructure, the lack of which narrows their opportunities for further economic growth, maintaining competitiveness and developing integration ties within ASEAN Community. Expert assessments made by international organizations confirm the positive impact of OBOR projects on the economic development of Southeast Asian countries and although today it is too early to draw any conclusions, since the initiative is only at the initial stage of its implementation in the region, nevertheless the case studies presented in the article indicate a mismatch in the positions of the parties on a number of issues related to the financing of projects, their lack of transparency. non-compliance with environmental and social requirements. The support of the initiative on the part of the Southeast Asian countries does not automatically mean their acceptance of the terms of the agreements proposed by China, which are far from always consistent with their national interests and give rise to fears in society about its expansionist intentions. Therefore, in many Southeast Asian countries, participation in OBOR projects is turning into a subject of political discourse, which reflects the presence of disagreements in society and confrontation of interests regarding the advisability of rapprochement with China, given the associated economic and political risks. The countries of Southeast Asia can be conditionally divided into two groups according to their relation to the Belt and Road initiative. The first group includes Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar, whose position can be described as national pragmatism. While supporting the Chinese initiative in general, they nevertheless assess the possible risks of their participation in projects and seek to reduce them. The second group is represented by Laos and Cambodia, whose leadership unconditionally supports the Chinese initiative, guided by the interests of their own survival, which largely depends on Chinese assistance. Therefore, the prospect of falling into a debt trap and increasing economic dependence on the PRC and even the threat of losing sovereignty does not deter them from participating in highly controversial projects from a commercial point of view. Based on the analysis made, the author comes to the conclusion that, given the existing alignment of political forces in Southeast Asia, China can count on promoting its initiative in the region, which, however, does not automatically lead to an increase in its political influence and to the creation of a China-centric model of regional order.

Keywords: China, South East Asia, Belt and Road Initiative, anti-Chinese sentiments


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For citation:
Rogozhina N. The Countries of Southeast Asia and the Chinese Initiative Belt and Road: a Model of Interaction. World Eonomy and International Relations, 2021, vol. 65, no. 10, pp. 91-102.

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