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Thursday, October 27, 2016, 09:51

Region favors Sino-US cooperation

By Chen Weihua in Washington

Report notes opportunities for the world's two largest economies to work together

Region favors Sino-US cooperation
China's President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with US President Barack Obama before the G20 leaders' family photo in Hangzhou on Sept 4, 2016. ( Greg BAKER / AFP)

A team of Chinese and US think tank experts has challenged the zero-sum mentality that has surrounded much of the thinking on China-US roles in Southeast Asia.

A report released on Tuesday by the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations and the Center for American Progress showed that Southeast Asian nations welcome China-US cooperation, especially when the alternative is a rivalry.

It found that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations expects to be in the driver's seat as the two giants collaborate in the region.

Experts from the two institutes have jointly conducted field research across six nations in Southeast Asia - Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and Singapore - to identify underexplored opportunities for China-US collaboration.

The report said that mistrust complicates China-US relations and can obscure areas where cooperation might be possible and beneficial.

While ASEAN countries generally welcome the US rebalancing to Asia, seeing it as a sign of US commitment over the long term, many expressed concern that it has created misunderstandings and deepened China-US rivalry, according to the report.

Also, most ASEAN countries see China's Belt and Road Initiative as a big opportunity and expect to benefit from it, the report says.

ASEAN countries also seek reassurance that China will not exercise hegemony. While most experts said that ASEAN nations view China as a power they need and can live with, they also said China's policies in the region remain "unclear and unpredictable", the report said.

"Most experts with whom the research team met described China's overall Southeast Asia policy as positive, with the region hungry to benefit from economic relations with China," the report said.

It also showed that ASEAN nations have less clarity on the future US role.

"Today, more and more Chinese and even some ASEAN countries tend to think that rebalancing to Asia is to contain a rising China. Even if it's not 100 percent true ... many Chinese and neighboring countries think that way. Then you should double-check and review this policy," CICIR Vice-President Yuan Peng said.

Yuan described the rebalancing to Asia and stable China-US relations as two pillars for Washington. "You can't just use one pillar to sustain Asia policy while ignoring the other pillar," he said.

Vikram Singh, vice-president for national security and international policy at CAP, described the economic dimensions as most important. "The trade debate and the fact that the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) is likely not to survive are playing into a feeling in this region that the US rebalancing policy is going to falter," he said.

The report suggests expanding China-US cooperation in the oceans to include coastal nations and cities in Southeast Asia, and expanding China-US energy and climate cooperation to include Southeast Asian nations.

"What we found was a concerted desire for the United States and China to cooperate closely with each other as well as with the ASEAN nations, despite the unfortunate reality that the two giants are often at odds with each other," said Melanie Hart, CAP senior fellow and the director of China policy.

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