China must realise Asean catalyst for its development

China must never sacrifice its long-term interests for short-term ones and jeopardise its peaceful rise; it must never undermine Asean unity (China and Asean: Big gains from a simple maritime exercise, Aug 3; Wang Yi : S. China Sea build-up an act of self-defence, Aug 5).

China is generally rational in its geopolitical actions. Yet, its defence of the "nine-dash-line" in the South China Sea seems uncannily emotion-driven and goes against its larger global interests.

Is defending it really the "core interest" of China in South-east Asia?

Or, is the continued success of Asean as a regional pact promoting the culture of peace and prosperity in the broader region more aligned to China's core interest in South-east Asia?

South-east Asia becoming a troubled region like the Middle East should be a greater concern actually.

In fact, there was a time when China was very generous towards Asean - it proposed a free trade agreement with Asean, motivating other powers to follow suit.

Ditto with its aid and infrastructure enhancement programmes towards Asean.

There were massive reservoirs of goodwill towards China then; they must not dry up now.

Taking steps to de-escalate the tension surrounding the South China Sea dispute will be a form of generosity China can show, it being a major claimant.

Asean will respond positively, most believe, not least by continuing to be a catalyst for peace in the region.

Deng Xiaoping was right when he said the problem of territorial disputes should be passed to future generations.

China still needs a few decades to become a modern developed power.

Meanwhile, it makes more pragmatic sense to strengthen the catalyst for its development, which is Asean for now, not weaken it.

Wong Horng Ginn

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2018, with the headline 'China must realise Asean catalyst for its development'. Print Edition | Subscribe