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China’s International Security Cooperation Diplomacy

and Southeast Asia

Carlyle A Thayer
Professor of Politics and
Director UNSW Defence Studies Forum
The University of New South Wales at
the Australian Defence Force Academy

Paper to panel on
Southeast Asia and China:
A North-South Relationship of a New Kind
47th International Studies Association Annual Convention

Town & Country Resort & Convention Center

San Diego, California
March 25, 2006

China’s International Security Cooperation Diplomacy

and Southeast Asia

Carlyle A. Thayer

This paper provides an overview of China’s international security cooperation diplomacy with
the states of Southeast Asia. China has pursued international security cooperation both
multilaterally and bilaterally.
In March 1997, China broached for the first time what it termed its “New Concept of Security” at
a meeting of the Association of South East Asian Nations Regional Forum (ARF). In 2003, in a
major development, China and ASEAN reached agreement on a “Strategic Partnership for Peace
and Prosperity” that included cooperation in security matters.
Between 1999 and 2000, China negotiated long-term cooperative framework agreements with ten
of the region’s states (East Timor excepted). Six of these agreements included a clause covering
security cooperation. The six signatories included: Brunei, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines,
Singapore, and Thailand. China already had long-standing defense links with Myanmar. In
addition, China developed security cooperation ties with, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia.
The paper reviews the nature and scope of China’s bilateral international security cooperation in
the period after 2002 when China revised this concept and began a renewed effort to promote
security cooperation on a multilateral basis within the ARF.

China’s New Security Concept

In the 1990s, China began to develop and articulate a “new concept of security.”
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War altered the context
of Chinese security thinking. According to Wu Baiyi, Deputy Director of the
Research Department, China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies,
“starting from 1993, policy planners and academics began quietly to amend the
country’s security strategy. After years of work, a renewed security concept came
into being.” 1 This concept expanded the definition of security to include political,
defense, diplomatic and above all economic considerations. According to Wu:
[w]hat China pursues now is a security of sustained development. The
change is a landmark… The nature of its security policy, therefore, is
accommodative, rather than confrontational… Compared to past policies, the

Wu Baiyi, “The Chinese Security Concept and its Historical Evolution,” Journal of Contemporary

China,10(27), 2001, 278.


current concept signifies two major changes… For the first time economic
security is treated as equally important with those of ‘high politics’. Second, it
focuses more on the interrelationship between external and internal security
Other specialists point to the catalytic events of 1996 as having a major impact in
shaping China’s new security concept. For example, Chu Shulong, Senior Fellow
at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, argues:
[s]ince the early 1970s till the middle of the 1990s, China actually liked to see
America remaining [sic] its military presence and alliance system in Asia as a
useful counter force against the Soviet threat. That position changed since
1996 when the U.S. and Japan started to negotiate the new guideline for their
security cooperation. The Chinese feel offended and threatened by the
enlarging area of American-Japanese security cooperation from defending
Japan to dealing with events in the areas of ‘surrounding Japan’… Since then,
in the public statements, Chinese position has been strongly against U.S.-
Japan security alliance and no longer welcome American military presence in
the region. 2
Chu also noted, however, that “the real Chinese position is complicated and
flexible. It opposes U.S.-Japan security alliance but does not challenge U.S.-
Korean alliance in Northeast Asia.”
Banning Garret and Bonnie Glaser, two American China specialists, argue along
similar lines. They claim that China’s paradigm shift was not only a reaction to
the revised U.S.-Japan defense guidelines, but also due to the dispatch two
carrier groups to the Taiwan Straits in March 1996 as a response to Chinese
military threats against Taiwan. 3 These twin developments led Chinese military
and civilian leaders to re-evaluate whether the U.S.-Japan alliance and U.S.
forward deployed forces were a strategic benefit or a greater threat to Chinese
security. According to Garret and Glaser: “this strategic conundrum has led
Beijing to search for a means to counterbalance the strengthening of the U.S.-
Japan alliance and bolster Chinese leverage over Washington while not
foreclosing the possibility of improving relations with the United States.” 4

Chu Shulong, “The Chinese Thinking on Asia-Pacific Regional Security Order,” Paper delivered
to a seminar at the East-West Center, Honolulu, May 2001, 1.
3Banning Garrett, and Bonnie Glaser, 1997. “China Works on its Design for a New Asian
Security Structure,” International Herald Tribune, June 28-29, 1997, 44.

China’s New Security Concept and Southeast Asia

How does China’s new security concept relate to China’s relations with
Southeast Asia? Significantly, the new security concept was first introduced by
Chinese officials at the ASEAN Regional Forum conference on confidence
building measures held in Beijing in March 1997. In July of that year, Chinese
Foreign Minister Qian Qichen discussed the new security concept in his address
to the 4th ARF meeting in Malaysia. An authoritative elaboration of the new
security concept on China’s relations with Southeast Asia appeared in China’s
National Defense, a White Paper released in July 1998. 5 This document stressed
China’s support for “regional-security dialogue and cooperation at different
levels, through various channels and in different forms,” including the ASEAN
Regional Forum and the Council for Security Cooperation in Asia and the Pacific
(CSCAP). The Chinese White Paper also endorsed “the ARF’s creative
explorations for the promotion of confidence-building measures” in such areas as
military medicine, military law, and multilateral cooperation on conversion of
military technologies and facilities for civilian use.
A subsequent Defense White Paper, China’s Defense in 2000, added additional
commentary on the role of preventive diplomacy. 6 It stated:
China holds that the ARF should continue to focus on confidence-building
measures, explore new security concepts and methods, and discuss the
question of preventive diplomacy. At the same time, it believes that the
parties concerned should have a full discussion first on the concept,
definition, principles and scope of preventive diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific
region and reach consensus in this regard.
According to China analyst, Ronald Montaperto, “two of the defining features of
that document [the 2000 Defense White Paper] were the emphasis on the
dominance of peace and development as forces driving global development and
a corollary imperative toward implementing external policies based upon
multilateral cooperative approaches.” 7

5People’sRepublic of China, State Council, Information Office, China’s National Defense, “Full Text
of the White Paper on China’s National Defense,” Xinhua News Agency [Beijing], July 27, 1998.
6People’s Republic of China, State Council, Information Office, China’s National Defense in 2000,
’Text’ of PRC White Paper on National Defense in 2000,” Xinhua Domestic Service [Beijing],
October 16, 2001.
7Ronald Montaperto, “Thinking Globally, Acting Reginally,” Comparative Connections: An E-
Journal on East Asian Bilateral Relations (Honolulu: Pacific Forum-CSIS), 6(4), 4th Quarter, October-
December 2004.

Vice President Hu Jintao elaborated on China’s new security concept and

Southeast Asia in July 2000 during the course of a visit to Indonesia. In a major
speech delivered to the Indonesian Council on World Affairs. According to Hu:
a new security concept that embraces the principles of equality, dialogue,
trust and cooperation, and a new security order should be established to
ensure genuine mutual respect, mutual cooperation, consensus through
consultation and peaceful settlement of disputes, rather than bullying,
confrontation, and imposition of one’s own will upon others. Only in that
way can countries coexist in amity and secure their development. 8
Two close observers of Southeast Asia’s security scene analyzed Hu’s visit in
these terms:
China [through Hu Jintao] has made it official policy to gain influence in
Southeast Asia by contrasting its behaviour in the region with that of the U.S.
The implication was clear: Not only can China be a good neighbour, but
Southeast Asia would benefit from partnering with Beijing rather than the
U.S., which typically sees political and economic reform as prerequisites for
amicable relations. While China has long inferred as much, Hu’s speech
marked the first time that the message was framed as a formal policy. 9
In 2002, after failing to gain much traction, China launched a high-profile
reiteration of its new concept of security to the mid-year meeting of ARF
ministers. Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan asserted that China’s new security
concept should supplant Cold War bilateral alliances as the new basis of regional
security practice. 10
China’s 2004 Defense White Paper sets forth China’s approach to international
security cooperation in detail. In chapter seven, for example, China spells out its
policy on international cooperation in the area of defense-related science,
technology and industry including the export of military products and related
technologies. Exports in this sensitive area are governed by three principles: “It
should only serve the purpose of helping the recipient state enhance its
capability for legitimate self-defense; it must not impair peace, security and

8Quoted in Carlyle A. Thayer, “China‘s ‘New Security Concept’ and ASEAN,” Comparative
Connections: An E-Journal on East Asian Bilateral Relations (Honolulu: Pacific Forum-CSIS), 2(3), 3rd
Quarter, October 2000, 65-75.
9Mark Mitchell and Michael Vatikiotis, “China Steps in Where U.S. Fails,” Far Eastern Economic
Review, November 23, 2000, 20-22.
10LyallBreckon, “Beijing Pushes ‘Asia for the Asians’,” Comparative Connections: An E-Journal on
East Asian Bilateral Relations (Honolulu: Pacific Forum-CSIS), 4(3), 3rd Quarter, July-September

stability of the relevant region and the world as a whole; and it must not be used
to interfere in the recipient state’s internal affairs.” 11
Chapter nine of the 2004 White Paper deals with international security
cooperation in five main areas: strategic consultation and dialogue; regional
security cooperation; cooperation in non-traditional security fields, participating
in UN peacekeeping operations; and military exchanges. Chapter nine clearly
stresses the importance China places on its interaction with ASEAN and the
ASEAN Regional Forum (see discussion below).
The following section will review briefly the structure of China-ASEAN relations
and China’s bilateral relations with Southeast Asian states.

China’s Multilateral Relations with Southeast Asia

Ten of Southeast Asia’s eleven countries are members of ASEAN (East Timor is
the exception). China’s relations with Southeast Asia are structured on a
multilateral basis with ASEAN and bilaterally with each of its individual
members. Formal linkages between China and ASEAN date to 1991 when
Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen attended the 24th ASEAN Ministerial
Meeting (AMM) in Kuala Lumpur as a guest of the Malaysian government. Qian
expressed China’s interest in developing cooperation with ASEAN in the field of
science and technology. ASEAN responded positively. In September 1993,
ASEAN Secretary General Dato Ajit Singh led a delegation to China for talks
with Vice Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan that led in July 1994 to formal
agreement to establish two joint committees — one on science and technology
cooperation and the other on economic and trade cooperation. Also in July 1994,
China and ASEAN agreed to open consultations on political and security issues
at the senior official level. The first ASEAN-China Senior Officials Meeting
(SOM) was held in Hangzhou in April 1995.
China spelled out its view of relations with ASEAN during the course of a visit
to Thailand by President Jiang Zemin in September 1999. In a major speech Jiang
Hegemonism and power politics still exist and have even developed in the
international political, economic and security fields. The new ‘Gunboat
Policy’ and the economic neo-colonialism pursued by some big powers have
severely undermined the sovereign independence and the development

11People’s Republic of China, State Council, Information Office China’s National Defense in 2004

(Beijing: December 27, 2004).


interests of many small- and medium-sized countries, and have threatened

world peace and international security. 12
In 1996, China was accorded dialogue partner status by ASEAN and in February
1997 ASEAN and China formalized their cooperation by establishing the
ASEAN-China Joint Cooperation Committee (ACJCC). The ACJCC first met in
Beijing where it was decided that the ACJCC would “act as the coordinator for
all the ASEAN-China mechanisms at the working level.” 13 As a dialogue partner,
China regularly participates in the annual ASEAN Post-Ministerial Conference
(PMC) consultation process. This takes the form of a meeting between ASEAN
and its ten dialogue partners (ASEAN Ten Plus Ten), and a meeting between all
ASEAN members and each of its dialogue partners (ASEAN Ten Plus One).
China-ASEAN relations advanced in November 2002 with the signing of three
major documents: Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic
Cooperation Between ASEAN Nations and the People’s Republic of China, Joint
Declaration between China and ASEAN on Cooperation in Non-Traditional
Security Fields, and Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea
(DOC). The first agreement set the scene for the China-ASEAN Free Trade
Agreement. The joint declaration on non-traditional security was formalized in a
Memorandum of Understanding in January 2004. The MOU followed a special
meeting held in Bangkok in April 2003 to discuss joint action to deal with the
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic. 14 In early 2004, China and
ASEAN agreed to set up a Joint Working Group to implement the third
agreement, the DOC. The first meeting of this group was held in the Philippines
the following year.
In September 2003, Wu Bangguo, chairman of the Standing Committee of the
National People’s Congress, proposed joint oil exploration and development in
areas of overlapping claims in the South China Sea. This proposal was reiterated
at the 8th China-ASEAN Summit in November 2004 by Premier Wen Jiabao who
stated that China is willing “to shelve disputes while going for joint
development.” In March 2005, in a major break through, the national oil
companies of China, the Philippines and Vietnam signed a landmark agreement
to conduct joint prospecting for oil and gas in the South China Sea. The following
month, President Hu Jintao repeated China’s call “to shelve disputes and engage

12Xinhua News Agency, September 3, 1999.

Press Release, “The First ASEAN-China Joint Cooperation Committee Meeting, Beijing,
February 26-28 ,1997.”
In September 2003, Jose de Venecia, Speaker of the House, proposed that the Philippines should
form an “anti-terror alliance” with Indonesia, Malaysia, and the members of the Shanghai
Cooperation Organization (China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan).

in joint development” in the South China Sea during the course of state visits to
Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines. 15
Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity
In October 2003 China’s relations with ASEAN moved to a new plane with
Beijing’s accession to the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and the
declaration of a “strategic partnership for peace and prosperity” by the heads of
government. 16 This latter document was given flesh in December 2004 with the
adoption of a five-year Plan of Action (2005-2010). Included in this plan, inter alia,
was a commitment to increase regular high-level bilateral visits, cooperation in
the field of non-traditional security, security dialogue and military exchanges
and cooperation. The Plan of Action set out the following:
• Promote mutual confidence and trust in defense and military fields with a
view to maintaining peace and stability in the region;
• Conduct dialogues, consultations and seminars on security and defense
• Strengthen cooperation on military personnel training;
• Consider observing each other’s military exercises and explore the
possibility of conducting bilateral or multilateral joint military exercises;
• Explore and enhance cooperation in the field of peacekeeping.
The China-ASEAN Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership for Peace and
Prosperity is the first formal agreement of this type between China and a
regional organization, as well as a first for ASEAN itself. The joint declaration
itself is wide ranging and includes a provision for the initiation of a new security
dialogue as well as general cooperation in political matters. China raised the
prospect of “enhanced strategic relations” with ASEAN in discussions between
State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan and ASEAN Secretary General Ong Keng Yong in
Beijing in July 2004.
But ASEAN has been shy of advancing too quickly. In May 2004, during the
course of a visit to Beijing by Malaysia’s new prime minister, Abdullah Badawi,
his Chinese counterpart, Premier Wen Jiabao, suggested they consider a joint
undertaking to maintain the security of sea lines of communication through the
Malacca Strait. The following month, the deputy director of China’s National

Xinhuanet, Beijing, July 19, 2005 in People’s Liberation Army Daily, July 20, 2005.
Breckon, “A New Strategic Partnership is Declared,” Comparative Connections: An E-Journal
on East Asian Bilateral Relations (Honolulu: Pacific Forum-CSIS), 5(4), 4th Quarter, October-
December 2003.

Defense University, reiterated this proposal at a China-ASEAN forum in

Singapore. The proposal was received coolly and with considerable skepticism
by the audience. 17 However, in October 2005 during the course of Singapore
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s visit to China, he and Premier Wen Jiabao
agreed to work closely to meet the threat of terrorism and piracy in the Straits of
Malacca. 18 At the end of the year, a joint communiqué issued after the China-
Malaysia summit in Kuala Lumpur, welcomed China’s role in enhancing the
security of the Straits of Malacca.
ASEAN Regional Forum
China was also admitted into the ASEAN Regional Forum where it has given
cautious endorsement to multilateral security activities. The ARF meets annually
in conjunction with the AMM and PMC. Generally, the ARF considers regional
security and political matters, while the ASEAN PMC considers economic and
development cooperation and other international issues that do not fall within
the purview of the ARF.
In June 2003, China launched a major initiative at furthering its new concept of
security. At the annual ARF ministerial meeting in Phnom Penh, China proposed
the creation of a new Security Policy Conference comprised of senior (vice
minister level) military and civilian officials drawn from all ARF members. 19 The
objective of this new policy conference would be to draft a new security treaty to
promote “peace, stability and prosperity” in the region. Chinese officials said the
new treaty would give equal attention to the concerns of all ARF members and
guarantee security through united action rather than seeking “absolute security
for oneself and threaten[ing] other parties’ security.” China agreed to draft and
circulate a concept paper.
China has taken an active role in the ARF’s inter-sessional work program related
to confidence building measures. In September 2000, it hosted the 4th ARF
meeting of the Heads of Defense Colleges. The meeting was opened by Chi
Haotian, China’s Defense Minister, who argued in his address that the ARF’s
stress on dialog and consultation represented a “new security concept” and the
trend of “multi-polarization” in the region. Chi noted that regional flash points
still exist, “hegemonism and power politics have shown new traces of
development” and “democracy and human rights” were being used as excuses

17Ronald Montaperto, “Smoothing the Wrinkles,” Comparative Connections: An E-Journal on East

Asian Bilateral Relations (Honolulu: Pacific Forum-CSIS), 6(2), 2nd Quarter, April-June 2004.
18“China to work with Singapore and region to fight terror & sea piracy,” Channel News Asia,
October 25, 2005.
19LyallBreckon, “SARS and a New Security Initiative from China,” Comparative Connections: An E-
Journal on East Asian Bilateral Relations (Honolulu: Pacific Forum-CSIS), 5(2), 2nd Quarter, April-
June 2003.

for intervention, and “separatism was gaining ground. All these will endanger or
jeopardize the security and stability of the region. That’s why we advocate that
all countries adopt the new security concept built upon equality, dialogue,
mutual confidence and cooperation.” 20
China hosted the first ARF Security Policy Conference in November 2004. 21
China and Myanmar co-hosted two inter-sessional meetings on confidence
building measures, one held in Beijing and the other in Yangoon. At the 11th
ARF Meeting in 2004, China tabled a series of proposals for the future
development of the ARF. These were summarized in the 2004 White Paper as
To maintain its forum nature and adhere to the basic principles of decision-
making through consensus, taking an incremental approach, and moving at a
pace comfortable to all member so as to encourage the initiative and active
participation of all members; to continuously strengthen and consolidate
confidence-building measures (CBMs) while actively addressing the issue of
preventive diplomacy, so as to gradually find out cooperative methods and
approaches for preventive diplomacy that are suitable to the region and
fitting the current needs; to increase participation of defence officials,
promote exchanges and cooperation among militaries of the countries
concerned and give full play to the important role of the militaries in
enhancing mutual trust; to highlight cooperation in non-traditional security
fields such as counter-terrorism and combating transnational crimes. 22
In March 2005, China hosted an ARF Seminar on enhancing cooperation in the
field of non-traditional security issues on Hainan Island.

Long-Term Bilateral Cooperation Framework Agreements

Between February 1999 and December 2000, the People’s Republic of China
(PRC) negotiated long-term cooperative framework arrangements with all ten
ASEAN members: Vietnam, Thailand, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia,
the Philippines, Burma, Laos and Cambodia. 23 Generally these took the form of
joint statements signed by foreign ministers or vice premiers. In the case of
Vietnam an additional agreement was signed between the secretary-generals of
the Chinese and Vietnamese communist parties.

20Xinhua News Agency, September 6, 2000.

The second ARF Security Policy Conference was held in Vientiane, Laos in May 2005. In

September 2004, China hosted ARF Workshop on Drug-Substitute Alternative Development.

22People’s Republic of China, China’s National Defense in 2004, chapter nine.
The terms “framework agreement” “framework document” and “joint statement” will be used

Each of the ten cooperative arrangements varies by title. The PRC-Thailand

document, a “Plan of Action for the 21st Century,” is the most formal. Three of
the bilateral agreements use the term “framework” in their titles. The PRC-
Philippines statement is described as a framework for bilateral cooperation in the
21st Century. The PRC-Burma agreement is described as a “framework of future
bilateral relations and cooperation,” while the PRC-Cambodia document is
termed a “joint statement on the framework of bilateral cooperation.” The
remaining six joint statements omit the term “framework.” The PRC-Indonesia
document is called a “joint statement on the future directions of bilateral
cooperation,” while the PRC-Malaysia document is called a twelve-point “joint
statement on future bilateral cooperation.” The PRC-Laos and PRC-Singapore
documents are described merely as a “joint statement on bilateral cooperation.”
The PRC-Vietnam document is described as a joint statement, while the PRC-
Brunei document is termed a joint communiqué. A subsequent PRC-Vietnam
agreement was titled a “joint statement for comprehensive cooperation in the
new century.”
Generally, these joint statements affirm that bilateral relations will be based on
the basic norms found in the UN Charter, Five Principles of Peaceful
Coexistence, ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC), and “recognized
principles” found in international law. The China-Vietnam joint statement of
1999 omits these references and refers only to previous communiqués signed in
1991, 1994 and 1995 as the basis for bilateral relations. The PRC-Vietnam joint
statement of 2000, however, does mention the UN Charter and the Five
Principles of Peaceful Coexistence but not the ASEAN TAC. The PRC-Singapore
statement omits reference to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and the basic
norms of international law; while the PRC-Indonesia statement includes a
reference to the ten principles adopted by the 1955 Bandung Conference.
All framework documents, while reflecting the specific nature of bilateral
relations, also contain several areas of similarity. For example, all joint statements
call for frequent high-level exchanges and regular consultations. The PRC-
Thailand, PRC-Malaysia, PRC-Brunei, PRC-Singapore, PRC-Philippines, PRC-
Laos, and PRC-Cambodia statements make provision for annual consultations
between foreign ministries. The PRC-Indonesia joint statement calls for regular
consultations between foreign ministers. The PRC-Burma joint statement is less
specific. Nine of the ten joint statements call for “high-level exchanges” (Brunei,
Indonesia, the Philippines, and Laos) or exchanges by “top leaders” (Thailand,
Malaysia, Singapore, Burma, and Cambodia). The PRC-Vietnam 1999 joint
statement calls for contact “between the party, government departments, mass
organizations, and localities of the two countries…”
All ten joint statements contain a paragraph acknowledging support for a “one
China” policy including recognition that Taiwan is part of China (or “an integral
part of Chinese territory”). The wording in each statement varies slightly. For

example, the PRC-Indonesia statement reads: “The Indonesian side reiterates its
continuing adherence to the One China policy and its recognition that the
Government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government
representing the entire Chinese people and that Taiwan is an inalienable part of
China and supports the process of peaceful reunification of China.” The PRC-
Cambodia statement also includes support for the peaceful reunification of
China. The PRC-Laos joint statement declares: “the Lao side… stands firmly
against any attempt to create two Chinas or ‘a China and a Taiwan’.”
The 1999 PRC-Vietnam joint statement contains a more detailed elaboration on
relations with Taiwan than found in the other statements. This joint statement
declares: “Vietnam maintains only nonofficial economic and trade contacts with
Taiwan and will never develop any official relationship with Taiwan. The
Chinese side reaffirms that the Taiwan issue is purely that of China’s internal
affairs. It resolutely opposes the establishment of any form of official relationship
or any contact of an official nature with Taiwan by any country that has
established diplomatic relations with China.”
Eight of the joint statements contain a specific pledge by China to respect the
“independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity” of the other party. This
commitment is omitted from the PRC-Brunei and PRC-Vietnam documents. The
PRC-Indonesia joint statement contains the further elaboration, “The Chinese
side holds that Indonesia’s stability, integrity and prosperity are conducive to
peace and development in the region, and supports the Indonesian Government
in its efforts to maintain national unity and territorial integrity and to facilitate
ethnic reconciliation and promote harmony in the country on the basis of
The PRC-Vietnam 1999 joint statement contains the mutual pledge to reach
agreement on their land border by the end of the year, to demarcate maritime
areas in the Gulf of Tonkin by the end of 2000, and “to continue to maintain the
existing mechanism for talks on the offshore problem…” A land border treaty
was signed in 1999 and an agreement on demarcation of maritime areas in the
Gulf of Tonkin was signed the following year.
With the exception of the PRC-Vietnam and PRC-Thailand statements, all other
joint statements include the pledge to consult and cooperate in various
multilateral forums including the United Nations, ASEAN, and ASEAN Plus
Three (or some form of wording in support of East Asian cooperation). Seven
joint statements also include the ASEAN Regional Forum (Vietnam, Thailand
and Cambodia excepted). Five joint statements include APEC and AESM (PRC-
Malaysia, PRC-Brunei, PRC-Indonesia, PRC-Singapore, and PRC-Myanmar).
Four joint statements also included the WTO (PRC-Malaysia, PRC-Indonesia,
PRC-Singapore, and PRC-Myanmar). Only the PRC-Indonesia joint statement
includes a reference to the Non-Aligned Movement.

Joint statements between China and Laos, Myanmar and Thailand pledged
support for Quadrangle Economic Cooperation and for the Mekong Sub-region,
the China-Cambodia joint statement mentioned support for the Mekong Sub-
Region only. These references do not appear in the PRC-Vietnam joint statement.

Bilateral Defense Cooperation

Six of China’s bilateral long-term cooperative framework agreements make
reference to various forms of defense cooperation. The PRC-Thailand, PRC-
Malaysia, PRC-Singapore, and PRC-Philippines joint statements include a major
paragraph on defense cooperation. The PRC-Thailand statement reads: “The two
sides agree to strengthen security cooperation through confidence-building
measures. This will include enhanced cooperation between their strategic and
security research institutes, strengthened consultations between their military
personnel and diplomatic officials on security issues, exchange between their
armed forces of experience in humanitarian rescue and assistance and disaster
reduction and exchanges of military science and technology as well as
information of all kinds.”
The relevant paragraph of the PRC-Malaysia joint statement states: “To promote
defense cooperation by facilitating the exchange of visits at various levels,
including study visits, ship visits, training, exchange of information/intelligence,
organizing seminars, and undertaking mutual/beneficial research and
development besides exchange of high ranking military officers. In the area of
defense industry, both sides will encourage reciprocal visits by officials of the
defense industry companies and organize exhibitions, seminars and workshops
to explore the possibility of identifying joint or co-production projects.”
The PRC-Singapore document states: “Both sides will promote security
cooperation by facilitating exchange of high-level visits, dialogue between
defense institutions, cooperation between their strategic security research
institutes, exchanges between professional groups of their armed forces and
exchange of port calls.” The PRC-Philippines joint statement declares: “The two
sides agree to make further exchanges and cooperation in the defense and
military fields, strengthen consultations between their military and defense
personnel and diplomatic officials on security issues, to include exchanges
between their military establishments on matters relating to humanitarian rescue
and assistance, disaster relief and mitigation, and enhance cooperation between
their respective strategic and security research institutes.”
The PRC-Laos joint statement pledged that both sides would “further strengthen
the friendly exchange and cooperation between the defense institutions and
armed forces of the two countries through maintaining high-level exchange of
visits and expanding exchanges of experts.” The PRC-Brunei joint statement

merely expressed their mutual interest in “exploring possible cooperation in

science and technology and defense.”

China’s International Security Cooperation with Southeast Asia

Military Exchanges Between China and Southeast Asia
Table 1 sets out that data on high-level bilateral military exchanges between
China and the ten members of ASEAN from 2002 until March 2006. Particularly
noticeable are the regular exchanges at ministerial level and the frequency of
other high-level contacts. These high-level of exchanges have involved not only
an exchange of views on global and regional strategic matters but have resulted
in various forms of tangible activities by the armed forces concerned. These are
depicted in the tables below.

Table 1
Military Exchanges Between China and Southeast Asia, 2002-06

Country Activity

Brunei 2002 June Commander Royal Brunei Armed Forces visits Beijing
2003 September PLA Chief of General Staff visits Brunei
2003 November two PLAN ships pay port visit
2004 September Commander of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces visits Beijing
2004 November PLA Commander, Shenyang Military Area Command, visits

Cambodia 2002 September Cambodia’s Co-Ministers of Defense visit

2002 October senior Cambodian army commanders visit
2003 November Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Deputy Commander-in-Chief
and concurrently Army Commander visits
2004 May-June Director, General Bureau of Logistics and Finance, Cambodian
Ministry of Defense, visits Beijing
2004 October Commander-in-Chief Royal Cambodian Armed Forces visits Beijing
2005 May the Secretary of Cambodia’s Ministry of National Defense visits Beijing

Indonesia 2002 January Indonesia’s Navy Chief of Staff pays visit

2002 September China’s Defense Minister pays visit

2003 September Secretary General of Indonesia’s Department of Defense visits

2003 November Indonesia’s Army Chief of Staff visits
2004 February Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Political, Social and Security
Affairs visits Beijing and meets with PLA Deputy Chief of the General Staff
2004 May Indonesian naval ship visit to Shanghai

Laos 2002 February Lao Minister of Defense pays visit

2002 July senior Lao People’s Army delegation visits
2004 June Chief, General Political Department, Lao People’s Army, visits Beijing
2004 December PLA Deputy Director of the General Political Department pays

Malaysia 2002 August Malaysian naval ship makes goodwill visit

2003 September PLA Chief of General Staff visits Malaysia
2005 September Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister meets in Beijing with China’s
Defense Minister and agree on bilateral strategic cooperation
2005 September Secretary General of Malaysia’s Defense Ministry visits Beijing to
sign MOU on defense cooperation

Myanmar 2002 December Myanmar’s Army Chief of Staff visits

2003 January Senior General Than Shwe, SPDC chairman and General Khin
Nyunt, SPDC Secretary 1 visit Beijing
2003 August Senior General Maung Aye, Deputy Commander-in-Chief of
Defense Services and Army Commander-in-Chief visits Beijing
2003 November-December PLA Deputy Chief of General Staff visits
2004 July Myanmar’s Chief of the Air Defense Forces visits Beijing
2004 December PLA Deputy Chief of the General Staff visits
2005 December PLA delegations visits Yangoon both sides pledge to develop
friendly ties between the two armed forces

Philippines 2002 April Secretary of Defense visits Beijing

2002 June Commander of the Philippines Air Force visits
2002 June first visit by Philippine navy ships to Shanghai
2002 September China’s Defense Ministers pays visit
2002 China offered five places in Chinese military courses, and invited the
Philippines to participate in joint naval exercises
2003 November-December Commander Jinan Military Area Command visits
2004 April Philippines Air Force Commander visits
2004 September Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines visits Beijing

2004 November Philippines Defense Secretary visits Beijing

2005 May PLA Deputy chief of Staff visits the Philippines

Singapore 1997 Singapore’s Defense Minister visits Beijing

1998 China’s Defense Minister visits Singapore
1998 November RSS Intrepid visit s Shanghai and Qindao
2002 May two PLAN ships visit Changi naval base
2003 November two PLAN ships Changi naval base
2003 November PLA Deputy Chief of the General Staff visits
2004 February Director of the Singapore Armed Forces Joint Intelligence
Directorate visits
? Singapore hosts a fourteen-nation sea exercise that included most of the ASEAN
states and China
2005 November Singapore’s Defense Minister visits Beijing [last visit in 1997]
2006 March RSS Endurance pays port visit to China

Thailand 2002 June Supreme Commander Royal Thai Armed Forces pays visit to Beijing
2003 September Defense Minister, National Security Adviser and the three service
chiefs join the Thai Prime Minister on an official visit to Beijing
2003 September Undersecretary of Thai Ministry of Defense visits Beijing to
attend 2nd defense security consultation
2003 November Commander of the Royal Thai Army visits
2003 November-December Commander Jinan Military Area Command visits
2004 March-April China’s Defense Minister visits Bangkok
2004 August Director of the Office of Strategic Research, Thai National Defense
Research Institute visits Beijing
2004 August two Royal Thai Navy frigates visit Shanghai
2004 October PLA Deputy Chief of General Staff visits
2004 December Deputy Director of the PLA General Political Department pays
2005 June China’s Defense Minister meets the Thai Army Commander-in-Chief
2005 July Thai Minister of Defense visits Beijing
2005 December PLAN Shenzhen destroyer and supply ship make port visits and
hold joint search and rescue exercise with the Royal Thai Navy in Gulf of
2006 January Thai Defense Minister visits Beijing
2006 February Delegation from the Thai National College and National Defense
Studies Institute visits Beijing

Vietnam 2001 November PLAN Jiangwei-II guided missile frigate makes port call in Ho Chi
Minh City
2002 October Chief of the General Political Department of the Vietnam People’s
Army (VPA) visits Beijing
2003 January the Commander of the Chengdu Military Region visits Vietnam
2003 September Delegation of young PLA service personnel visits Vietnam
2003 October-November VPA Chief of General Staff visits Beijing
2004 February-March PLA Deputy Chief of the General Staff visits
2004 December PLA Deputy Director of the General Political Department pays
2005 October Defense Minister visits Beijing and reaches agreement on joint naval
patrols in Gulf of Tonkin (Beibu); the defense Ministers also discussed defense
industry cooperation

Strategic Cooperation and Dialogue

Table 2 lists the formal security dialogues that China has initiated with Southeast
Asia. China’s initiated its first bilateral security consultation with Thailand. In
2005 it held security dialogues for the first time with the Philippines and Vietnam
and reached agreements with Indonesia and Singapore to do so in future.

Table 2
China’s Security Dialogues with Southeast Asia, 2002-06

Country Activity Involving China

ASEAN 2003 October China and ASEAN issue a Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership
for Peace and Prosperity that includes, inter alia, a new security dialogue
2005 July ASEAN-China Joint Working Group on the Declaration on the Conduct
of Parties in the South China Sea set up to recommend measures to implement the

Indonesia 2005 April President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and China’s President Hu
Jintao sign a joint declaration on strategic partnership
2005 July President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visits Beijing and signs an
agreement on defense cooperation

Malaysia 2005 September Defense Ministers from China and Malaysia sign MOU on
defense cooperation which sets out a framework for bilateral defense activities
2005 December China-Malaysia Summit issues joint communiqué on expanding
strategic cooperation which, inter alia, promotes exchange of information in non-
traditional security areas and consultation and cooperation in defense and
security areas, and military exchanges between the two countries

Philippines 2004 November the Philippines Secretary of Defense and China’s Minister of
Defense sign a MOU on defense cooperation with a provision for annual defense
2005 May first dialogue on defense and security

Singapore 2005 November Defense Ministers meet in Beijing and agree to hold an annual
defense policy dialogue at permanent secretary level

Thailand 2003 September 2nd defense security consultation held in Beijing

2004 October 3rd defense security consultation
2004 October China’s State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan and Thai Prime Minister
Thaksin discuss bilateral strategic cooperation
2004 December China’s Vice Premier Hui Liangyu and Thai Deputy Prime
Minister Chaturon Chaisaeng meet to promote their strategic partner relationship
2005 June-July Thai Prime Minister Thaksin meets Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing
to discuss ways to “enrich” their strategic partnership.

Vietnam 2005 April China and Vietnam hold their first consultations on defensive security
in Beijing

Chinese Military Sales to Southeast Asia

Table 3 lists recently announced military sales and co-productions arrangements
with regional states.

Table 3
Chinese Military Sales to Southeast Asia, 2002-06

Country Activity

Cambodia 2003 November China and Cambodia sign an agreement on military

training and equipment
2005 September China donates six patrol boats for use in maritime security

Indonesia 2002 Indonesia’s Defense Minister announces he is considering buying

military equipment from China
2003 Indonesian defense delegation visits Beijing to discuss the purchase of
military equipment and future cooperation in research and production of
military systems
2004 November Indonesia’s Defense Minister announces that Indonesia
will enter into military cooperation with China
2005 April President Hu Jintao pays state visit, China will provide technical
assistance to Indonesia’s state-owned defense industries

2005 May Indonesia announces it will cooperate with China in the

development of short to medium range missiles
2005 July China and Indonesia sign a MOU on cooperation in defense
technology under which China will provide technical assistance to
Indonesia’s aircraft and ship building defense industries and engage in co-
production of ammunition, arms and locally produced missiles

Malaysia 2004 July Malaysia and China sign a technology transfer agreement which
may include Malaysia’s procurement of Chinese medium-range surface-to-
air missiles
2005 September China and Malaysia sign MOU on defense cooperation
covering training, information exchange and a framework for bilateral
defense activities including a framework for bilateral defense activities

Philippines 2002 China offers the Philippines US$3 million in military assistance to
establish as Chinese-language program for Filipino military personnel and
donate engineering equipment
2005 March China pledges US$1.2 million in military assistance including
engineering equipment (six bulldozers and six graders)

Thailand 2003 September China offers a $600 million loan for the purchase of
weapons and spare parts
2005 May China and Thailand sign a MOU outlining a barter exchange of
Thai dried fruit for 96 Chinese armored vehicles (Type WMZ 551B). The
three-year contract will commence in August 2006.

Vietnam China’s NORINCO has provided Vietnam with ammunition for small arms
and artillery and military vehicles and assisted in co-production of
ammunition and heavy machine guns (Jane’s Defense Weekly, January 4,

China has not been an active arms merchant in Southeast Asia, except for sales to
Myanmar and Thailand during the Cambodian Conflict (1978-91). These details
are not captured in Table 3 above which covers the period from 2002 until the
present (March 2006). Since 1990, China has provided Myanmar with US $1.6
billion in military assistance and trained substantial numbers of its military
personnel. In particular. China has assisted with the modernization of
Myanmar’s navy, the construction of port facilities in Hainggik and Great Cocos
Islands, and the upgrading of the Mergui naval base. 24
In 2005 China reached agreements with Indonesia and Malaysia involving
defense industry cooperation. In particular, China indicated a willingness to sell

Bruce Vaughn, China‐Southeast Asia Relations: Trends, Issues, and Implications for the United States. 
CRS  Report  for  Congress.  Washington,  D.C.:  Congressional  Research  Service,  The  Library  of 
Congress, February 8, 2005, 16.

short-range air defense and surface-to-surface missiles. As early as 2002, China

and Indonesia began to explore cooperation in defense technology transfer. An
Indonesian delegation to Beijing led by the Secretary General of the Defense
Department, Air Marshal Suprihadi, met with senior Chinese defense technology
officials in September 2003 and discussed the sale of military equipment and
future cooperation in research and defense co-production.
The issue of technology transfer was raised by President Susilo Bambang
Yudhoyono with his Chinese counterpart on the sideline of the Asian-African
Summit held in Jakarta in April 2005. At that time Indonesia and China signed an
unprecedented statement declaring their relationship a “strategic partnership.”
This represented a dramatic U-turn in Indonesia’s foreign policy from the New
Order era. At the same time, the two sides agreed to expand two-way annual
trade by fifty percent to US $20 billion by 2008. China also agreed to provide an
additional US $300 million in preferential loan for infrastructure development.
Speaking after the declaration of the “strategic partnership”, Defense Minister
Juwono Sudarsono revealed that China had been conducting an assessment of
Indonesia’s defense-industrial enterprises since 2003. But Indonesia had resisted
China’s request for access to documentation on defense capability development.
The following month, Indonesia’s State Minister for Research and Technology,
Kusmayanto Kadiman, said that China and Indonesia would sign an agreement
on the development of short-, medium- and long-range missiles during President
Yudhoyono’s official visit to China in mid-year. According to Kusmayanto, “We
are a maritime country, so state defense should start from there… the long-range
missile for example could be stationed on small islands or vessels.” The Minister
also indicated that cooperation would also take the form of technology transfer
under which China would provide one of its missiles for research and study in
Indonesia. 25
In July 2005, during the course of President Yudhoyono’s state visit to Beijing,
China and Indonesia signed a bilateral MOU on defense technology cooperation
under which China would provide Indonesia with assistance for the
development of locally produced missiles with ranges up to 150 km. Such
collaboration would provide benefits to Indonesia’s struggling defense industry.
Some analysts saw this development as Jakarta’s reaction to Australia’s decision
to acquire long-range air-to-ground missiles. Under the MOU both sides agreed
to further intensify their bilateral cooperation in “defense and military fields”
including the establishment of a “consultative mechanism” for defense and
security officials as well as defense-industrial collaboration. 26

25“RI, China to cooperate in rocket development,” The Jakarta Post, May 17, 2005.
26“Chinese missile aid for Indonesia,” IISS Strategic Comments, August 2006, 11 (6).

Prior to July, Indonesian spokesmen referred to a missile system with a range of

from fifteen to thirty kilometers, thus suggesting either a medium range surface-
to-air missile or a short-range anti-ship missile. But Defense Minister Juwono’s
reference to a missile with a range of up to 150 km suggested to defense
observers that Indonesia might be seeking a naval cruise missile or a ballistic
missile similar to that which China provided to Pakistan.
In 2004 Malaysia entered the market for Chinese missiles. In July Deputy Prime
Minister Najib Razak announced that Malaysia had agreed in principle to
purchase medium-range missiles from China and that China would transfer very
short-range air defense technology to Malaysia. But, as noted by one observer,
“years will pass before the medium-range missiles provided by Beijing can be
integrated into Malaysia’s force structure in a meaningful way. Indeed there is
every possibility that that aspect of the deal may never be actualized.” 27
The data in the above tables does not capture the breadth of other defense
cooperation activities undertaken by China and regional states. For example,
China has initiated joint military activities with the Philippines and Thailand.
China also trains ASEAN military officers at PLA military courses and offers
Chinese language instruction. Singapore, for its part, has offered places in its
military courses for PLA officers. To take another example, in 2005 China
dispatched a team of PLA landmine clearance specialists to give a six-week
training course to Thai military personnel and then to jointly work with the Thai
military in mine clearance along the Thai-Cambodia border. 28
The section below provides a case study of the range of international security
cooperation activities that China undertakes with Vietnam.

Case Study: China and Vietnam

After a decade-long estrangement during the Cambodian conflict (1978-89),
leaders from Hanoi and Beijing normalized their bilateral relations at a secret
summit held in southern China in September 1990. China and Vietnam resumed
high-level political contact in November 1991, pointedly only after Vietnam had
agreed to a comprehensive political settlement in Cambodia.

27Ronald Montaperto, “Find New Friends, Reward Old Ones, but Keep All in Line,” Comparative
Connections: An E-Journal on East Asian Bilateral Relations (Honolulu: Pacific Forum-CSIS), 6(3), 3rd
Quarter, July-September 2004. Montaperto also offered this assessment, “[t]he agreement on
missile sales and technology transfer also may indicate a new Chinese willingness to adopt
policies that suggest that the centrality of Singapore to Chinese relations with ASEAN may be in

Xinhua, “China helps Thailand train landmine clearance personnel,” People’s Daily Online,

September 8, 2005.

Bilateral political relations between Vietnam and China were later codified by
party leaders who met in Beijing in early 1999. 29 Late the following year the two
sides signed a Joint Statement for Comprehensive Cooperation in the New
Century between the People’s Republic of China and the Socialist Republic of
Vietnam. 30 Although China signed similar long-term cooperative framework
agreements with all the other members of ASEAN, including six agreements
with a defense cooperation clause, it is notable that no such clause was included
in the Sino-Vietnamese agreement, perhaps because of the contentious nature of
unresolved territorial disputes in the South China Sea. According to the joint
statement, “[b]oth sides will refrain from taking any action that might complicate
and escalate disputes, resorting to force or making threats with force.”
Defense contacts were first opened with the exchange of delegations from the
Vietnamese and Chinese defense ministries’ External Relations Departments in
February and May 1992, respectively. There has been a marked imbalance in the
exchange of delegations at the ministerial level. Vietnam’s defense minister has
visited China four times, while China’s defense minister has made only one visit
to Hanoi. The exchanges at the level of Chief of the General Staff, General
Political Department and General Logistics Department are more balanced.
Contact at the level of service chiefs has been confined to one visit by the PLA
Navy Air Force in 1997. In November 1991, the Chinese People’s Liberation
Army Navy made its first port visit to Vietnam.
Defense relations between China and Vietnam up to 2005 almost entirely focused
on exchanges of views on regional security, ideological matters and border
security issues. Table 4 above sets out data on the exchange of delegations at the
Military Region level. Since the normalization of political relations both China
and Vietnam have undertaken to de-mine and to dispose of unexploded
ordnance in their frontier area. After the signing of a treaty on their common
border in December 1999, both sides have begun to physically demarcate this
In April 2005, in a significant development, China and Vietnam held their first
round of consultations on defensive security in Beijing. 31 Xiong Guangkai,
deputy chief PLA Chief of the General Staff and his counterpart, Nguyen Duc
Soat, conducted the discussions. According to media reports, the two exchanged
views on “international and regional security”, “defense and army-building” and
“the relationship between the two nations and the two armed forces.”

29Xinhua Domestic Service, February 27, 1999.

30Vietnam News Agency, December 25, 2000.
31“China, Vietnam hold first round of defensive security consultations,” Xinhuanet, Beigjing,
April 11, 2005.

Table 4
Exchanges at Military Region Level
Between China and Vietnam, 1996-2003

To Vietnam From Vietnam

1996 January Guangzhou Military Region 1997 April Military Region 2

1997 February Jinan Military Region 1999 November Military Region 3
1997 June Chengdu Military Region
1998 July Chengdu Military Region
2000 January Jinan Military Region
2000 July Chengdu Military Region
2002 April Guangzhou Military Region
2003 January Chengdu Military Region

Soat also met with Xu Caihou, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission
and Liang Guanglie, PLA Chief of the General Staff. Xu quoted the famous
Chinese character depiction of Sino-Vietnamese relations popularized by former
President Jiang Zemin who said China pursued a policy toward Vietnam of
”looking to the future, boosting good neighborly friendship and exploring the
all-around collaboration.” Xu offered the view that the PLA was willing to
continuously strengthen the friendly and cooperative ties with the VPA and
promote all-round development of friendly ties. 32 In reply Soat stated that
Vietnam too hoped to reinforce the cooperation between the two armed forces.
This these of future cooperation also featured in the discussions between Liang
Guanglie and Nguyen Duc Soat. Liang stressed that China was willing to make
joint efforts with the Vietnamese side to push for new development of friendly
relations between the two militaries. 33
In July 2005, a PLA delegation led by chairman Zhang Yi Min paid a weeklong
visit to Vietnam at invitation of Deputy Minister of National Defense, Nguyen
Huy Hieu. During the course of his stay, Zhang held talks with the General
Department for National Defense and visited the Z.195 factory and the

32PLA Daily, April 12, 2005.

33Luo Zheng, “Liang Guanglie meets Vietnamese guests,” PLA Daily, April 12 2004.

Headquarters of Military Region 7 in the south. 34 Zhang was accorded a courtesy

meeting with Defense Minister General Pham Van Tra on 4 July.
That same month General Phung Quang Thanh, VPA Chief of the General Staff
and member of the Central Military Committee, visited Beijing where he met
with his counterpart, Liang Guanglie. 35 Liang virtually repeated verbatim his
earlier comments to Nguyen Duc Soat. For example, on this occasion he stressed
that “[t]he PLA will continue its efforts to cement cooperation with the
Vietnamese People’s Army so as to further boost the relationship between the
two countries.” 36 General Phung replied that Vietnam too attached great
importance to cooperation with the Chinese armed forces and hoped to further
enhance mutual trust and deepen cooperation through the current visit. 37
In a signal of conciliation towards its northern neighbor, in August 2004 Deputy
Prime Minister Vu Khoan requested the Ministry of National Defense to organize
search and recovery efforts for the remains of PLA soldiers killed in Vietnam
during the Vietnam War. The Defense Ministry was asked to coordinate among
other agencies and localities to specify the number of graves. The Foreign
Ministry and National Defense Ministry were instructed to cooperate with their
Chinese counterparts in carrying out this task. 38 This set the scene for a major
advancement in Sino-Vietnamese military relations.
In October 2005, Defense Minister Pham Van Tra visited Beijing “to create
momentum for cooperation between the nations’ armies in the future.” 39 Tra was
received by his counterpart Senior Lt. General Cao Gangchuan. According to an
authoritative Vietnamese media account, “the visit. is being made at a time when
the comprehensive cooperation between the two Parties and the two countries is
growing qualitatively and quantitatively. The visit is expected to create a
momentum for the two armies’ cooperation in the future.” 40 Such was the case;
auspiciously the year 2005 marked the 55th anniversary of the establishment of
diplomatic relations..

34VNA July 4, 2005.

35President Tran Duc Luong paid a five-day state visit to China in July 2005.
36Xinhua, English, July 19, 2005.
37Xinhua, PLA Daily, July 20, 2005.
38Dan Hung, “Vietnam to launch search for Chinese soldiers’ remains,” Thanh Nien, August 24,
39Vietnam News Agency, “Vietnamese defense minister visits China,” Thanh Nien News, October

25, 2005.
40Vietnam News Agency, “Vietnamese Defense Minister visits China,” October 25, 2005. This
visit was undertaken in the context of the planned visit by China’s President and party Secretary
General Hu Jintao Hu visited from October 31-November 2, 2005.

In the meeting between Generals Cao and Tra, Cao promised that “China will
join hands with Vietnam to promote the comprehensive development of the
relations between the two nations and the two military forces” and “China hopes
the two sides can have closer military exchanges and greater mutual trust
through cooperation in wider areas.” 41 Tra noted in reply, “the continuous
consolidation and development of bilateral relations is a common aspiration of
the two peoples. It is in compliance with their interests and conducive to the
peace and stability of the region and the world at large.” Zhang Dinga, member
of the Central Military Commission and Commander of the PLAN, and Xiong
Guangkai, PLA Deputy Chief of the General Statt, were also present at the talks.
Cao, Zhang and Xiong are all members of the Central Military Commission
headed by Hu Jintao. The two Defense Ministers signed an historic agreement on
joint naval patrols in the Gulf of Tonkin/Beibu Gulf. In August, the two sides
agreed to speed up demarcation discussions of their border and were expected to
complete a border treaty that would also include Laos with a year’s time. 42 .

China’s “Peaceful Rise” and Southeast Asia

There can be no doubt that the most significant development that will reshape
the regional geopolitical landscape over the next two decades is the rise of China
and Chinese influence in all spheres economic, political-diplomatic, social-
cultural and military. While it is commonplace for security analysts to focus on
the military or “hard” dimensions of China’s power, the importance of “soft
power” in the form of China’s international security cooperation diplomacy is
often overlooked. This paper has tried to address this neglect.
Measured in purchasing power parity (PPP), China’s economy is already the
second largest in the world after the U.S. At market exchange rates, the Chinese
economy ranks sixth, after the U.S., Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom and
France. By 2020, the dollar value of China’s Gross National Product (GNP) is
likely to become the second largest after the United States. China will likely
achieve higher economic growth rates than Japan and Europe. The growth of
Chinese manufacturers will pose a competitive challenge across the entire
spectrum of industries and technologies and greatly complicate the successful
development of other regional economies.
China’s economic growth will spur increased demand for energy resources and
other raw materials; this will drive an expansion of Chinese interests from the
regional to the global stage. China’s reliance on imported energy resources will
result in an interest in maintaining political stability in those regions where these

41Xinhuanet, October 26, 2005; and “China, Vietnam to further military ties,” Xinhuanet, October
26, 2005.
42ABC Radio Australia, October 28, 2005.

resources are found. In addition, China will also have in interest in maintaining
the security of maritime lines of communications, especially through Southeast
Asia and the Malacca Straits. China, India and other growing economies could
become competitors for energy resources to fuel their economic growth. Both
China and India are seeking oil from Iran. This factor already may be driving
naval force modernization in these two countries.
China’s economic rise will impact on Southeast Asia and the wider Asia-Pacific
region. China’s economic success will create competitive pressures in other states
to reform and open their markets to foreign investment. China’s “peaceful rise”
will stimulate trade and investment from its neighbors. For example, China’s
economic success has contributed to lifting Japan out of recession and keeping
the Philippines from falling into recession. China’s energy needs have been a
boon to Indonesia’s oil, gas and mining sectors. In short, there are grounds for
concluding that China’s growing economy will be a catalyst for growth in
Southeast Asia.
China’s economic growth will also provide a firm foundation for its defense
modernization. It is commonly assumed that real Chinese defense expenditures
range between U.S. $31-$38 billion in 2003, well above the official Chinese figure
of U.S. $22.3 billion. 43 By 2020, China will overtake Russia as the second largest
spender on defense after the United States. China’s projected economic growth
indicates that it will be able to spend between 2.3% and 5% of Gross Domestic
Product on defense. By 2025, these figures would result in expenditures in the
range of U.S. $185 billion (or 60% of the U.S. defense budget in 2003) and $403
billion (or one-third greater than the U.S. defense budget in 2003).
There are two main drivers of China’s military procurement program (1) the
perceived intermediate and long-term challenge posed by the United States and
(2) the desire to project power. Specifically, China’s objective of reasserting
control over Taiwan must take into account the possibility of U.S. military
intervention should a crisis occur. The People’s Liberation Army has devoted
extraordinary efforts to purchase and develop weapons systems to deter the
United States from intervening in a Taiwan contingency. These capabilities will
inevitably extend China’s military reach in Southeast Asia.

43According to a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Liu Jianchao, China’s defense

expenditure in 2004 was U.S. $24 billion. Liu noted that “In recent years, in pace with China’s
economic development, Chinese defense spending has indeed increased a little. But the bulk of
the increase is for the improvement of living conditions of the officers and soldiers. China has not
the intention nor the capability to drastically increase its military build-up.” Quoted by Agence
France-Presse (Beijing), “Rumsfeld’s claims groundless: China,” The Straits Times, June 8, 2005.

China’s strategic goals may be summarized as follows:

• Maintain domestic security; prevent separatism in Tibet and Xinjiang; and
then recover control over Taiwan;
• Maintain high levels of economic growth to provide employment, raise
income levels and prevent domestic disorder;
• Promote a stable regional security environment, especially along China’s
periphery, as the prerequisite for economic growth;
• Restore and expand China’s traditional political and diplomatic influence;
• Promote a multi-polar international order to prevent encirclement or
containment by the United States.
Projections of China’s economic and military development over the next two
decades, however, must also take into account various factors that could
constrain the most optimistic estimates. Constraints on Chinese economic growth
include: stagnation and eventual decline in its labor force, a fall in domestic
savings as the population ages, a slowdown in the growth of exports and
industrial output because of market saturation, weaknesses in the financial sector
and problems in agriculture in the rural area. The Chinese government also has a
number of contingent liabilities such as unfunded commitments on pensions, the
need to re-capitalize state-owned banks as they write off debt-ridden state-
owned enterprises, and interest payments on rising government debt. As the
Chinese population ages the government will come under pressure to increase
spending on pensions, health care, and education. Nevertheless, China’s
economy will continue to grow. Economists project that China’s economy will
grow at 7% per year through 2010 and then gradually decline to 3% per year
until 2025. China’s GDP is projected to reach U.S. $9.45 trillion in 2025 (in 2001
dollars) or about half the size of the projected U.S. economy at that time.
Southeast Asia is viewed by Beijing as China’s sphere of influence. China seeks
to bolster a stable and secure region in order to gain access to regional energy
resources and raw materials, protect maritime trade routes across the region, and
develop wide-ranging relations for economic and political purposes (including
isolating Taiwan and countering U.S. influence). China’s “peaceful rise” has been
accompanied by a complete turn around in China’s view of and participation in
regional multilateral organizations. Initially, China was skeptical and suspicious
that multilateral institutions would impinge on national sovereignty. Within the
short space of a few years China has become a strong supporter of the
multilateralism and has become an active participant in the ARF process. In late
2004, China hosted the first ARF Security Policy Conference as an alternative to
the U.S.-dominated Shangri-La Dialogue.

China is widely perceived as sympathetic to regional concerns and respectful of

ASEAN and “the ASEAN Way”. At the 7th China-ASEAN Summit in 2003, for
example, China acceded to the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and
won plaudits from ASEAN members. At the same time, China and ASEAN
signed the Joint Declaration of Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity.
The ASEAN Plus Three process offers China an opportunity to expand its
political influence and its ability to reshape regional order. As Southeast Asian
regionalism evolves into a more explicit East Asian economic, political and
security community, as evidenced by the first East Asian Summit held in
Malaysia in December 2005, China can be expected to play a major role in future
developments. By any measure, China’s use of “soft power” has been as
impressive as it has been successful.
In summary, China is now actively promoting multilateral initiatives as the main
channel for cooperation among the states of Southeast Asia not only in the
economic sphere but also in the political and security spheres as well. However,
it is important to end on a cautionary note. China’s “peaceful rise” has witnessed
important changes in how China conducts diplomacy with the less powerful
states of Southeast Asia. Nowhere is this more evident than in the emerging
sphere of international security cooperation. China’s use of both multilateral and
bilateral relations has alleviated the “China threat theory” of the early to mid-
1990s. It has also served to constrain Taiwan’s economic diplomacy in Southeast
Asia. But China’s rise has also encouraged hedging behavior by some regional
states that prefer to see the United States continually engaged in Southeast Asian
affairs rather than displaced. But it is too early to conclude:
China has become an important provider of security assistance, and the
presence of its military far from home is becoming commonplace. If Beijing
has its way and Washington continues to neglect Southeast Asia, American
military and security guarantees will soon be redundant to the Chinese
presence. 44
As noted in a recent study by the U.S. Congressional Research Service:
Although the ASEAN states, share certain common perspectives, each has a
different relationship with China. Some are more concerned than others that
China’s rise may offer unwanted security or economic challenges. Some may
view China’s growing regional position as playing a useful balancing role
relative to the influence of the United States, Japan, or India while others may
react to the rise of China by seeking to develop closer relations with the
United States or other regional powers. Generally speaking, ASEAN states

Dana Dillon and John J. Tkacik, Jr., “China and ASEAN: endangered American Primacy in

Southeast Asia,” The Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, No. 1886, October 19, 2005, 5.

appear to be seeking to maximize the benefits of engagement with China

while guarding against the possibility of a more assertive China in the event
that engagement fails. 45
Similar conclusions were reached in two separate studies. One Southeast Asian
scholar concluded, for example, “Fears of Southeast Asian states that they will
have to bandwagon with China, or a desire to do so, will thus be greatly
constrained by existing U.S. and future Japanese and Indian roles in the
region.” 46 Secondly, a summary of discussions by a gathering of scholars from
Southeast Asia and the United States who met in Washington, D.C. in late 2005
most Southeast Asian governments hold serious reservations about China’s
role, particularly regarding such security issues as the South China Sea; and
that despite differences with U.S. policy, most Southeast Asian governments
want the United States to continue to provide a security umbrella for the
region. Long-term reservations over Chinese intentions are seen behind a
“hedging” approach used in various ways by Southeast Asian government
and by ASEAN as a whole. 47

Vaughn, China‐Southeast Asia Relations: Trends, Issues, and Implications for the United States, op. cit. 
Chien-peng chung, “Southeast Asia-China Relatons: Dialectics of “Hedging’ and ‘Counter-

Hedging’,” in Daljit Singh, ed., Southeast Asian Affairs 2004. Singapore: Institute of Southeast
Asian Studies, 2004, 51.
Robert Sutter, “Emphasizing the Positive; Continued Wariness,” Comparative Connections: An E-
Journal on East Asian Bilateral Relations (Honolulu: Pacific Forum-CSIS), 7(4), 4th Quarter, October-
December 2005.