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The rise of China as the main ‘soft power1’ in Southeast Asia has raised a few concerns

as it presented new challenges to the US Foreign Policy and to the ASEAN countries (Lum,

Morrison & Vaughn, 2008). This paper has balanced out the opportunities and threats of China

towards ASEAN countries and found that the threats weighed more than the opportunities

offered by China to ASEAN countries.


The term ‘soft power’ has been originally defined by Harvard Professor Joseph Nye Jr. as

the capability to influence other countries behavior by persuading them to achieve one’s goal.

China has been seen to use soft power to grow their influence through economic rather than

military, cultural or political (Lum, Morrison, & Vaughn, 2008). In the past, China is popular

with the communist system and after practicing it over a few years, they started to improve their

country in different spectrums which focusing more on economy and military. In a book written

by Sokolsky (2001), he mentioned that China has carried out a few diplomatic efforts over the

past decade to improve their relationship with ASEAN countries, particularly, Vietnam and

Indonesia. On the contrary, China’s geopolitical interest may contradict with their military’s aim

which is to preserve regional stability when they showed their high interest towards Spratly

Island and South China Sea. This paper will look into the threats and opportunities of

cooperating with China towards ASEAN countries in terms of economy, military strengths and

geo-political stability.

Opportunities and Threats on ASEAN Countries:

Soft Power : non-military motive including culture, diplomacy, foreign aid, trade and investment.
Opportunities Threats

1. Infrastructures 1. Underdeveloped countries in debt with

2. Job opportunities China - receive foreign direct

3. Goods and Services investment

2. Geopolitical stability

3. High competition between local


4. Mandarin replaces English as lingua


5. China allies with North Korea

6. Social implication


Based on the table above, it depicts that the threats of China on ASEAN countries weighs

more than the opportunities. Thus, we unanimously think China is a threat to ASEAN countries.

ASEAN countries have to oblige to whatever the big power wants, though the repercussions to

their action will overturn the current government. We will discuss more of the threats that

ASEAN will be facing if they choose to cooperate with China.


We have agreed upon China has benefited from ASEAN countries economically, as

China is using the reaching-out policy which is through the O.B.O.R initiative (Wong, 2017).

The infrastructure that China has offered can be their main tool of power. According to Foon
(2017), the construction of the railroads and assured trades will benefit local communities and

create 180,000 of jobs. However, Singapore believes that this mega initiative project can reduce

the job opportunities to many countries in the near future since there are many affected areas that

will be closing companies. This is due to the fact that China has gigantic machineries and great

technologies that could produce goods at a time and cost effective. Furthermore, the manpower

and skills are not needed in the next 5 to 10 years as they have a big number of population and

can dominate ASEAN countries in no time. Yiowmin and Zixu (2017) support this claim that the

overcapacity of China will shift to other countries and they will seek jobs everywhere

particularly in Singapore since it is a developed country. The involvement of other foreign

people in this initiative indirectly will reduce employment among the local communities.

As to fulfill their aim of stronger trade of goods, China invests huge infrastructure project

in building economic ties with its economic partners. As the ASEAN countries especially

Malaysia is now facing major infrastructure deficits (HSBC Bank, 2017), hence the idea to fasten

the project without any delay. The poor ASEAN countries that have signed the memorandum of

understanding with China will be indebted as the countries could not afford to settle the loan as

per the agreement. By this, the countries need to check thoroughly the agreement and the

repercussions of the action made.

Military strength

Jiang (2017), a producer for CNN reported Xi Jinping the President of China, said "The

world is not peaceful and peace needs to be defended," he said. "Our heroic military has the

confidence and capabilities to preserve national sovereignty, security and interests... and to

contribute more to maintaining world peace."

Recently, China’s army, which is also known as the People’s Liberation Army celebrated

its 90th birthday and during the military parade, China flexed some of its military might. A

display of around 600 types of weaponry and soldiers amassing to around 12,000 troops were

presented during the celebration. China also showed off its new jet fighter, the J20 which is said

to help China match America’s strength in the air. Still, the parade could be considered as just a

small show. On a website called Global Firepower, the strength of military of countries around

the world are measured. China is ranked 3rd on the power index scale, behind Russia and

America, proving that it is a power to be reckoned with. It holds the second place in military

expenditure, as it annually spends around $130 billion and above on its military and it also has

the highest number of active military personnel which is estimated to be around 2,260,000,

doubling both America and Russia which only has around 1 million. China also has an arsenal of

nuclear weapons and other so-called weapons of mass destruction. They are estimated to have

around 260 nuclear warheads, but as the number is kept as a state secret, there is a possibility that

it is higher. According to Cordesman, Kendall & Colley (2016), “... other powers will inevitably

use China’s nuclear forces as a key metric in judging its status. Regardless of the rhetoric of

restraint that China uses in discussing nuclear weapons, they remain important tools in shaping

its influence and perceptions of its power throughout the world.” China knows that the weapons

would help in securing its status as a global superpower, hence they would focus on

strengthening this category of weapons.

Thus, it could be said that China has a military force that could shake the world

superpowers like America and Russia. Concerns have arrived amongst ASEAN countries as

China is slowly closing the gap between its military power and the other global superpowers . Xi

Jinping also somehow implied that China is not afraid to use this power to help gain its national
interests. This could be seen in China’s recent behaviour in the South China sea. The “nine-dash

line” claim, where China tries to widen its borders to include the Macclesfield Bank, and the

Paracel, Spratly and Scarborough islands, as well as constructing man-made islands throughout

the sea, violated the agreement made by UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of

the Sea). This aggressive behavior made ASEAN uncomfortable, and Philippines decided to

invoke the law and to bring it to the International Court. They even patrolled the South China sea

with their sea vessels, as way to indicate that they have military power. They continued to be

stubborn and actively prevented the International Court from enforcing justice on them. Any

legal proceedings or judgments seem to become irrelevant to a powerful country like China. Its

behaviour on belittling international laws and treaties should be shed light upon. As for the

ongoing One Belt One Road Initiative, I’m sure that China would want to protect the wealth that

is being poured into OBOR, and would use that as an excuse to station their military in the

countries involved.

They have the military to back up their bold behaviours, and that military strength would

instill fear in other countries.

Geopolitical Stability

The rise of China has influenced geopolitical stability in the region as they slowly emerge

to be the new global superpower. Tension has arised over the dispute of the ownership of Spratly

Islands over centuries as it is claimed by several countries in Asia which are China, Taiwan,

Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia. Some countries base their claims over the islands

because of historical rights while some claim because of the overlapping parts of the Spratly

archipelago with their territories. In this case, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines base their
claims on the interpretation of UNCLOS. Meanwhile, the geographical position of the Spratly

islands in the South China Sea is the factor of China's claim of sovereignty over the islands. This

issue simultaneously has the potential to complicate the relations between China and ASEAN



Above all, China poses more threats than opportunities to the ASEAN countries.

Consideration upon important matters should be discussed on the issues that might arise towards

the end of the day. ASEAN countries should decide what is best to their citizens over foreign

influences though they offer ‘help’ as different country has different national interest. Diplomatic

relationship with China should be maintained, however, China should not be trusted in any

circumstances as their decisions are based solely on their national interests.


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of Mass Destruction. Center for Strategic and International Studies. Washington DC
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