China and ASEAN: A new model of international relations
April-June 2015
By: Kishore Mahbubani

China’s president, Xi Jinping, has called for “a new type of great-power relations.” It was very wise of him to do so. History teaches us when one great power (now China) is about to surpass another great power (now the United States) as the world’s greatest power, conflicts can arise. Indeed, Xi referred to this problem as the “Thucydides trap.” He said, “We all need to work together to avoid the Thucydides trap – destructive tensions between an emerging power and established powers, or between established powers themselves."

It would be equally wise for President Xi to also call for a new model of relations between great powers and small/medium powers. Contrary to the conventional Western wisdom that China will inevitably emerge as a belligerent and aggressive power, China can actually demonstrate that, unlike the United States, it can treat small and medium powers with respect. The best place for China to start demonstrating is with the countries of Southeast Asia and the regional organization the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

By so doing, China will gain three significant benefits. First, it will demonstrate clearly and powerfully that it is sincere when it speaks about its goal of a peaceful rise. Asean will play the same role in China’s emergence as Latin America did with the United States. Sadly, the United States, especially with its Monroe Doctrine, mishandled Latin America and left behind a residue of distrust and often anger in that region. China can do the opposite with Asean. Second, as there is a dedicated Anglo-Saxon lobby determined to portray China as an aggressive and belligerent power, a peaceful new model of China-Asean relations will help to defang China’s critics. Deeds will destroy the words of the Anglo-Saxon media.

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