The commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the ASEAN-China strategic partnership this year will be met by greater skepticism than at its launching in 2003. Recent developments in the East Asian region point to still huge mistrust between the two sides, particularly between China and the ASEAN states that are embroiled in territorial and maritime disputes with China in the South China Sea. Of late, security tensions have been compounded by escalating geopolitical rivalry between China and the region’s other big powers -- the United States and Japan, both also vital partners of ASEAN.
That said, healthy skepticism underscores the challenges but does not belittle the importance of this relationship between East Asia’s now preeminent economic and rising military power on the one hand, and its most successful regionalist collective and key catalyst of multilateral dialogue and cooperation on the other hand. It may be argued that ASEAN-China cooperation is bound to have even greater impact in the near future, not only on their current shared bilateral interests such as free trade, economic cooperation and infrastructure connectivity, but also on matters beyond their own geographic reach. Much, however, depends on each side’s vision of its own regional role.