China’s dual strategy of coercion and inducement towards ASEAN
Tác giả: Lê Thu Hường
The Pacific Review 2018
This article contributes to the discussion about China’s divisive influence on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It argues that recent China–ASEAN relations are based on Beijing’s successful implementation of a dual strategy of coercion and inducement. The effectiveness of this strategy is tested against the South China Sea disputes – the issue that lies in the core of regional security and a key platform of power display. The article outlines Beijing’s recent interaction with individual ASEAN member-states and its implications for the regional multilateral diplomacy. While by no means identical, Beijing’s dual strategy of coercion and inducement with individual ASEAN states have resulted in an effective abuse of the ASEAN consensus principle – a tactic often referred to as ‘divide and rule’. Consequently, the group’s internal discord has further eroded and affected the institutional confidence of ASEAN. This article draws attention to the psychological effect of coercion as a perception of punishment, and inducement as a perception of reward.
China’s dual strategy is sophisticated – a combination of calibrated proportion of threat and inducement. A repetitive coercion would invite a more consolidated response, while repetitive inducement, on the other hand, is costly and likely not to be efficient. The proportion of coercion and inducement also needs to be varied depending on individual needs as well as tailoring to a larger group. If all feel coerced, and hence threatened, they are likely to consolidate a joint effort and unity against a larger coercer. The varied sense of inducement, on the other hand, is a more effective divider.
This paper has argued that the prevalent perception of China’s rise has eroded ASEAN’s institutional confidence. The combination of both threat and inducement has exaggerated that perception of a power gap between individual ASEAN members and China, making the former even more inclined to seek more beneficial relations with Beijing. As such, the commitment to ASEAN-style multilateralism has weakened. Just as ASEAN self-declared its centrality role in the past, it is now steering towards ‘abdicating’ its claims to regional relevance. Lack of confidence in institutional mechanisms, at the expense of realizing the smoother relations with China, not only undermines ASEAN’s cohesion, but also lowers the group’s bargaining power.
The reasons why Chinese strategy of fusing coercion with inducement has been a successful one are powerfully evident. The strategy is tailored to the developing Southeast Asian states’ needs of economic development and to taking advantage of dynamically evolving political conditions in the region. It is easier to exert personal influence and nurture contacts with long-term leaders, often with authoritarian-style leadership, such as Cambodia. Populist leaders, like Rodrigo Duterte and Widodo Jokowi – to varying degrees, are most interested in short-term economic accomplishments and tend to put less emphasis on long-term strategic visions. All these factors are carefully exploited by Beijing. Moreover, ASEAN’s institutional norm of decision-making, based on unanimity, makes it easier to impede any decision if one of the members blocks the consensus.
The greatest success of Chinese coercion is, however, the lasting psychological effect on the ASEAN leaders who prefer to exercise self-restrain when selecting regional issues of importance and to a careful self-censor in their choice of words. The case study of dissuasion over the SCS disputes clearly testify to China’s influence over the current Southeast Asian leadership. Such an effect of psychological threat, mixed with some hopes by Southeast Asian leaders for economic gains, will further impede ASEAN as a regional actor. While ASEAN has never been immune to the impact of powerful global forces, amid the 50th anniversary in 2017, ASEAN morale has been at a historically low ebb. China’s assertiveness has exposed ASEAN’s existing weaknesses, yet that Southeast Asian grouping’s severe lack of confidence is, in many ways, self-inflicted.
Tải toàn văn bài báo tại Huong Le Thu (2018) China_s dual strategy of coercion and inducement towards ASEAN [PDF]
TS. Lê Thu Hường hiện đang là nghiên cứu viên khách mời (visiting fellow) tại Trung tâm Nghiên cứu Chiến lược và Quốc phòng, Đại học Quốc gia Úc.