Seminar on “Chinese Capitalism in Southeast Asia: Challenges and Prospects”

Professor Yos Santasombat spoke at a Thailand Studies Programme seminar on the contemporary relationship between China and ASEAN countries.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017 – Professor Yos Santasombat spoke at a Thailand Studies Programme seminar on the contemporary relationship between China and ASEAN countries. In particular, the seminar examined how new Chinese economic statecraft and the accompanying transnational Chinese business corporations and entrepreneurs have interacted with the diverse forms of Chinese capitalism in Southeast Asia. He argued that while China’s rise and its growing economic engagement with ASEAN has presented new investment and business opportunities for local Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, it has also stimulated anxieties, ambivalences and new politico-economic realignments.

From Left to Right: Dr Benjamin Loh and Professor Yos Santasombat (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Professor Yos noted that China has been unable to exert meaningful leverage over US financial policy in spite of its position as the leading holder of US debt. Similarly, China has been unable or unwilling to change North Korea’s nuclear policies despite increasing economic dependency, nor has it been able to persuade Vietnam to deflect the territorial claims in the South China Sea. Conversely, increasing dependency on China has turned the Myanmar’s Tatmadaw towards a more balanced and diversifying its strategic relations with Japan, the United States and Europe.

In economic terms, however, Professor Yos argued that China has used its central position in regional production networks and its market potential to influence ASEAN countries’ choices, and the country is integrating into the ASEAN countries through commercial diplomacy such as economic cooperation, and global connectivity initiatives. According to him, economic regionalism has become China’s target for desecuritization –– or the removal of obstacles to mutual trust –– and the country is using its economic influence to propel ASEAN countries into actual regional economic integration.

The seminar went on to examine the interactions between Chinese state capitalism with the various forms of Chinese Capitalism in Southeast Asia – neoliberal capitalism, flexible capitalism and Confucian capitalism. Chinese overseas capitalism has gone into the more developed parts of Southeast Asia (such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore) and Chinese big corporations and businesses have served as “connectors and bridges” between these countries and China. However, he noted that overland forms of Chinese capitalism into Mainland Southeast Asia have had more disruptive impacts on local businesses and SMEs. 

Several thought-provoking questions were raised by the audience (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute) 

The seminar attracted a thought-provoking discussion between Professor Yos and the audience on the re-sinicization of Southeast Asia’s Chinese communities by Chinese business and entrepreneurs, the transnational outlook of new highly-mobile Chinese migrants and their impact on local economies, the tensions between nationalism and regional integration amongst the ASEAN Economic Community, and the networks and institutions that facilitate Chinese capitalism in different countries in Southeast Asia.