Asean will engage with both China and US, secretary general Kao Kim Hourn says in call to dial down ‘major power’ tensions

Asia World
The Asean will engage with both the US and China for regional cooperation, secretary general Kao Kim Hourn said, while calling for an easing of tensions between the two rival powers.

Delivering a special lecture at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) on Thursday, Kao said the Southeast Asian bloc should focus on peace and cooperation, and be open and inclusive in handling ties with both Beijing and Washington.

“We do not want any major power to dominate us. We choose to engage, not isolate … that is why we have comprehensive strategic partnerships with the US and China,” Kao said in a response to an audience question on whether the Association of Southeast Asian Nations could foster closer ties with China without compromising its relations with the US.

He also said the 10-member bloc should not let territorial disputes in the South China Sea cast a shadow over its long-prosperous overall cooperation with China.


Beijing faces backlash from neighbours over expanded territorial claims in new official map

Beijing faces backlash from neighbours over expanded territorial claims in new official map

Several consuls general of Asean member states in Hong Kong – including Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Myanmar and Cambodia – were present at Thursday’s forum, which was hosted by HKU’s Research Hub on Institutions of China and also attended by students and researchers.

Kao, a former Cambodian minister, later wrapped up his three-day working visit to Hong Kong with a lunch meeting with local trade and industry officials.

His trip came days after the 43rd annual Asean summit – hosted by rotating chair Indonesia – was overshadowed by the latest tensions in the South China Sea between rival claimants China and the Philippines.


Beijing stakes historical claim to nearly the whole of the busy, resource-rich waterway where three other Asean members – Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei – also have competing claims.

Closer US ties have also been a source of friction with China, as Washington – a key security partner for several Asean members – has ramped up defence cooperation in the region in recent years to counter Beijing’s military ambitions.

On September 4, a day before the Asean summit opened in Jakarta, the US military hosted a joint patrol with the Philippines in the South China Sea for the first time, triggering strong condemnation from Beijing.

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“We should not magnify one particular issue to overshadow anything else,” Kao told the HKU forum, highlighting the years of fruitful Asean-China cooperation.

“Every partner has its own uniqueness, has its own dynamics, has its own priorities. I think for us moving forward is how we are a team to expand, leverage, and build on what we have achieved,” he said as part of his lecture titled “Shared Future – Towards a Closer Asean-China Community”.


China has been Asean’s biggest trade partner for the past 14 years, while the region is Beijing’s top investment destination.

Kao said the bloc welcomes any economic frameworks that will bring great prosperity to the region and its people, including China’s Belt and Road Initiative.


Last week, test runs began on the Jakarta-Bandung railway, Southeast Asia’s fastest rail link and a US$7.3 billion flagship belt and road project in the region.

He also spoke highly of Hong Kong’s role in serving as a bridge between China and the bloc, encouraging the city not to “overlook” economic opportunities in the bloc.

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His words echoed a keynote speech delivered at the 8th Belt and Road Initiative Summit on Wednesday, where he highlighted the value of Hong Kong’s role in linking China with Asean, and urged greater synergy between the belt and road and Asean and Indo-Pacific connectivity plans, to create a more resilient and interconnected region.


“Prosperity is really the very top priority for us,” he said at HKU. “It’s important for Asean to work together with our partners in China, including Hong Kong, to ensure that we continue to build confidence, with strategic trust across the different stakeholders in this region.”