China's Economic Statecraft Toward Southeast Asia: Free Trade Agreement and "Peaceful Rise"

Vincent Wei-cheng Wang, University of Richmond


This article examines the China-ASEAN free trade agreement (ACFTA) in light of regionalism in East Asia and China's new diplomacy. Dubbed "peaceful rise," China's new diplomatic strategy seeks to capitalize on globalization to accelerate China's economic development and elevate China's power. In Southeast Asia, "peaceful rise" is promoted through a FTA agenda reflecting geopolitical and geoeconomic objectives - cultivating goodwill among neighbors, maintaining regional stability, and securing key markets and raw materials needed for China's economic growth. China sees ACFTA as a tool to respond to challenges posed by competitive regionalisms in the world economy, cement growing economic ties with Southeast Asia, secure raw materials, and ensure a peaceful environment to support China's growing influence and counterbalances American and Japanese power. ASEAN nations are attracted by the opportunites entailed in China's expanding trade and economy; they also seek to leverage ACFTA to additional FTAs with important trading partners within (e.g., Japan) or outside (e.g., the U.S.) the region. Due to the disparate levels of development and policy priorities of ASEAN members, ACFTA may cause various challenges to individual members and ASEAN as a whole.