Bangkok”•Member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations must not get caught in the ongoing trade spat between the United States and China, which analysts have likened to a prolonged war of attrition between two economic superpowers.
“ASEAN has been told to choose between one country over the other. But we don’t have to choose,” said Pornpimol Kanchanalak, adviser to Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, during the third Asean Media Forum held here in Thailand, the current chairman of Asean.
“The [trade war] does not necessarily make it harder for ASEAN, but it forces us to be smarter. You can’t do it business as usual. As Mao Zedong said, ‘there is great chaos in the heavens, and the opportunity is excellent.’”
China is ASEAN’s biggest trading partner for more than a decade now, while the regional bloc became Beijing’s second largest trading partner in the first half of the year, overtaking the United States.
On the other hand, ASEAN is the fourth largest trading partner of the US.
The trade negotiations between Washington and Beijing are scheduled to resume in Shanghai today, Tuesday, as observers await breakthroughs in the year-long spat involving the imposition of additional tariffs.
The prospects of a comprehensive trade deal, however, remain unclear, with prolonged uncertainty weighing down the global economy.
According to Suthad Setboonsarng, an ASEAN specialist and a board member of the Bank of Thailand, all member-states of the regional bloc stand to lose if they start choosing between the US and China.
“We cannot allow these two big guys to keep on swatting at each other. They have the resources: If they want to prolong this trade war, they can, but the world may not be able to cope,” Suthad said.
“If we get caught in this and start taking sides, we will all lose. But if we integrate, we will have something that will result in a win-win situation. We should not allow ourselves to be dragged into one side.”
Suthad warned that “more skirmishes are yet to come” as the US tariff hike is expanding to cover more countries, including the European Union and India.
“There is no turning back. The future of the Asean economy is in the integration and globalization of Asia. The 3.4-billion people in Asia need to move ahead and move quickly,” he said.
Earlier, Hoe Ee Khor, chief economist of the Asean+3 Macroeconomic Research Office, said the Philippines is among the countries that will be least affected by the trade spat between the world’s biggest economies.
“In the event of the worst-case scenario, for the Philippines, the impact is -0.06 percent. It is the smallest amount in the countries that we have [studied] that are impacted,” Khor said.
Last month, President Rodrigo Duterte expressed “deep concern” over the ongoing trade war between the US and China.
“It is creating uncertainty and tension. It is causing downward stress on the global economy,” Duterte said.
“The world is watching in earnest. There must be a resolution soon.”