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Reviewed by:
  • China-ASEAN Sub-Regional Cooperation: Progress, Problems, and Prospect
  • Tam Bang Vu (bio)
Mingjiang Li and Chong Guan Kwa, editors. China-ASEAN Sub-Regional Cooperation: Progress, Problems, and Prospect. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Company, 2011. xiii, 172 pp. Hardcover $78.00, ISBN 978-981-4340-42-7.

Although the subject of subregional cooperation has been discussed elsewhere in many books, this is the first collection of several papers that focuses mostly on this issue. Among its eight chapters, six are devoted to subregional cooperation, leaving only the last two chapters to ASEAN-China relations as a whole. This is unique, as China-ASEAN subregional cooperation is broader than bilateral cooperation between the two countries, in one aspect, but narrower than bilateral cooperation in another. It is broader because it often involves more than two countries, but it is narrower because only a few provinces and autonomous regions, instead of all of China, are joining each project with the ASEAN. Considering that the greater Mekong subregion (GMS) is one of the most controversial projects in ASEAN-China relations, it is easy to understand that the editors devote two chapters of the book to this subject. Chapter 2 discusses several aspects of the [End Page 99] GMS project, whereas chapter 6 analyzes the hydropower development along the Mekong River in depth. In chapter 2, the authors point out a few improvements in the GMS project and the importance of China’s role in its coordination, especially the efforts from China’s local government. The chapter also emphasizes the challenges that come from a lack of commitment from China’s central government and from the involvement of other big powers such as the United States, Japan, and India. This involvement is sometimes considered unnecessary. While this is an interesting view, one might wonder what the conclusion would be if the authors were to assume the viewpoint of the small countries along the Mekong River, such as Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. These small economies might think the involvement of the big powers is crucial. Chapter 6 also tries to defend the hydropower project by pointing out that while China built eight dams on the China side of the river, it also built two other dams in Laos and Cambodia. Does this imply that the electricity project improves the economic development of all countries along the Mekong River? The reviewer doubts this very much, unless some quantitative research on costs and benefits can prove it so. However, the author is correct in raising some much-talked-about environmental and downstream issues surrounding this project. With these negative effects, one cannot go wrong in forecasting that the future of this project will not be very bright.

Chapters 4 and 5 both discuss the implication of the subregional development. However, Chapter 4 analyzes this development in China and the implications for ASEAN, whereas Chapter 5 deals with subregional development in ASEAN and the implications for China. Chapter 4 points out correctly that all subregions in China have been actively participating in economic integration with the ASEAN. The chapter is quite rich in statistics and data that help readers visualize the growth of these subregions; it also includes a section on Hong Kong and Macao, which is very informative. Chapter 5 is interesting in that it focuses on lesser-known subregions in the ASEAN, called economic-growth triangles. Sometimes these triangles involve more than three countries; for example, the Indonesia- Malaysia-Singapore (IMS) Growth Triangle involves three ASEAN countries but the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACPMECS) involves five ASEAN countries. The authors provide an in-depth analysis of the 2008 financial crisis, pointing out that the ASEAN has suffered great setbacks in external demand, which will weaken world trade and might foster more subregional economic cooperation. However, this may or may not be a good tendency for the ASEAN economy, as historical data do not date back far enough to carry out a cost-benefit analysis to guarantee a success in any effort. Additionally, this may also hinder efforts to improve exports and imports on an international level.

Chapter 3 discusses the Pan-Beibu (Tonkin) Gulf (PBG) Economic Cooperation. In contrast to...