“Between system maker and privileges taker: The role of China in the Greater Mekong Sub-region”, an interview with Truong-Minh Vu

 1. Is it important that an alternate view on China- other than northern countries’ – is being published in southern countries like Brazil? Why?

China and Brazil not only share characteristics of south-south cooperation but also have the same status as an emerging power. Considered as rising power in terms of power resources, China and Brazil are finding their ways to transform these resources into political outcomes in international politics, with the goal of acquiring more national interests. The “methods”  helping China to succeed (or not) in forming its leadership in the region, through cases in East and Southeast Asia, can contribute as lessons for Brazil, and vice versa.

 2. More recently, it is visible that you focused your academic work on China. Was there a turning point or were a bunch of factors that led you to study China? What were your reasons to choose this theme?

At the end of 2009, when I started my PhD program at the University of Bonn, the world turned to place itself at a crossroads. That period, being called Post-Financial Crisis 2008,  presented with a power changing scenario that highlighed the U.S. decline and the emergence of BRICS countries, especially China. In Southeast Asia, since 2009, China has constantly changed its policy strategies in many areas. These approaches tend to be more aggressive in dealing with economic issues and more assertive in dealing with territorial disputes with neighboring countries. This situation leads to a prediction that “China’s Century” will initiate its presence in East and Southeast Asia.

 3. Brazil and the other BRICS countries shares some similarities with China. As they are all great economies, they are also emerging countries with development problems. Having that in mind, how does the formation of the BRICS influences the southeast Asian countries?  Do you believe that Brazil plays a role in South America as the one played by China in the Great Mekong sub-region?

From the perspectives of Southeast Asian countries, the formation of BRICS somehow shapes the world order shift towards multipolar order. This shift reveals the scenario that more power is being shared for developing and southern hemisphere nations. However, until now, the change mainly impacts mentally. BRICS nations have not proved themselves as the representative of developing countries. The two leading nations – India and China – also fail to represent Asian interest at international negotiations.

In my opinion, Brazil has an ambivalent positon in South Ameria as China does in the Great Mekong sub-region. A simple observation shows that this country is pursuing selective approaches towards building the regional orders. In some cases, Brazil obtains the role as a leader who provides public goods to stimulate regional cooperation (for instance, the collaboration to protect Amazone river environment). In other cases, Brazil hesitantly places itself as a leader when it aspires to prioritize its national interests (the Mercosur case can be a good example).

4. Recently, tensions over maritime territory occurred between China and Vietnam. Do you believe that this fact is an example of a lack of inclusive leadership by China? How may it interfere in the relations between China and the Greater Mekong sub-region countries? May the  strengthening of ASEAN be a way to avoid negative outputs to this region countries? Why?

Lack of inclusive leadership by China is one of the main reasons leading to tensions over maritime territory occurred between China and Vietnam. In this case, China refuses to play its role as a stability-bringer or as a leader to promote cooperation, and turns to impose its hegemony and domination. Agressively repressing Vietnam by its hard power, China raises concerns and doubts among GMS coutries and all Southeast Asian countries on its “peaceful development” doctrine. Therefore, these countries have to seek the balance of power in many different ways.

ASEAN is always a leverage for ASEAN small nations to counterbalance the domination of China through multilateral diplomacy and forums. However, the bargaining power of ASEAN is declining due to the lack of consolidation among member nations towards China. This division is piecemeal undermining the position of ASEAN in the regional order.

Read the article:

VU, Truong-Minh. Between system maker and privileges taker: the role of China in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. Rev. bras. polít. int.,  Brasília ,  v. 57, n. spe,   2014 .   Available from <http://www.scielo.br/article_plus.php?pid=S0034-73292014000300157&tlng=en&lng=en>. access on  18  Oct.  2014.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/0034-7329201400210.

Truong-Minh Vu is Ph.D. Candidate at the Centre for Global Studies, University Bonn (Germany) and a lecturer at the Faculty of International Relations, College of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University.

Banvasten Araújo is member of the Program of Tutorial Education in International Relations at University of Brasília -PET-REL and of the International Relations Analysis Lab – LARI (banvasten.ri@gmail.com )

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