The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has agreed to forge a "comprehensive strategic partnership" with China, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah said Thursday, just a day after it was announced that ASEAN would establish a partnership on the same level with Australia.
"I'm especially pleased that ASEAN has agreed to establish comprehensive strategic partnership with both Australia and China, which will foster more substantial and mutually beneficial relationships going forward," Bolkiah, whose country currently holds ASEAN's annually rotating chairmanship, said at the closing press conference for this week's ASEAN Summit and related meetings.
However, details of the content of the two partnerships are still not clear.
The announcement, which comes amid fierce rivalry between the United States and China for influence in the region, appears to show that ASEAN seeks to balance its relations with China and the West.
The recent announcement of AUKUS, a new trilateral security pact among the United States, Britain and Australia that has raised some anxiety and concern, was discussed this week during ASEAN's meetings with some of its so-called dialogue partners, comprising those three countries plus China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, Canada, India, New Zealand and the European Union.
"Indeed, we have seen a rise in geostrategic competition," Bolkiah said in response to a question on AUKUS. But he added that "at the same time, we have also witnessed growing cooperation and an increase in the number of countries working with ASEAN."
"We really hope that any new security partnership will contribute constructively towards toward regional peace and stability and complement the regional architecture," he said.
The 10 members of ASEAN are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.