Building Shared Futures: China’s “Community of Common Destiny,” Its Promises and Paradox in Southeast Asia

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China’s rising prominence has been accompanied by not only economic and military might, but also a variety of new concepts in Beijing’s diplomatic lexicon. During the ASEAN-China Special Summit on 22 November 2021, Chinese President Xi Jinping stated that China sought to build “a closer China-ASEAN community with a shared future.”[i] The phrase “Community of Common Destiny and Shared Future” or shortly “Community of Common Destiny” (CCD) has been used nearly a hundred times and signifies Beijing’s increasing confidence in shaping regional order.

Although the CCD was addressed to a global audience, its magnitude felt the greatest in Southeast Asia. ASEAN has long been named the most crucial partner in Xi’s neighborhood diplomacy. Given their proximity, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang confidently stated that it is only natural that China and ASEAN countries have been good neighbors.”[ii]Similarly, the Former Chinese Ambassador to ASEAN Huang Xilian also predicted that China-ASEAN relations will be the “pioneering model” of CCD’s realization.[iii] Beyond a slogan, however, the CCD is still abstract and ill-defined. The sense of exclusivity that China invokes also makes Southeast Asian countries wary of compromising their autonomy and ideals for open regionalism.

Towards a China-centric Regional Order?

The CCD was first introduced during Xi Jinping’s speech at the Indonesian Parliament in October 2013. The speech exhorted the sense of determinism on a close relationship between two partners, given their “geographical proximity,” “historical bond,” and “economic interdependence.” To substantiate the concept, the speech was followed by the commencement of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as well as underscoring ASEAN’s importance in China’s grand project. 

The CCD becomes the part of Xi Jinping’s neighborhood diplomacy that has been characterized by growing activism towards regional countries since 2013. During the 2014 Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs, Xi stated that China aims to “turn China’s neighborhood areas into a community of common destiny”.[iv] The seminal conference significantly reoriented China’s foreign policy focus and outreach from the West to its periphery, including Southeast Asia.

As analyzed extensively by Hoang Thi Ha from ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, CCD constitutes China’s strategy “to bind ASEAN member states into a Sino-centric regional system” and “condition their behaviors.”[v] The sense of commonality that CCD impart attempts to behave ASEAN as China’s “good neighbor,” giving a cue on the form of hierarchical order that China wanted to create, where it serves as ASEAN’s benevolent “big brother.”[vi]

China touted itself as a peaceful and non-hegemonic alternative to the United States. Through the CCD narrative, China spoke on behalf of developing countries in Asia, especially against the Western-led liberal international order that Chinese Senior Diplomat Fu Ying deemed to be “unequal,” “unjust,” and “unreasonable,” particularly for the developing world.[vii] CCD’s application is concomitant with increasingly close ties between China and ASEAN.

China has been ASEAN’s number one trading partner since 2009. In 2020, both sides, for the first time, became each other’s largest partner, with trade volume reaching $516.9 billion[viii]. The two sides were also able to establish the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership in 2020, the world’s largest trading bloc involving fifteen Indo-Pacific countries. ASEAN’s relative acceptance towards the BRI also merits bragging from Beijing’s viewpoint.

Their feats notwithstanding, it is still debatable whether ASEAN embraces the CCD. It’s clear that the ASEAN has been moving closer to Beijing’s orbit during the few years. However, ASEAN remains vigilant if it could lead to ASEAN’s loss of regional ownership. Beyond CCD’s function as “discursive power,” many ASEAN states’ responses are still lackluster in responding to Beijing’s proposal.

Between Narrative and Paradox

Throughout its iteration, Beijing’s influence often contradicts the principle it promises through CCD. China’s growing economic footprints parallel its increasingly aggressive posture in the South China Sea. This contradiction was best evidenced during the onset of BRI that was followed by China’s rapid militarization in the South China Sea. From 2013 to 2016 only, China has created over 3,200 acres of artificial landmasses and military posts across the sea features it occupied.[ix]

Other observations suggested that China’s growing assertiveness and moderation in depicting its image, however paradoxical, are “two sides of the same coin”[x]: by strengthening its relations, China expects ASEAN to begin embracing China’s natural role as a central actor.

However, such an approach only makes ASEAN wary of subsuming into China-centered regional order. To begin with, ASEAN does not share the historical commonality that China often claims. Although the nature of regional order in Southeast Asia–unlike Europe’s Westphalian balance of power–has long been hierarchical, ASEAN countries never submitted into one and exclusive power hierarchy.[xi] Its history has been shaped by equally strong relations with surrounding powers, including India’s cultural footprints and the US security network.

To add to the contradiction, China has crossed the “red lines” in the South China Sea several times, even to a non-claimant state that has been relatively accommodative. During its months-long standoff with Indonesia in December 2021, Chinese diplomats blatantly submitted a letter urging Indonesia to halt oil drilling in the North Natuna Sea–Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone–which the former claimed to be its territory, overlapping the southernmost tip of China’s “nine-dash line”.[xii]

China’s latest discord with the Philippines also highlights how the former’s economic inducement cannot outweigh the sovereignty that Southeast Asian hold tightly. In response to the Chinese coast guard blockade in Ayungin Shoal, Philippines President Duterte lambasted that they “abhor the recent event” and will “view with grave concern other similar developments.”[xiii] Duterte’s remarks were delivered during the ASEAN-China Summit, the event that was supposedly held to commemorate the cordiality between the two sides. 

On Pursuit of Open Regionalism

CCD falls short as China’s attempt to exert its “discursive power.” China’s fatalistic narrative gives the impression that it desires an exclusive clique with regional countries; a proposal that contradicts ASEAN’s inclusion. In response, ASEAN has been careful to not fully endorse the CCD, fearing that the narrative may compromise ASEAN’s pursuit for open regionalism. 

Joint-document that referred CCD showed a non-committal response towards the proposal, exemplified in the 2030 ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership Vision where ASEAN only “notes with appreciation … China’s vision to build an ASEAN-China community with a shared future (emphasis added).”[xiv]

In the end, it is China’s asymmetrical relations that constantly incites ASEAN’s fear of losing autonomy. The State of Southeast Asia survey by ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in 2021 reveals that China gained the lowest level trust among ASEAN members with only 16% of respondents were confident over its presence.[xv] In stark contrast, Japan gained 67.1% ratings,[xvi] making it ASEAN’s most trusted partner based on the survey. 

Despite ASEAN’s receptions, multipolarity remains the ends that Southeast Asia pursues. Such an approach was best evidenced during the 38th ASEAN Summit in October 2021, when the “comprehensive strategic partnership” status was granted not only to China but also simultaneously to Australia, a country that grows increasingly assertive to balance Beijing’s influence, even more so after AUKUS.

To gain trust from regional countries, China needs to rectify the inconsistency between its narrative and actions. Beijing also needs to become cognizant that ASEAN never seeks a hegemon-induced  stability in the region, including one that is pivoted around China. After all, ASEAN countries are not inanimate objects that external powers can freely shape using their narratives. ASEAN pursues open regionalism where multiple centers of power exist and provides more space for regional countries to exercise their autonomy.[xvii]


[i] “China, ASEAN form comprehensive strategic partnership as Xi chairs summit”, The State Council of The Peoples Republic of China, November 22, 2021,

[ii] “Full text of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s speech at China-ASEAN Summit,” Xinhua, November 15, 2018,

[iii] “New Era, New Mission”, Chinese Mission to ASEAN, April 9, 2018,

[iv] “The Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs was Held in Beijing”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, November 21, 2014,

[v] Hoang Thi Ha, “Understanding China’s Proposal for an ASEAN-China Community of Common Destiny and ASEAN’s Ambivalent Response,” Journal of Contemporary Southeast Asia 41, no. 2 (2019): 227.

[vi] Ha, “Understanding China’s Proposal,” 236.

[vii] Fu Ying, “The U.S. World Order Is a Suit That No Longer Fits,” Financial Times, January 6, 2016,

[viii] Joanne Lin, “What is China Bringing to the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with ASEAN,” Fulcrum, November 24, 2021,

[ix] “China has reclaimed 3,200 acres in the South China Sea, says Pentagon,” The Guardian, May 13, 2016,

[x] Zhang, “The Concept of ‘Community of Common Destiny,” 204.

[xi] Martin Stuart-Fox, A Short History of China and Southeast Asia: Tribute, Trade and Influence (New South Wales: Allen & Unwin, 2003).

[xii] Tom Allard et al., “China protested Indonesian drilling, military exercises,” Reuters, December 1, 2021,

[xiii] Kristina Maralit and Bernadette E. Tamayo, “Duterte: Chinese incursion ‘abhorrent,'” Manila Times, November 23, 2021,

[xiv] “ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership Vision 2030,” ASEAN Secretariat, November 14, 2018,

[xv] Sharon Seah et al., The State of Southeast Asia: 2021 (Singapore: ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, 2021), 43.

[xvi] Seah et al., The State of Southeast Asia, 48.

[xvii] Ha, “Understanding China’s Proposal,” 247.