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HomeGeopolitical CompassEast AsiaUS-China Tensions and the Future of ASEAN

US-China Tensions and the Future of ASEAN

Author: Thomas Daniel

Affiliation: Institute for Strategic & International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia

Organization/Publisher: The Valdai Discussion Club

Date/Place: February 16, 2021/Russia

Type of Literature: Opinion

Word Count: 1649 

Link: https://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/us-china-tensions-and-the-future-of-asean/

Keywords: ASEAN, China, United States

Brief:

The neutrality of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been a very promising prospect. But with the decline of relationship between the United States and China, its nature and the impact of this rivalry has become a concern for ASEAN that could disturb its centrality. With the ongoing dispute in the South China Sea and China’s activities in Mekong region, China has put ASEAN centrality under stress. However, the increasing concerns of China have not benefited the presence of the US in the region. The perception of the US in southeast Asia is mixed. On the one hand, many have been disappointed with the lack of interest, focus, and zero-sum approach of Trump’s administration toward ASEAN. On the other hand, many have concerns that a tougher attitude towards China could be reversed by the Biden administration, which will bring more damage to the region. The author shows three factors that will impact ASEAN significantly from the ongoing tension between the US and China. First, how the US and China use their influence towards ASEAN and member states. The US has had close relations with ASEAN key member states on the shared concerns of communist insurgencies and expansion since the Cold War. However, now China is in a dominating position given its geographic location and economic heft in the region. Second, in what way the Biden administration will engage ASEAN on China. The author argues that Biden’s administration should seek to understand ASEAN through ASEAN lenses and to build an engagement for ASEAN’s sake and value, instead of to dominate China in the region. Lastly, how ASEAN chooses to move forward with the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP). Although AOIP seems only to be a generic document for safe-talking points, when addressing the Indo-Pacific matters, AOIP has proven that ASEAN intends to call for an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific. This development could contest the US-China competition over the Indo-Pacific if ASEAN wants to move forward to establish a truly inclusive Indo-Pacific that is not dominated by major powers but by fair and legal regional norms.

By: Salman Nugraha, CIGA Research Intern

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