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
Keywords: ASEAN, China, United States
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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