South China Sea

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen (second from right) gestures as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (centre, left) looks on as they attend a handover ceremony of the Morodok Techo National Stadium, funded by China's grant aid under its Belt and Road Initiative, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on 12 September 2021. (Tang Chhin Sothy/Pool/AFP)

How China became Cambodia's important ally and largest donor

While Cambodia is aware that its close relations with China may leave it vulnerable in many ways, it seems to think that this is still the better bet in light of shaky relations with the US and a historical distrust of Vietnam.
Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a video conference call with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, 28 June 2021. (Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via Reuters)

Russia and China in Southeast Asia: Pragmatic cooperation against US primacy

Russia-China relations are at a historic high due to mutual concerns over US primacy, economic synergies and strong interpersonal ties between their national leaders. However, despite deepening military cooperation and closer diplomatic coordination, a formal alliance between Russia and China is not likely as this would constrain their strategic autonomy and undercut key foreign policy narratives. The South China Sea dispute is the most complex issue and a potential fault line in Russia-China relations in Southeast Asia. While Moscow has been broadly supportive of China’s position, Beijing’s jurisdictional claims threaten Russia’s lucrative energy interests in Southeast Asia.
People queue to board a tourist bus before a display showing a US flag in Times Square in New York City, US on 30 July 2021. (Ed Jones/AFP)

Chinese academic: It’s time to make the US safe for the world

The US has said that withdrawing from Afghanistan will give it more bandwidth to deal with Russia and its “serious competitor” China. The latter in particular, has become a key target. Chinese academic Wang Zhengxu asserts that the US should learn from its Afghanistan experience that the military option should only be used in self-defence. If it gets involved in China’s core concerns and insists on building an anti-China alliance, China will bristle and regional instability can only increase.
People clean up their flooded homes in a Queens neighborhood that saw massive flooding and numerous deaths following a night of heavy wind and rain from the remnants of Hurricane Ida on 3 September 2021 in New York City, US. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

What can China and the US cooperate on now?

US academic Zhu Zhiqun says that the future should not be decided solely by self-interested politicians in Washington or Beijing. Instead, real problems that affect or endanger ordinary people's lives should be of the highest priority. A failure to cooperate can lead to confrontation between the two most consequential nations of today and bring harm to the world.
This photograph taken on 8 June 2021 shows a street vendor walking past narrow residential houses, known as "nha ong" in Vietnamese or "tube houses", in an urban area of Hanoi. (Manan Vatsyayana/AFP)

Vietnam needs to do more to reduce trade dependence on China

Vietnam’s trade deficit with China has grown rapidly since 2001, and its heavy dependence on Chinese intermediate and capital goods creates vulnerabilities in its entire production chain. Besides, China has a history of using trade as a weapon to punish countries with which it has disputes. To reduce its trade dependence on Beijing, Vietnam has signed a number of new-generation free trade agreements (FTAs) in recent years, but these efforts have not produced desired outcomes. Vietnam will need to increase the utilisation rate of these agreements and push forward economic and institutional reforms to strengthen its overall economic resilience.
US Vice President Kamala Harris (second from left) prepares to depart Vietnam at Noi Bai International Airport, following her first official visit to Asia, in Hanoi on 26 August 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/AFP)

US academic: Consequences if Southeast Asia fails to align with US on China policy

The Biden administration has sought to re-engage with Southeast Asia, but there are limits to how much traction it can get in the region. And if Southeast Asian nations continue to not align with the US on countering the challenge posed by China, it is highly likely that Washington will shift its focus to like-minded actors who will coordinate with it.
US President Joe Biden gestures towards members of the media as he arrives at the White House following a stay in Delaware, in Washington, US, 10 August 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

The flaws in Biden’s China policy

The Biden administration does not seem to have changed course from the US’s former hardline approach towards China. In fact, it is resolute in adopting a competitive stance. Even so, its tactics may not be enough to keep China from moving ahead.
This picture taken and released by the Vietnam News Agency on 29 July 2021 shows US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin (centre) inspecting a guard of honour along with Vietnam's Defence Minister Phan Van Giang (left) during a welcoming ceremony in Hanoi. (STR/Vietnam News Agency/AFP)

US defence chief Lloyd Austin in Southeast Asia: Did the US strike the right notes?

Lloyd Austin’s visit to three Southeast Asian countries in July 2021 was aimed at reaffirming America’s commitment to regional alliances and partnerships amid concerns of US neglect of the region in the first six months of the Biden administration. The messages delivered during his trip, particularly in his Fullerton Lecture in Singapore, outlined the broad contours of the Biden administration’s Southeast Asia policy that goes beyond the dynamics of US-China strategic rivalry and seeks to provide a more holistic and positive agenda of US engagement with the region.
People watch the annual Fourth of July parade on 4 July 2021 in Saugerties, New York. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

SEA nations may need to pick a side as US-China rivalry intensifies

There is bipartisan support under the Biden administration to compete with and confront China, reflecting the American desire to maintain its dominant position in the international system. However, the US’s ability to act as a reliable security partner is heavily constrained by its domestic political paralysis caused by ideological divisions as well as social and economic upheavals. And while Southeast Asian countries want the US to remain militarily and economically engaged in the region to act as a counterweight to China, they do not want to take sides between the two superpowers. Canadian academic Shaun Narine believes this may be an increasingly difficult balance as US-China rivalry intensifies.