With Finland and Sweden applying to join NATO, some in Asia are asking if Southeast Asian countries will follow suit and seek an alliance with “like-minded” powers. Malaysian academics Kuik Cheng-Chwee, Abdul Razak Ahmad and Lai Yew Meng explain why such realignment is unlikely in Asia (for now).
ASEAN leaders will finally meet US President Joe Biden at the long-awaited US-ASEAN summit in Washington. Whether ASEAN and US can find convergence on regional issues, such as Washington’s desire to manage the rise of China, will be a pressing challenge.
The authorities are taking steps to solve the issue of the Chinese market being “big but not strong” by standardising rules and standards and unifying the national market. But local governments used to fighting for their region’s interest at the expense of the national interest may find the changes hard to swallow.
The majority of Southeast Asians continue to regard China as the most influential political, strategic and economic power in the region, says the State of Southeast Asia 2022 survey report published by the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. But wariness of Chine's rising influence has not gone away, due in no small part to China's continued aggressive moves, especially in the South China Sea. For China, winning the hearts of ASEAN countries might take gaining trust and upholding key principles such as the rule of law, promotion of good governance and strengthening of human rights.
Former foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang is slated to be the next Chinese ambassador to Indonesia. Amid US-China tensions, a post in Indonesia presents opportunities and challenges both in terms of bilateral relations and in engaging ASEAN. Known to be a steady hand, if Lu can chalk up notable achievements during his tenure, he may move on to higher roles, just like other high-flying spokesmen of the ministry.
With environmental security shaping a new South China Sea conversation about ecological challenges, science cooperation represents a litmus test to link the impact of environmental change to both national and international security, and can offer a means to defuse tensions, says James Borton. His new book, Dispatches from the South China Sea: Navigating to Common Ground, will be released soon.
ISEAS academic William Choong notes that amid intense China-US competition in domains such as trade, technology, security and values, there is much virtue for smaller states, particularly those in Southeast Asia, in upholding high principles and expressing a desire for a rules-based regional order. These elements, however, are premised on continued stability in Sino-US relations, which is not guaranteed, particularly given the increasingly entrenched positions of China and the US on the Taiwan issue.
The recent virtual summit commemorating 30 years of ASEAN-China dialogue relations was held without a representative from Myanmar, the second time in a month that Myanmar was absent from the ASEAN family. The Myanmar issue is likely to pull ASEAN on many sides in the days to come, but the fact that the summit went on and concluded with some deliverables speaks for the strength of ASEAN-China relations.
Professor Wang Gungwu was a keynote speaker at the webinar titled “The New Maritime Silk Road: China and ASEAN” organised by the Academy of Professors Malaysia. He reminds us that a sense of region was never a given for Southeast Asia; trade tied different peoples from land and sea together but it was really the former imperial masters and the US who made the region “real”. Western powers have remained interested in Southeast Asia through the years, as they had created the Southeast Asia concept and even ASEAN. On the other hand, China was never very much interested in the seas or countries to its south; this was until it realised during the Cold War that Southeast Asia and ASEAN had agency and could help China balance its needs in the maritime sphere amid the US's persistent dominance. The Belt and Road Initiative reflects China’s worldview and the way it is maintaining its global networks to survive and thrive in a new era. This is an edited transcript of Professor Wang’s speech.