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People cross a street during sunset in Shanghai, China, 15 November 2021. (Aly Song/Reuters)

George Yeo: Charm and China in a multipolar world

George Yeo, Singapore’s former foreign minister, gave a talk titled “China in a Multipolar World” to students of the Master in Public Administration and Management (MPAM) programme taught in Chinese at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy on 3 November. He spoke about time and patience needed for a multipolar superstructure to emerge, and for earlier dominant players such as the US to adjust to the new order. In the meantime, it is in China’s interest to master the art of charm, knowing when to go hard or soft in its relations with the US and Europe, its neighbours India and Japan, and issues such as the South China Sea and Taiwan. This is an edited transcript of his speech and excerpts from the Q&A session.
Paramilitary police officers keep watch as people climb the Great Wall of China in Beijing, China, 1 October 2021. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Wang Gungwu: China, ASEAN and the new Maritime Silk Road

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.
US President Joe Biden listens as India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during a 'Quad nations' meeting at the Leaders' Summit of the Quadrilateral Framework held in the East Room at the White House in Washington, US, 24 September 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

AUKUS and Quad do not solve India's regional security problems

China’s efforts to reap strategic gains in Kabul, in partnership with Pakistan and Russia, are of real concern to India following the US pullout from Afghanistan. Will Beijing reinforce Islamabad’s navy in retaliation for the AUKUS pact? Is an alternative arrangement linking China, Pakistan and Russia emerging to rival the US-led Quad which includes India?
Coast guard officers stand on the deck of the Indian Coast Guard offshore patrol vessel 'VIGRAHA' during its commissioning ceremony, in Chennai, India, on 28 August 2021. (Indian Navy/AFP)

With China’s increasing assertiveness, India’s active role in the Indian Ocean matters more than ever

India’s geostrategic location enables it to occupy a central position in the Indian Ocean region, although it has traditionally shown a reluctance to get too involved. This is all changing with China exerting a greater presence in the region and India’s own involvement in the Quad and a greater alignment of its Indian Ocean strategy with the “free and open Indo-Pacific” concept. In the last few years, it has stepped up its aid and outreach missions, as well as military partnerships with various stakeholders in the Indian Ocean. Indian academic Amrita Jash examines the impetus for and extent of India's shift.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during a "Quad nations" meeting at the Leaders' Summit of the Quadrilateral Framework hosted by US President Joe Biden with Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in the East Room at the White House in Washington, US, 24 September 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Be present but don't fight with China: Can the Quad fulfill this tall order from ASEAN?

In recent years, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), and the "free and open" Indo-Pacific concept that underpins it, have enjoyed forward momentum in response to growing Chinese assertiveness. However, the Quad faces problems gaining support in the region as China remains adamantly opposed to any configuration perceived to curb its emergence while ASEAN fears that its centrality will be undermined by a minilateral arrangement helmed by external powers. What does ASEAN want from the Quad and can these be delivered?
A US flag flutters in the wind near the National 9/11 Memorial & Museum on 10 September 2021 in the US. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP)

With AUKUS, Southeast Asia may become a more intense battleground

Yogesh Joshi points out that the new AUKUS shows an American recognition of the military threat from China, which is assessed to have the world's largest navy. Such anxiety has the US sharing its most prized military technology of nuclear propulsion with Australia, something it has never done with any country except the UK. With the US determined to maintain primacy in the Indo-Pacific, will there be a greater chance of inadvertent escalation of tensions? Will the Southeast Asian region suffer the brunt of heightened risks?
A journalist takes a picture of the national flag during a visit to the Museum of the Communist Party of China, in Beijing, China, on 25 June 2021. (Noel Celis/AFP)

The US has AUKUS. Where are China's alliances?

The formation of the AUKUS security pact involving Australia, the US and the UK will likely give the US and its allies greater strategic depth in the Indo-Pacific, says Wei Da. He believes that the containment of China has moved up a notch and China has to recalibrate its thinking accordingly. One way is to shore up its own alliances, which have traditionally neither been strong nor constant. What can China do about it?
A boy stands with a wheelbarrow at the demolished former compound of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, 10 September 2021. (Akhtar Soomro/Reuters)

Pakistan stands to gain from Afghanistan turmoil?

The recent takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban has strong implications for Pakistan which faces various new challenges such as the influx of Afghan refugees, terror threats from Afghan-based militants and an increased insurgency by Balochistan rebels. China is also getting impatient with the Pakistan security situation as China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects have come under threat. But Pakistan also has the opportunity to use its leverage with the Taliban to play a more significant role in regional diplomacy and decision-making, thereby advancing its regional standing.
Afghans walk along fences as they arrive in Pakistan through the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing point in Chaman on 24 August 2021 following Taliban's military takeover of Afghanistan. (AFP)

Afghanistan in the calculations of India, Pakistan and China: Is there common ground among rivals and allies?

A triumphant Taliban presents unique and unprecedented challenges for Afghanistan’s neighbours. As the international spotlight continues to shine on the Taliban, it remains difficult to discern between reality and ruse in the Taliban’s rhetoric. The future of Afghanistan appears uncertain, and most countries remain watchful. India has refrained from advancing a clear diplomatic position while China and Pakistan have shown a cautious willingness to engage with the Taliban. While all three countries view Afghanistan with diverging agendas, a stable, inclusive Afghanistan remains in their mutual interest.