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.
China has supplied 190 million doses of its homegrown vaccines to Southeast Asia. However, although there has been sporadic support, perceptions of Chinese vaccines among the public in the region largely trend negatively, suggesting a non-linear relationship between China’s vaccine diplomacy and its soft power in the region. ISEAS researchers Khairulanwar Zaini and Hoang Thi Ha discuss the complex factors affecting vaccine hesitancy in six Southeast Asian countries — Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
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.
For a country that was first off the blocks, Russia has a long way to go if it wants to catch up with China and the US in the game of vaccine diplomacy.
The recent visit by US Vice President Kamala Harris to Singapore and Vietnam has brought the spotlight on Asia. Is Asia and the Indo-Pacific really a priority for the US, or is that just lip service? And as Singapore’s former ambassador to the US Chan Heng Chee asked: what does the US expect from the region? Zaobao associate editor Han Yong Hong reflects on small countries' limited options amid great power competition.
Though the Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact on many industries, annual global semiconductor sales still increased by 10.8% in 2020 to reach US$464 billion. The current global semiconductor supply chain is highly internationalised. While it is dominated by a small number of countries and regions, none of them has full control over every segment in the supply chain and geopolitics can be a risk factor. While the US has imposed sanctions and trade restrictions on China to hinder its development in chip making, academic James Pang says that given the nature of the industry, the current status quo will be maintained for some time.
The Biden administration has reinvigorated its approach towards Southeast Asia. This, however, will be limited by important US priorities and Southeast Asian reluctance to irk Beijing.
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.
Compared to China, the Biden administration has been slow off the blocks in the game of winning friends and influencing people in Southeast Asia. It has its work cut out for it.