William Choong

Senior fellow, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute

William Choong is a Senior Fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, and is the Editor of the ISEAS Commentaries series. From 2013 to 2020, he was a Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow for Asia-Pacific Security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). At the IISS, he helped to run the annual IISS Shangri-La Dialogue and contributed to research on regional security issues such as the South China Sea territorial disputes and Japan’s evolution into a ‘normal’ power. He was formerly a Senior Writer at The Straits Times, where he wrote columns on defence and security issues.

In this file photo tourists wearing facemasks walk on the reopened Liberty Island in front of the Statue of Liberty on 20 July 2020 in New York City. (Johannes Eisele/AFP)

Setting the rules: 'Non-negotiables' in a US-Southeast Asia relationship

Since 2016, China has presented itself as a strategic competitor to the US. In turn, the Trump administration has been accused of incoherence in its policies toward China and its approach to the Indo-Pacific has led to concerns in regional states. Whether Trump or Biden wins in November, Washington needs to recognise some non-negotiables with regards to Southeast Asia: the avoidance of presenting binary choices for regional states to make amid Sino-US rivalry; the need for a looser cooperative approach in pushing back China’s assertiveness, particularly in the South China Sea; and the need to build regional connectivity networks and infrastructure.  
The skyline of Singapore's central business district, 27 May 2016. (Edgar Su/REUTERS)

Can small states continue to avoid choosing between China and the US?

With the jostling between China and the US, one country that seems to have found a balance between these two powers is Singapore. In fact, other ASEAN countries are also seeking not to take sides, which appears to be the most prudent strategy. However, ISEAS academic William Choong thinks that the choice of not making a choice may not be feasible in the near future.
A crew member on the RSS Vigour acting as the lookout at the bridge as the team investigates a potential contact of interest. (MINDEF)

Hanging tough together: ASEAN countries' survival strategy amid Sino-US rivalry

Rising Sino-US rivalry and a rapidly changing geopolitical environment means that smaller states in the Asia-Pacific are increasingly compelled to “choose sides” between the two major powers. They are, however, not short of options.
Japan's strategy in Southeast Asia is moving, despite difficulties. (Aris Messinis/REUTERS)

Targeting China, Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy in Southeast Asia runs into headwinds?

Japan has taken the lead in propagating a vision of regional order for more than a decade. Its geopolitical strategy seeks to constrain China at a time when Southeast Asian countries fret about China’s military buildup, its expansion in the South China Sea and its controversial Belt and Road Initiative. ISEAS academic William Choong explains why Japan's endeavours have not been smooth, yet should not be discounted yet.