While competition between the US and China rages, it is unclear if Southeast Asia’s leadership can pursue policies that draw maximum benefit from both sides while ensuring their independence remains intact. The existing tensions between Washington and Beijing mean that leaders in Southeast Asia will struggle to find a position that pleases both partners.
While the new Indonesia-Australia free trade agreement is expected to boost trade between the countries, it also represents a step for Australia towards increasing its engagement with ASEAN.
Construction has resumed on the new US$6 billion China-Laos railway, a key piece of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, despite the deep impacts of COVID-19 across the region. But as the pandemic brings new questions about sustainable growth and resilience, it’s changing the calculus for the governments and local communities that host China’s new development projects.
The pandemic is expanding strategic competition between China and Vietnam from the South China Sea into the economy. Vietnam could see a boost to its economy as the COVID-19 crisis wears off and companies look to shift their operations out of China.
China is facing international backlash for stepping up its illegal claims in the South China Sea amid the coronavirus pandemic. Recent incidents and hostile rhetoric show that Beijing is using the situation to increase its aggression against Southeast Asian nations in the area.
A Twitter war with Chinese nationalists has spawned the new “Milk Tea” alliance between pro-democracy social media users in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand. The new links signal the possibility of dialogue between pro-democracy movements that often struggle to gain ground.
New research shows that in 2019, Chinese dams on the Mekong River trapped nearly all of the river’s flow, causing the record-breaking drought that still plagues the region. The new findings confirm what natural resource advocates have said for years: that local experts and communities must have control over their water.
ASEAN nations are increasing production of face masks and other medical equipment. By exporting them all over the world, Vietnam stands to make diplomatic and economic gains.
The recent US statement criticising China’s actions in the South China Sea is inaccurate and hypocritical. It misrepresents China’s claims and blames Beijing for ‘offenses’ that Vietnam has also committed, all while the US itself has continued its aggression in the area amid the pandemic.
China’s actions in the South China Sea show what the next stage of geopolitics in Southeast Asia will look like. As China projects its power amid the pandemic, ASEAN governments will see their economies and development further defined by how they embrace or contest Beijing’s agenda.