On December 13, US Secretary of State Blinken landed in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, to deliver a speech on America’s “Indo-Pacific Strategy”. His first trip to Southeast Asia after taking office would include stops in Malaysia and Thailand.
According to some sources, Southeast Asia has become increasingly relevant in the geopolitical rivalry between the United States and China. The rationale is simple. In addition to retaining political, economic, and military influence, the United States is prioritizing restricting and coercing China at sea.
As China’s national strength increases, the United States has stepped up its containment operations against it. Since former President Trump’s withdrawal from a regional trade deal in 2017, the United States lacks a formal framework for economic interaction in Southeast Asia, limiting its ability to exert influence, while China’s influence increased during this period.
China-ASEAN relations have progressed at a rapid pace in recent years, turning into major partners in terms of good neighborliness, mutual trust, mutual benefit and win-win results. China-ASEAN trade and trade relations have also steadily improved, with positive results. The need for the United States to “intervene” in Southeast Asia has grown increasingly urgent, both economically and politically.
Since taking office earlier this year, the Biden administration has emphasized the importance of Southeast Asian nations, created a new post of “Director of Asian Affairs” within the leadership team and launched economic and military rivalries against the countries of East Asia.
What is intriguing is that Blinken’s visit is fast approaching and Cambodia, which is not on the list, is the first to suffer. According to a Reuters report, the United States recently imposed sanctions on Cambodia, including arms embargoes and new export restrictions, in a bid to counter China’s growing influence in the country. The US sanctions against Cambodia seem to indicate that the so-called “Southeast Asian takeover” by the United States is based primarily on pressures, including economic and military pressures.
The South China Sea and its surrounding areas are vital to the US policy of “Indo-Pacific strategy” and “return to control of the sea”. However, Southeast Asia has been a weak link in America’s military and maritime policy in the Asia-Pacific since the end of the Cold War, as evidenced by the woefully insufficient forward military presence, lack of ‘a credible strategic pivot and the absence of a formidable alliance structure. . As a result, amid chants and tales of “competition among the great nations” and “Chinese threat,” the United States has made little effort to emphasize the strategic importance of South Asia. -East.
However, the achievements of the United States over the past 10 years have fallen well short of the high expectations it professed, with all advancements focused on military security. With increasing close-range reconnaissance, cruising and deterrence in the South China Sea, Washington has significantly increased its military presence in the region. Through military exercises, training and arms transactions, it has also increased its engagement with countries in Southeast Asia.
However, there has been little progress in diplomatic, economic and other areas. On the one hand, America is only concerned with military protection, while diplomatic engagement, economic aid, and collaboration are just sweeteners in getting Southeast Asian countries to join. alliance. On the other hand, America is incapable of acting simultaneously on all fronts. Its policies are never constant, its economic strength and influence decline, and its soft power decline, which has had a major impact on the execution of its goals and programs as administrations change.
Meanwhile, the majority of Southeast Asian countries are unhappy with America’s regional and maritime policies. First, the United States sees Southeast Asia as the main battleground in its so-called “struggle of the great countries” and tries to organize regional governments more publicly to build a strengthened front against China. However, the majority of regional nations do not wish to take sides in the conflict between the two heavyweights. Even though some of those who have maritime problems with China expect the United States to help them stop “the extension of China to the sea,” they are not ready to be used as flesh. canon in the Sino-American confrontation.
Second, the United States is only timid in its aid to Southeast Asia, usually contenting itself with hype. In terms of political coherence, the United States is the least reliable major power in all ASEAN cooperation mechanisms, falling behind China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia and Russia. In terms of regional economic development, collaboration and improving infrastructure, the United States lags far behind China and Japan.
Third, US strategies for establishing close multilateralism and cliques would jeopardize ASEAN’s crucial role in East Asian cooperation. The ASEAN countries are clearly not important players in the American strategy for the Indo-Pacific. The US and ASEAN have a strategic misalignment because the former are so focused on competing with large countries that they lack the capacity or desire to deliver more public goods in other areas, so that the countries of Southeast Asia are still focused on socio-economic development, and the protection, cover and containment of the United States, as important as they are, are neither essential nor indispensable.
Based on recent official statements by the United States, it is clear that Blinken would continue to agitate, explicitly or covertly, in the three Southeast Asian countries with the aim of winning over crucial countries and damaging their relations. with China. Will this provocation, however, have an impact on the relations between these nations and China? This appears to be a low probability scenario. China is not only the biggest trading partner of several Southeast Asian countries, but it also has great political influence.
The United States has sent several signals to ASEAN members to see if they are united. China and Russia support ASEAN unity, but US looks for ways to weaken and fracture the organization, and wants to create anti-Chinese and pro-US allies in Southeast Asia . Still, it is impossible to assume that under Blinken’s persuasion, Indonesia and Malaysia will adopt a strongly anti-Chinese stance. ASEAN cannot be divided by the United States.
Regardless of the tone of Washington’s diplomatic language, the goal of deepening engagement with Southeast Asia is for regional governments to equip themselves at their own expense and join its anti-regiment. China. To put it bluntly, it aims to strengthen its own strategic weakness by using other people’s capital, resources and space.