US Will Not Lose Its Leadership Role in Southeast Asia
Cao Yunhua & Chen Jianrong, Inst. for Security & Development Policy | November 2011
The emergence of China as a global power has fundamentally changed the geo-political landscape of Southeast Asia. China, US and Japan are making significant efforts to cooperate and work in tandem with ASEAN to "maintain peace, stability and prosperity in the region". As this report by the Institue for Security and Development illustrates, Southeast Asia represents, in many ways, a battleground in which several regional powers are vying for economic and political influence.
Investment and trade are the main characteristics of Chinese involvement in Southeast Asia. Financing major infrastructure projects and opening up trade have been on China's list of priorities as a result of which China still lags behind Japan and the US in terms of soft power influence. China may be ASEAN's largest trading partner, but its political and cultural presence in the region is not very pronounced.
Although China has made significant gains in establishing close ties with its Southern neighbors, the United States has continued to make significant progress in cultivating multilateral relations with emerging Asian economies. US influence in Southeast Asia is primarily cultural and political. Major transnational corporations have been acting as the face of American culture, disseminated through America products. At the same time, a plurality of ASEAN political leaders have studied and worked in the US, helping cultivate strong US-ASEAN relations.
Japan may also be quickly losing ground in Asia as its economic and political authority wanes in the face of China's rapid rise, but it is using its existing networks and strong economic ties to the region to promote business and trade. As the single largest contributor of foreign aid to the region, Japan remains at the forefront of development efforts in the Southeast Asia.
ASEAN has managed to uphold a balanced policy towards all the three players engaged in "soft power competition" over Southeast Asia. Although ASEAN needs China to accelerate its economic power, "the majority of ASEAN countries...do not want to see China dominate the region". Therefore ASEAN political leaders continue to perceive the US as a counterbalance against a potential security threat from China. Given the amount of trust and goodwill towards America in the region, the US should use this opportunity to cement its leadership status in Southeasia Asia while continuing to work towards common goals with China and Japan.
This summary was written by Yan Matusevich, an editor at atlantic-community.org. Read the full report entitled "Changing Southeast Asia: The Role of China, the United States, Japan and ASEAN" by clicking here.