What does South East Asia want from the US and China?
Bland is director of South, East Asian program at the low institute and Longley to. She's a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute walk into your by. Ben How is the increasingly assertive use and indeed Australian position on China. How is that being interpreted in South East Asia. We have this is a very broad region of ten countries of different size from giants like Indonesia to minnows, like Brunei to have been diverse reactions, but broadly speaking I think there's a lot of frustration with the trump administration the way it's being on the one hand increasingly unilateral and unpredictable. But on the other hand, there's this fear of US abandonment if you like in a long-term leaving the region to. Gemini so I think we have to understand. It's a complex picture, right? So the US has to treaty allies in southeast, Asia Thailand, and the Philippines and they've been amongst the countries that are most China friendly and most frustrated with the US government in recent years be while we see a former. FO- like Vietnam there's being one of the most receptive of the US approach to. Try and run the loss years. So it's quite complicated I. Think the real risk here is that the US government and to a lesser extent that I'm camera believes that it's more assertive stance on China is appreciated in the region and I think that's really not necessarily the case because at the end of the day like Australia. But most South East Asian countries China is that biggest. Partner, as well as being geographic neighbor is that you're reading to Huang given the Vietnam of course has been just mentioned is a Cold War Foe of united, states but in in the face of verizon charts getting closer to Washington. Southeast Asian nations have gone through a different phases of. Living next to China, they've known China. Through historical engagements of this is not a new thing for them. The anxiety about China's and China's might end as you mentioned, they've gone through A. Competition to window call when they have still vivid memories of that. So in overall I think they they do have anxiety. There is a pronounced anxiety about the intensifying great-power competition that might. Lead to similar way of asking them to choose sides like was in the Cold War but I think all of them want to keep both China and us in the region a engaged. Also not too. Aggressive or not to assertive, and they also want to involve other. Powers not only the be the two big ones but also Japan Australia's are career and the European countries. A little bit of competition is good for them but took much competition can be nervous. Let's bring it to Indonesia Ben. There's your name subject at the end of last year Indonesia and China had a face off over the ownership of the Natuna islands which are in the southernmost part of the area of the South China Sea claimed by China. Where does Jakarta stand on China? Now it's an, it's an interesting question building a wall who was just talking about because we look at Indonesia's president. Jerko with widow known as Jacoby, I've just written the first English biography of him the plug in that. He he is an economy I president. He is someone who is above all interested in creating more jobs, getting more investment into Indonesia, and especially during a time of covid nineteen when the economy's really collapsed and Jacoby is a transactional leaders that he wants those who are bringing the most money with fewer conditions and right now that is China Chinese state-owned companies. Chinese. Private companies like qualify as well. On, the other hand of course, Jacoby has to be seen to be defending Indonesia's sovereignty and we have had these clashes over fishing rights. I have access to certain waters that you mentioned. So I think when those of come to head, Jacoby has made a symbolic stance. He's gone out to the tune of see visited the islands gone onto ability ship a symbolic declaration. He's going to defend Indonesia's sovereignty but by in laws you trying to stay away from these. Geopolitical issues to play down the tensions with China said of the economic relationship can keep developing. So it's a really difficult balance and I think there's also a shift that's potentially happening in Indonesia. So the old guard if you like in the Foreign Ministry and the government in the military, they really view above all other things strategic autonomy on non-alignment as being the key for Indonesia. So don't get into any alliances don't get too close to any one power but. There isn't new of God if you like coming through increasing, you think Indonesia needs to be a bit more active about engaging with potentially the US Australia, the Europeans Japanese to try and balance out the region. But for now are really think with Jacoby in the hot seat it's the economy I put the geopolitics aside at the end of the day that's a positive for China, but it's not an open and shut case because the had been long been tensions. Between Indonesia and China. So Jacoby like a lot of other leaders in the region, we'll have to find this delicate balance, but it's getting harder and harder and Huong Vietnam your nation. Let's talk about that. It's been pushing back against Chinese expansion in the South China Sea, which threatens Vietnam oil drilling and fisheries, and of course, it's had an ongoing dispute about water flows in me congresses where China has built dams stream at tell us more about Vietnam position on China. Is Getting nece position on on current China is also a frustrated I. Think at Phnom has gone grew proably among all in countries have had the longest history of interaction with China and most cases where it was trying to defend its own national sovereignty and resist China's expansionist tendencies. So it's been ingrained in Vietnamese National Psyche I would say current us of China Sea conflict to end disputes are only. One of the examples of that, but it is similarly with others opposition countries, which is it's harder and harder to seek more peaceful avenues of dispute because it is a strategy in the South China Sea is among others was to include the direct dialogue with China but that is not really much come to help these days with Chinese expansion expansionist tendencies. Now, you mentioned also on which is very important. Aspect in the relationship. Phnom is at any of the lower mccown and China, is a deal a top of the upper and it's projects of a building dams and not only in China, but a call goes invest in dance in now Cambodia Yaman and Thailand that blocks blocks the water flow blocks were flow of the river, which is very important for agricultural conditions in. Asia and it is called the bowl of rice for the region and the countries. Of course, they export rise agricultural produce and also Crohn's fish and stuff like that. So we've China's interference into ecological nature of the river that can potentially add cost a lot of income for the countries, but also with a backup climate change that can pose a certain at time. Security threat to the food safety and food security of the region. So it is quite a leverage that China can have on the lower countries including at Phnom follow question to Ben Bland. Given what you said earlier about the relatively nuanced in measured response of south. East. Asia towards the United. States if you like trying to ride two horses simultaneously. What happens if China's rise continues on, abide it and seeks to dominate the region and America as the acting regional hegemony on goes to great lengths to stop China from dominating is where do you think? Will be of Southeast Asia then it's it's really hard to say how things go election coming up in the US very soon, I think that could have a big impact on how how things go in the. Trump and pretty anti-china. There's really a difference in degree rather than just shooting Washington goes to great lengths to stop China what they. In, that scenario. All I think I think we're probably not GONNA get to a situation where South East Asian countries have to choose one side of such. But what they will have to do is face an increasing number of difficult small choices about what technology they use in their mobile networks about what military exercises that willing to do about what investment projects say yes or no To so life will get tougher and tougher for the region, but I don't think at the end of the day. Any of the countries will be willing to join an alliance either with the US or with China. So they're going to keep trying to find the space in the gaps in between to try and exploit competition for the best interest if you're looking at. The longer term picture I think there's ways the big affair of the US just turning back inwards and the ultimately that the trump presidency. The rise of trump is probably a symptom of the issues in the US which are gonNA lead to a turning inwards and maturing of the US as a power being less influential pretension in Asia and the rest of the world. So, it may not be a question of China in the US coming to a head but the US rhetoric increasing the US pretend you withdrawing from the region