South-East, a model for managing tensions


The region has rapid growth and expanding economy suggest that the region can become a model for managing competition between major powers

"South-East Asia is far from a monolith: its countries have different foreign policies and objectives, some of them at odds with each other. But the region's rapid growth and expanding economy suggest that its countries will become more powerful over time and, with them, probably more able to avoid external interference. South-East Asia may have been defined in the past by conflict between great powers, but today it may become a model for managing competition between great powers'. Thus judges an analysis by Huong Le Thu, published in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs. South-East Asia has worked hard to maintain and expand diplomatic and security stability. In addition to the ASEAN-led multilateral security architecture, the region has established many plurilateral and bilateral agreements with third states. These are ad hoc groups, such as the joint patrolling of the Mekong River by China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. According to Foreign Affairs, as geopolitical tensions rise, the already large number of these partnerships is set to increase. These complex and often overlapping agreements are central to Southeast Asia's efforts to engage with all, but without making exclusive commitments to any. Southeast Asian states are also becoming more active in groups that include participants from outside their neighbourhood. Last year, for example, Cambodia hosted the high-profile East Asia Summit, Thailand held the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, and Indonesia chaired the G20. Individually, Huong points out, some South East Asian governments have learnt that competition between the US and China has advantages. The clash between Beijing and Washington may scare politicians in the region, but it has led both governments to try to win the hearts and minds of non-aligned countries. This has helped South East Asian countries, home to young populations and cheap labour, reap all kinds of economic benefits. Vietnam, says Foreign Affairs, has benefited enormously from the US breakaway from China, as American companies have moved production to Vietnamese factories. Indonesia has also received an investment boost from US companies, including Amazon, Microsoft and Tesla. The region is also becoming increasingly critical for global supply chains. And it may point the way forward for continued prosperity.

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