What Southeast Asia Wants From America

President Biden welcomes leaders of several ASEAN member states to the White House, May 12.


Adam Schultz / White House / Zuma Press

Last week, the Biden administration rolled out the red carpet for the leaders of eight of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. In theory, holding what the White House describes as a “special summit” in Washington is a great idea.

ASEAN members such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand are important to US policy in the Indo-Pacific. Threatened by China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, most ASEAN states welcome Washington’s presence in the region and fear that US foreign policy elites are vulnerable to distraction lacks firm commitment to their area. Holding a summit in Washington is one way to gauge the importance of ASEAN to Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy, especially at a time when the war in Ukraine is dominating politics. Washington.

Unfortunately, the summit highlighted the strategic impasse that challenged US regional diplomacy during the Biden era. This stalemate has prevented the inauguration of a new era of cooperation between the United States and the key leaders of Southeast Asia. There is a fundamental mismatch between what Southeast Asia needs from the US and what, amid the foreign policy debate among Democrats, President Biden can deliver.

Unlike the war in Ukraine, which allows Democrats to unite against a ruler they align with Donald Trump while standing with democratic allies to uphold the basic principles of the law Under international law, America’s strategy in the Indo-Pacific cannot easily be reconciled with the values ​​and priorities of internationalism. Democrats want to promote.

Most ASEAN countries are either non-democracies, like Vietnam, or imperfect and often backward, like the Philippines. For the most part, they are unashamed nationalists and want to preserve and deepen their sovereignty, not ceding power to rules-bound international institutions. They distrust Western values, institutions, or governments, and the legacy of European colonialism and racial arrogance continues to rise.

Russia’s war in Ukraine is not their priority. They see climate change as a secondary and long-term concern. They argue that Western concerns about issues such as labor standards and “green trade standards” are hypocritical slogans intended to support a protectionist agenda. In any case, they believe the low-wage, low-regulation economic model offers the best hope for economic growth, and they don’t want to give it up.

While they are worried about China’s rise and hope to see the US continue to operate in the region as an important counterbalance, their goal is not to align with the US, especially as a members of the Democratic coalition that Biden dreams of. Most of these countries look forward to a long-term and mutually beneficial non-alignment future, balanced between China and the United States, encouraged and concerned by both sides, committed not to do so.

On top of that, many ASEAN governments face problems unrelated to the major global issues driving Democratic foreign policy activists. Trade and travel disruptions related to the Covid pandemic have hit these countries hard. Thailand, where tourism accounted for 20% of GDP as of 2019, has seen tourist arrivals drop by 99%—from 40 million in 2019 to 430,000 in 2021. Now, these countries are looking into a nightmare scenario of rising interest rates and soaring food and fuel prices.

What they want from Washington is simple. They want to build up a large army in the region to counter China. They want a reliable partner in Washington without radical foreign policy shifts from one administration to the next. They want to increase their access to the US market with no strings attached. They want lower interest rates and help manage the coming economic storms. They want to end the human rights wobble, and they don’t want any talk of green energy unless it comes with huge foreign aid commitments that can’t be repaid.

No US president can (or should) give ASEAN leaders everything they want, but the gap between ASEAN’s agenda and the Democratic Party’s conventional ideas of political priorities America’s foreign policy is very broad. Unless it can be bridged, there is little prospect for successful US policy in a key region.

The biggest problem is trade. Trading mistakes while promoting ethics lectures is a surefire strategy for Indo-Pacific failure. When Donald Trump, quickly mentioned by Hillary Clinton, turned his back on the Trans-Pacific Partnership during the 2016 presidential campaign, America’s power and credibility in the region was severely affected. important. Mr. Trump found no direction during his four years in the White House; So far, Mr. Biden has followed in his footsteps. Promoting free trade is the most powerful tool of American diplomacy since the Second World War. If the Biden administration cannot develop a trade agenda that appeals to Southeast Asia, it doesn’t matter how many summits are held in Washington.

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https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-southeast-asia-want-asean-white-house-summit-defense-america-11652731969 What Southeast Asia Wants From America

Alley Einstein

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