The growing Chinese and US presence near the South China Sea raises concerns in the minds of the ASEAN countries as it might be signaling a potential conflict in the region
Southeast Asia is increasingly becoming a theatre of great power competition between the United States (US) and China because of its location in the broader Indo-Pacific region. Some scholars are of the opinion that “Southeast Asia looms large as a testing ground for China’s development as a great power and as a gateway for its global expansion in the future.”
On the one hand, China is still handing out economic benefits as a part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and working with Southeast Asian countries in concluding a Code of Conduct (COC) to help calm the situation in the South China Sea. On the other hand, it is still employing assertive actions in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, with the most recent case being the accusation by the Philippines that a Chinese Coast Guard was firing water cannons at a Filipino vessel heading for the Second Thomas Shoal, which was carrying food, water, fuel, and other supplies for Filipino military personnel stationed at the shoal.
China is still handing out economic benefits as a part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and working with Southeast Asian countries in concluding a Code of Conduct (COC) to help calm the situation in the South China Sea.
The US is trying to rebuild its ties with its allies in the region like the Philippines to regain its influence as a response to China’s growing footprints in this region. The recent polls conducted by think tanks like the Lowy Institute and the ISEAS Yusof-Ishak Institute in Singapore shows that, “China’s rising influence has come largely at the expense of the United States, which is seeing its own influence rapidly ebb in one of the most vital arenas of competition between Beijing and Washington.”
This great power competition has put Southeast Asian countries in a tough spot. While the collective response is that these countries do not want to be in a position where they would need to choose sides, each individual country’s response is not the same across the board and varies depending on their national interests, threat perceptions, economic opportunities, geographic proximity, and other factors. This piece will bring out some recent cases, which clearly highlight that the US-China competition is only intensifying in this region, the responses of Southeast Asian countries, and what are the concerns of the ASEAN as a regional bloc.