Understanding Key Differences in Chinese and American Engagement with Southeast Asia

Kylie Luu, University of British Columbia; Jonathan Brasnett, University of Ottawa


China and America in Southeast Asia


In recent years, Southeast Asian countries have become more firmly divided along two camps. On the one hand, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand have shown an allegiance to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), while on the other hand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam remain aligned with the United States of America (US). In order to analyze how this geopolitical division will impact progress in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on paramount issues like combatting climate change, addressing poverty and overcoming global health issues like the COVID-19 pandemic, it is necessary to understand the differences between the PRC and the US in terms of their objectives and approaches in Southeast Asia. This paper seeks to distill these broader questions by examining the relations between these two superpowers and the ASEAN member states in three key areas: (1) trade and investment; (2) international assistance; and (3) security cooperation. This study concludes that, whereas American involvement in the region is ideologically driven, Chinese involvement is drive by Beijing’s pursuit of power, which will ultimately hinder progress in key areas of development.

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CCSEAS Conference 2021 |