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Have we lost ASEAN to China?

11 15 33

At a recent session of the Shangri-La Dialogue Asia security conference in Singapore, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis paraphrased Winston Churchill’s famous quote, telling the audience: “Bear with us. Once we’ve exhausted all possible alternatives, the Americans will do the right thing.”

However, Mattis received a rather cool reception from the Southeast Asians in attendance. In a speech made after the conference, Singapore’s defense minister criticized U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and praised China, saying, “In contrast, China has stepped on the pedal to push ahead with its plans to be a leader for trade in the Asia-Pacific region.” He made absolutely no mention of China’s militarization in the South China Sea.

The Trump administration unilaterally pulled the United States from the TPP, and in trade negotiations demonstrates a strong inclination toward bilateral agreements. This is of growing concern to members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which hold dear the principle of multilateralism. Even more worrisome, however, is the fact that the American commitment to security matters in the Asia-Pacific region has become increasingly dubious.

End of ASEAN’s dual focus?

Until now, most ASEAN countries have relied on China for economic growth and cooperation, and depended on the U.S. for matters of security. Some researchers have even referred to this structure as a “two-layered........

© The Japan Times