David Shambaugh is the Gaston Sigur Professor of Asian Studies, Political Science & International Affairs, and the
director of the China Policy Program at the Elliott School of International Affairs. He is also a senior visiting fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, and is currently working on a book about the United States and China in Southeast Asia
The US gives more to Asean than China does. Asean just needs to know it
By: David Shambaugh
This excerpt is from an article originally published by the South China Morning Post, on August 7, 2018. Access the entire original publication here.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent diplomatic tour through Southeast Asia visiting Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore – was a useful opportunity to begin resetting the regional narrative about America’s roles in the region. Unfortunately, Pompeo’s “parachute diplomacy” through three of the 10 Asean states is likely only to further fuel the entrenched perception of the United States as an episodic actor that has no real strategy for the important region.
Meanwhile, regional media and governments lavish attention on China – and most Asean states have drawn increasingly close to China over the past two years. The exceptions are Vietnam – which casts a wary eye towards its northern neighbour while still engaging it – and Malaysia since Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad returned to office and began to freeze multiple Belt and Road Initiative projects. Yet, despite the review and likely renegotiations (which Mahathir will discuss with Chinese leaders in Beijing in mid-August), Malaysia is unlikely to alter its long-standing close relationship with China.
Despite the region-wide gravitation towards China, and the pervasive pro-Beijing regional narrative, the empirical reality is that the US offers the region more than does China. The US maintains a comprehensive and robust presence throughout Southeast Asia. But most Southeast Asian governments are reluctant to recognize or publicise the US presence or contributions to regional security, stability and growth.
The US presence has deep roots, dating back to the post-second world war period, which have grown dramatically since the 1980s, covering commerce, security, education and diplomacy, among other domains. America’s strengths lie in both hard and soft power, and the US economic footprint is both broad and deep.