A close look at how Chinese and American rivalries are playing out in Southeast Asia.

Shambaugh, director of the China Policy Program at George Washington University, writes that the nations of Southeast Asia are less pawns than the setting for the great strategic chess game between China and the only nation with the wherewithal to contain Chinese ambitions, the U.S. The U.S. military, particularly its forward-projecting, hard-power Navy, is cause for worry in Chinese strategic circles. As Shambaugh writes, the Malacca Strait at its narrowest point is just 1.5 miles across: “Given their dependence on imported energy supplies, all Asian states—particularly those in Northeast Asia—would be profoundly affected if a blockade or naval conflict shut down this strategic passageway.” It is to America’s advantage that Singapore, even as it has military relations with China, with which it tries to maintain a balanced relationship, clearly favors the U.S: “Both sides gain—and gain a lot,” including a guarantee of protection for Singapore and access to that chokehold for American vessels. Cambodia, writes the author, is virtually a client state of China’s while neighboring Laos must balance the struggle between China and Vietnam. Myanmar, Shambaugh writes, quoting a professor of his, “is so non-aligned that it doesn’t even attend non-aligned conferences,” but even so it receives billions of dollars from China, including $1.4 billion in weapons. Indonesia, conversely, is well supported by American investments and arms deals, though, “owing to its sensitivities as an Islamic nation, the Indonesian government does not like to publicize the relationship.” Though cited as a model leader by the Trump administration—whose “America-First”–ism is jeopardizing American power in the region overall—Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte has canceled a military treaty with the U.S. and, speaking in Beijing, said, “In this venue I announce my separation from the United States—both in military, but in economics too. America has lost.”

An eye-opening survey of a volatile, crucially important region and a must-read for students of geopolitics.

Pub Date: yesterday


Page Count: 352

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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