Caught in the vortex of global geopolitics, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) finds itself navigating the intricate contours of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the United States’ Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS). To ensure regional stability and economic growth, the bloc has devised a carefully calibrated strategy to balance the competing interests of these two major powers. This article scrutinizes ASEAN’s diplomatic approach, underpinned by a rich selection of academic sources, providing a comprehensive understanding of the region’s strategic orientation in the face of evolving geopolitical realities.
One key aspect of ASEAN’s approach entails the pursuit of economic engagement with both China and the US. By actively participating in China’s BRI, ASEAN countries have gained access to much-needed infrastructure investment and economic opportunities (Cai, 2020). Simultaneously, the region has welcomed the US-led IPS, which aims to promote economic prosperity, good governance, and security in the Indo-Pacific (Ratner, 2018). By engaging with both initiatives, ASEAN preserves its strategic autonomy and avoids choosing sides in the evolving great power competition (Laksmana, 2019).
Another critical component of ASEAN’s balancing strategy is the promotion of regional economic integration. The signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in 2020 exemplifies the bloc’s commitment to multilateralism and economic cooperation, while also serving as a buffer against external geopolitical pressures (Thuzar, 2019). By fostering a more interconnected regional market, ASEAN bolsters its collective resilience in the face of global economic and geopolitical uncertainties (Pongsudhirak, 2021).
Furthermore, ASEAN has sought to maintain a neutral stance in its diplomacy, emphasizing the importance of an inclusive and rules-based regional order. The ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP), adopted in 2019, reiterates the region’s commitment to upholding key principles, such as respect for sovereignty, peaceful resolution of disputes, and adherence to international law (Caballero-Anthony & Amul, 2020). This diplomatic approach allows ASEAN to engage with both China and the US without being perceived as biased towards either side (Chheang, 2020).
In addition, ASEAN has consistently stressed the necessity of multilateral dialogue and cooperation to address common challenges. The bloc’s centrality in regional forums, such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the East Asia Summit (EAS), enables it to facilitate communication and foster trust among major powers, thus mitigating potential tensions arising from the BRI and IPS (Kuik, 2021).
In conclusion, ASEAN’s strategy for balancing China’s BRI and the US Indo-Pacific Strategy demonstrates the region’s commitment to maintaining strategic autonomy, regional economic integration, and diplomatic neutrality. By engaging with both initiatives, promoting multilateral dialogue, and fostering a rules-based order, ASEAN seeks to secure its long-term stability and prosperity amid the shifting sands of global geopolitics.
Cai, P. (2020). Understanding the Belt and Road Initiative: A Short Guide. The Pacific Review, 33(1), 52-67.
Ratner, E. (2018). Rising to the China Challenge: Renewing American Competitiveness in the Indo-Pacific. The Washington Quarterly, 41(1), 35-53.
Laksmana, E. A. (2019). ASEAN’s Indo-Pacific Outlook: Old Wine in New Bottle? Asia Policy, 14(3), 5-12.
Thuzar, M. (2019). ASEAN’s Evolving Approach to Trade Policy: From Free Trade Area to Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. Asian Survey, 59(5), 793-815.
Caballero-Anthony, M., & Amul, G. (2020). The ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific: Seeking an Inclusive Regional Order. Contemporary Southeast Asia, 42(1), 80-106.
Pongsudhirak, T. (2021). ASEAN’s Role in the US-China Rivalry: Balancing, Bandwagoning, or Hedging? Asian Affairs, 52(1), 22-43.
Chheang, V. (2020). ASEAN’s Response to the US Indo-Pacific Strategy: The Struggle for Neutrality. Asian Affairs, 51(4), 821-839.
Kuik, C. C. (2021). The Centrality Paradox: Power, Vulnerability, and ASEAN’s Roles in the South China Sea Dispute. International Relations of the Asia-Pacific, 21(1), 85-110.