U.S. China Containment Policy Is Self-Defeating
In all ten countries in Southeast Asia, China’s overall influence is greater than it was in 2018.
While one could reasonably expect this to negatively affect China’s standing in the region, the opposite is the case. According to a striking and comprehensive new study by the Australian think tank the Lowy Institute, China’s influence in Southeast Asia has soared in the past five years. Not only that, but China’s rising influence has come largely at the expense of the United States, which is seeing its own influence rapidly ebb in one of the most vital arenas of competition between Beijing and Washington.
The only countries in the region where the U.S. enjoys greater overall influence are the Philippines and Singapore, but even here the results are not encouraging. The U.S. leads in the Philippines by just four points and in Singapore by two. The margin in the Philippines five years ago was fourteen points in favor of the U.S. In all ten countries, China’s overall influence is greater than it was in 2018. Even when it comes to influence related to military cooperation, the U.S. has a clear advantage only with its two treaty allies and Singapore, and in Thailand China’s overall score is still higher.
It isn’t really surprising that U.S. influence has been waning. Despite some recent efforts to improve U.S. relations with Southeast Asian nations, since the end of the Cold War the U.S. has often been absent and has paid remarkably little attention to this part of the world. In more recent years, the U.S. has largely checked out as far as economic statecraft is concerned. As Kurlantzick notes, the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework is a poor substitute for a real economic agenda, and it is seen as a bad joke by most governments in the region.