Nov 10, 2012

USA - ASEAN caught between feuding parents

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As the dust settles on the election in the United States and the shadowy leadership transition in China concludes, the ASEAN now finds itself in a rather enviable position.

Much like a child being caught betwixt two feuding parents, countries in South East Asia find themselves caught between two powers trying to out-do one another.

Both China and the US have placed an emphasis on the region, especially during the past few years and this is a trend that looks likely to continue. All the ASEAN has to do is sit back and collect the spoils as Mum and Dad try to win the affection of their newfound favorite kid.

The timing could not be more perfect for countries in South East Asia. Europe has become the burdensome child in its 30s who refuses to get a job or move out of his or her parents’ house. Meanwhile Africa and South America are still too young for their respective opinions to matter and the Middle East and Russia are outsiders who are too volatile to be taken seriously.

In the global household, the ASEAN is the golden child whom China and the US wish the others would be more like. Sure, the region is far from perfect but those minor hiccups (i.e. territorial disputes or democratic injustices), much like the odd bad mark on a test can be forgotten.

However, it is vitally important for each and every country to play this as coyly as possible. There is no reason for any government in the bloc to brazenly choose sides. They can keep playing Mum and Dad against each other for the next four years and beyond.

Washington has tried to limit China’s geopolitical influence by trying to bring the region under its wing while Beijing, obviously not wanting a meddlesome American influence, have continued to strengthen their bond to the region.

It is hard seeing this trend ending anytime soon. Obama’s rhetoric on China has been tough and the increase in the US military presence throughout the Pacific Rim leads observers to believe this stalemate will continue for the foreseeable future.

China too has been flexing its military muscles in recent times hoping for a chance to show the world its might. Those expecting a fight in the pacific, however, better not hold their breath.

Much like two fighting parents, China and the US realise they need each other to be successful even if they do not want to admit it. Both nations find themselves in precarious economic situations and are currently dependent on the other.

If one were to fall off the proverbial cliff chances are the other one would too and the rest of the world would follow suit. It is a scenario nobody wishes to see.

The only real difference between fighting parents and the China/US relationship is parents usually patch things up after a day or two and the so-called superpowers are unlikely to kiss and makeup anytime soon.

This is good news for the ASEAN as gifts and attention will keep coming its way and allowing for development to continue. As senseless as the bickering between China and the US is, it just may be the thing that keeps South East Asia relevant on the global stage for years to come.

Cheyenne Hollis

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