Although China is exerting pressure on the nations in Southeast Asia to side with it in the growing global struggle with the United States, most of them want to avoid having to choose, preferring to maintain strong economic ties with both while seeking close security relations with America, a panel of Asian experts said Nov. 19.
But the lack of a strong and steady military presence in the region, partly due to a shortage of Navy ships, and inconsistent demonstration of interest from Washington have caused some Southeast Asian countries to question U.S. staying power, the four think tank scholars and former government officials told a Hudson Institute forum.
Some of the panel members argued that America weakened its influence in the region when President Donald Trump decided to abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which allowed China to take the lead in forming a version of the trade agreement that excludes America from the economically growing region.
The experts also expressed concern that fear of antagonizing their powerful and aggressive regional neighbor has prevented the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) from reaching unified positions on regional issues, allowing China to seek to influence them individually, which is its preferred tactic. The ambivalence also threatens the viability of the association itself, they said.
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