Hedging, Over Commitment, and the Escalating Risk of Conflict in Southeast Asia
The U.S.-China rivalry is turning Southeast Asia into a major potential flashpoint.
Date: October 16, 2020
By: Hunter Marston and Thomas Bruce
The amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1), center, maneuvers alongside the Philippine navy landing platform dock ship BRP Tarlac (LD 601) and offshore patrol vessel BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PS 16) in support of Exercise Balikatan 2019 in the South China Sea, April 5, 2019.
Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Barker
Throughout U.S. President Donald Trump’s four years in office, the risk of war in Asia has been alarmingly high. From nuclear brinkmanship with North Korea, to ongoing disputes over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, to escalating Chinese threats to Taiwan’s security, there are numerous potential flashpoints in Northeast Asia that will demand the next administration’s resources and attention – all amid the overarching great power competition with China.
While these threats remain pressing, the next administration would be wise to shift its attention to Southeast Asia, which has emerged as the epicenter of U.S.-China rivalry and more likely site for superpower conflict. Although the potential for smaller powers to kick off a localized conflict should not be ruled out, the real danger stems from the likelihood of the United States and China overreaching by misreading ambiguous alignment of smaller powers in Southeast Asia as they compete for influence and allies. [FULL STORY]