ASEAN Neutrality: A Strategic Windfall For China

asean

China will likely receive a strategic windfall over the next decade as each of the member countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) increasingly embrace neutrality along the lines of Finland, Sweden or Switzerland— an unintended consequence of Washington’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade initiative. From the perspective of the ASEAN countries (the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam), this U.S. economic disengagement from Asia is a leading indicator of a shift in American grand strategy away from an expansive, multi-faceted approach involving economic, political and military dimensions to one that is more narrowly focused on a military security strategy aimed at establishing a virtually impregnable defensive line (in a conventional military sense) in the Western Pacific running from Japan through Guam to Australia. Beijing’s challenge will be how to take advantage of this window of opportunity to consolidate peacefully its embryonic 21st-century version of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Far from being a threat, the current incarnation of “America First” may well be a boon to Beijing.

Strategic Importance of ASEAN Neutrality

A key element of the Middle Kingdom’s grand strategy is to foster the neutrality of southeast Asian states in the event of serious conflict between Beijing and Washington. Ultimately, ASEAN neutrality means that no member country would host military facilities for the regular use of outside powers. From Beijing’s national security viewpoint, southeast Asia is critical for two reasons. First, many of the countries—most importantly the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia—have overlapping and competing maritime claims in the South China Sea that could significantly impede China’s efforts to establish a maritime cordon sanitaire beyond the customary 12-nautical-mile line along its eastern seaboard. Second, the countries sharing common land borders with China (Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam) serve as a buffer protecting China’s vulnerable southeastern underbelly…

Read more : Forbes, 24.02.2017