Southeast Asia is a completely unique region with its own history, stretching between India and China. Southeast Asian countries are pursuing a much more active policy than before to accelerate the traditional balancing act and gain support from third parties, including Japan, the European Union (EU), India and Russia. They now want to become a geopolitical subject that plays an active role in overcoming regional issues instead of being the object of United States (USA)-China relations. Indeed, as a reflection of this, holding the G20 Summit in Indonesia is an extremely critical development.
In this context, Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM) brings to your attention the views of Prof. Dr. Dmitry Mosyakov who is the Head of Southeast Asia, Australia and Oceania Center at Moscow Humanities University.
- Can Southeast Asia be described as a geopolitical battleground? Is the USA one of the global actors in this region? Or is China more effective?
First of all, Southeast Asia is an important political center of the new world order. Therefore, it is necessary to monitor the area closely. Undoubtedly, the rivalry between the USA and China affects the orientations of the countries in the region. But the problem here is that China perceives Southeast Asia to be its region. As “Rising China,” China now aims to infiltrate the region where it has lost a lot of influence due to its past weaknesses. In a sense, Beijing aims to return the region to its former owner. But Southeast Asian countries have never seen themselves as China’s lost territory. Already in the pre-colonial period, relations were quite complex. But these countries were never under the control of China. For example, the Vietnamese and Myanmar have successfully resisted the Chinese invasions. Therefore, China’s policy is perceived by the regional states as an expansionism that could threaten their sovereignty.
In such an atmosphere, it is normal for the countries of the region to seek a balance against China. The USA also performs this function. However, Southeast Asian countries are not in a line that fully trusts Washington while developing their cooperation with the USA. Because these states want to protect their independence. Therefore, Southeast Asian countries develop close relations with states that operate economically in the region such as India, Australia, Japan and Russia. Thus, they believe they can maintain their sovereignty and independence. In other words, there are states that try to establish a balance by developing close relations with more than one actor in the region. This means developing pragmatic relations with all actors.
- Is the same sensitivity valid for some Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia?
It would not be right to talk about Indonesia’s global goals in the current conditions. Because Indonesia is still a developing country and has important economic problems to overcome. As a matter of fact, it is seen that Indonesian elites have taken an undecided position regarding the political conflicts in the region. On the one hand, while the country’s elites drew attention to the importance of ASEAN; on the other hand, the limitations that ASEAN will impose and has imposed are emphasized.
At this point, it should be noted that Indonesia has two ways to consolidate its place in the modern world. The first is to strengthen the country’s role in ASEAN. The second way is to develop a separate strategy from ASEAN and withdraw from the organization to produce an independent policy. However, the possibility that the second option will undermine the political stability of Southeast Asia cannot be ignored.
- Do you see the risk of a hot war in East and Southeast Asia?
The US-Chinese conflict and rivalry in East and Southeast Asia could trigger a full-scale war, which could push the world into a much more dangerous spot. Currently, the United States intends to deploy modern missiles in the region. Indeed, the US Indo-Pacific Command plans to deploy short and medium-range land-based precision missiles without nuclear warheads in Taiwan, the Philippines and the Japanese island of Okinawa. It seems that the Beijing administration is also preparing for war in eastern China and the country is well armed. Of course, these developments increase the risk of war. Even talking about the possibility of war between the two nuclear powers is alarming. Because we know that this can have painful consequences for the whole world.
Prof. Dr. Dmitry Mosyakov
Prof. Dr. Dmitry Valentinovich Mosyakov is the Head of the Center for Southeast Asian, Australian and Oceanic Studies at Moscow University for the Humanities. Mosyakov works on the current problems of East and Southeast Asian countries.