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1 strategic asia asia responds to its rising powers China and India Edited by Ashley J. Tellis, Travis Tanner, and Jessica Keough Southeast Asia The Rise of China and India: Challenging or Reinforcing Southeast Asia s Autonomy? Carlyle A. Thayer restrictions on use: This PDF is provided for the use of authorized recipients only. For specific terms of use, please contact To purchase the print volume Strategic Asia : Asia Responds to Its Rising Powers China and India, in which this chapter appears, please visit <http://www.nbr.org> or contact 2011 The National Bureau of Asian Research

2 executive summary This chapter presents a comparative analysis of the impact of China s and India s rise on Southeast Asian regional autonomy and considers implications for the U.S. main argument: Southeast Asian states seek to advance their national interests through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in order to promote regional autonomy and ASEAN s centrality in the region s security architecture. While welcoming the rise of the region s two large neighbors, especially for the economic opportunities they offer, ASEAN states are also concerned with preserving regional autonomy. They seek an equilibrium in external relations based on engagement with China and India, the enmeshment of both rising powers in ASEAN-centric multilateral institutions, and the continuance of U.S. presence in the region. Although Southeast Asian states favor U.S. regional involvement, they do not want to be forced to choose between external powers. policy implications: Regional states are concerned that a power shift in China s favor is underway. The U.S. should continually demonstrate that it retains sufficient military power to deter Chinese assertiveness. As East Asia grows in economic strength, the U.S. must redouble its efforts to remain an attractive market and source of technological innovation. Southeast Asian states have become more proactive in promoting ASEAN s centrality in the region s security architecture. The U.S. would benefit from putting more diplomatic effort into consulting and coordinating with regional states in advance of ASEAN-related summits and ministerial meetings. India has ambitions to become a global power. The U.S. should support a greater, independent Indian role in Southeast Asian security affairs.

3 Southeast Asia The Rise of China and India: Challenging or Reinforcing Southeast Asia s Autonomy? Carlyle A. Thayer This chapter presents an analysis of the rise of China and India and its implications for Southeast Asia, as well as for U.S. interests in the region. Southeast Asian states welcome China s rise because of the economic opportunities it offers, while they look to India as a source of technology and a market for goods and investment. But they are also concerned with preserving regional autonomy in their relations with the major powers and seek an equilibrium based on continuing U.S. engagement, the enmeshment of China in multilateral institutions, and an enhanced role for India in the region s security architecture. In particular, China s rise poses a challenge to the United States long-standing primacy in Southeast Asia. Tensions in U.S.- China relations thus have a considerable impact on the region, particularly in the maritime domain. Although each Southeast Asian state has developed its own set of bilateral relations with these major powers, individual states prefer not to choose between China and the United States, instead favoring a united approach through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Member states therefore promote ASEAN s centrality in the region s security architecture to enhance regional autonomy and minimize major power interference. The rise of China and India as major economies has resulted in the heightened salience of the maritime domain, particularly the sea lines of communication (SLOC) that traverse the northern Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Since the 1990s, India has pursued a look east policy designed to promote economic linkages. As a result, the boundaries between South Carlyle A. Thayer is Emeritus Professor at the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra. He can be reached at

4 314 Strategic Asia and Southeast Asia are becoming blurred. India can no longer be viewed as merely a subcontinental power; instead, it is an emerging power with strategic interests in the security of Southeast Asia. This chapter is divided into six sections. The first section assesses the impact of the rise of China and India on Southeast Asia s strategic interests. These interests are defined as national resilience (promoted through policies of comprehensive security) and regional resilience (promoted through the assertion of regional autonomy and ASEAN norms). China s rise poses challenges to the contemporary regional security order as well as to Southeast Asia s economic development. In response to these challenges, ASEAN has encouraged the United States to remain engaged in the region while viewing India as adding ballast that is, geostrategic weight to relations with China. ASEAN seeks to moderate great-power rivalry by enmeshing the major powers in ASEAN-centric multilateral institutions such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus), and East Asia Summit (EAS). Section two canvasses the key forms of China s and India s interactions with Southeast Asia across six dimensions: historical, geostrategic, economic, cultural, military, and nonproliferation. The third section considers Southeast Asia s changing perceptions of China s and India s rise. During the Cold War, China was viewed as a threat and India was viewed as a Soviet surrogate. As a result of domestic economic reforms, however, first in China and then in India, both are now viewed as major economic partners and contributors to regional security. Section four then discusses the main strategies pursued by ASEAN in its relations with both countries: economic interdependence, socialization into ASEAN norms, and soft-balancing. Section five assesses the impact of relations among China, India, and Southeast Asia on the United States and its interests. Whereas China s military modernization challenges U.S. naval supremacy in the Western Pacific, India and the United States have developed a nascent strategic partnership that remains a work in progress. Southeast Asian states have sought reassurance that the United States will remain engaged in the region, while also encouraging India to play a greater role in the region s multilateral institutions. Last, section six analyzes four key Southeast Asian states bilateral relations with China and India. These states are grouped into three categories: continental (Myanmar and Thailand), littoral (Vietnam), and maritime (Indonesia). The continental states have attempted to engage both China and India as economic and security partners. Vietnam, as a littoral state, has developed a complex strategy of cooperating and struggling with China to

5 Thayer Southeast Asia 315 protect its national interests. Indonesia has also developed a dual-track policy of engaging both China and India on economics and security matters, but it cooperates more with India on maritime security issues. The Impact of the Rise of China and India on Southeast Asia s Strategic Interests With a total population of nearly 600 million and a combined economy of $1.5 trillion in 2008, Southeast Asia is the United States third-largest Asian trading partner after China and Japan (and the fifth-largest partner overall). It is also the largest destination for U.S. investment in Asia. 1 Of all the regions in Asia, Southeast Asia has developed the strongest sense of regional identity and the most enduring multilateral institution, ASEAN. Strategic analysts often divide Southeast Asia into two subregions the mainland or continental states and the maritime states bisected by important shipping routes that extend from the Persian Gulf through the Straits of Malacca and Singapore to the Western Pacific. The economic rise of China and India has altered this geostrategic framework by heightening the importance of the maritime domain, particularly the South China Sea. Southeast Asian states thus may be grouped into three categories: mainland (Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia), littoral (Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam), and maritime (Singapore and Indonesia). During the past six and a half decades, Southeast Asia has been vitally dependent on U.S. leadership for maintaining regional stability and security. In 1967, five key Southeast Asian states joined together and founded ASEAN. All were anti-communist in orientation and either formally allied with or inclined toward the United States. 2 ASEAN has managed relations with the major powers by promoting both the regional autonomy of Southeast Asia and the centrality of ASEAN in Southeast Asia s security architecture. In 1971, for example, ASEAN states declared that Southeast Asia was a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN), and in 1976 they adopted the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) that enjoined member states from using force or the threat of force against each other. Likewise, in 1995 ASEAN states adopted a treaty declaring Southeast Asia a nuclear weapon free zone. ASEAN further asserted regional autonomy by expanding its membership to include Brunei in 1984, socialist Vietnam in 1995, Laos and Myanmar in 1997, and Cambodia in In 2003, ASEAN 1 See ASEAN Matters for America, East-West Center and Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. This interactive database may be accessed at 2 The five states that founded ASEAN are Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.

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