Why US keeps poking its nose in Southeast Asia?

China Military Online
Li Wei
2021-09-18 18:02:14

By Wu Minwen

Since taking office, the Biden administration has being going all out to advance the “Indo-Pacific Strategy”, even going further down the way than the Trump administration. For the past few months, a slew of senior American politicians, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman, and Vice President Kamala D. Harris, have had close interactions with leaders of Southeast Asian countries either through personal visits or video conferences. The series of moves highlight Washington’s vicious attempt to make waves in Southeast Asia and rally regional countries to join its anti-China chariot.

Generally, Southeast Asia refers to the area between East Asia and South Asia. After the US proposed the “Indo-Pacific Strategy”, its military strategy shifted from counterterrorism back to major-country competition, and Southeast Asian countries gained so much more importance for it that the then US President Donald Trump (January 2017–January 2021 in office) tried to rope them in through enhanced military cooperation and other means. After Mr. Biden was sworn in as the new president in early 2021, he has repeatedly expressed how much importance he has attaches to the region and set the new Asia-related position in his team in the US jostle for East Aisa economic, military and many other fronts.

America’s mischievous plan for Southeast Asia has two pivots – one is the ideological tool reading the so-called “values of democracy and freedom”. The other is the realistic tool taking advantage of regional conflicts and balance of interests. The ideological tool is more superficial, while the realistic tool is the root cause, which exerts different impacts.

First, America’s external interference by leveraging the ideological tool has ended up in repeated failures. Back in the years when the US took over Southeast Asia and supported the regimes of Ngo Dinh Diem and Nguyen Van Thieu in South Vietnam, it played the ideological card that it must keep the region out of communists’ hands and avoid the Domino effect in favor of communism. After winning the Cold War, the US became the only superpower in the world with the fall of the Soviet Union and was suddenly at a loss of saber-rattling. When famed American political philosopher Francis Fukuyama claimed the “end of history,” Washington decided to militarily engage in Afghanistan with a view to establishing the American-style democracy in a country that was backward in every aspect, either politically, economically, or socially.

Yet its failure in Vietnam many years ago and the failure in Afghanistan today both prove ideological tools to be a white elephant. Washington should listen to George Frost Kennan, who objected to the US joining the Vietnam War. He advised the US not to be obsessed with the word communism and to stop talking about ambiguous and unrealistic goals in the Far East, such as human rights and democracy. Now the US is again using the ideological tool to cause trouble in Southeast Asia, and it is unlikely to end up in any other way.

Second, the realistic tool manipulating the balance of interests brings many uncertainties. China has always implemented a good-neighborly policy toward Southeast Asian countries, which, combined with its rapid economic growth, has benefited those countries immensely. China has been ASEAN’s largest trading partner for 10 years in a row, with close economic cooperation with all regional countries. That is an important reason they don’t want to take sides between the world’s two largest economies despite America’s eager ingratiation. But we need also keep in mind that the US is also an important trading partner and primary source of investment for many Southeast Asian countries, and its growing efforts to woo them have enhanced its influence in the region.

Third, the US-initiated “Indo-Pacific version of NATO” and “security multilateralism in the South China Sea” are taking primary shape. A major difference between the Biden administration and the Trump administration is that the former seeks to contain China through closer relations with its allies. At present, the US is busy deploying advantageous troops, including new combat systems such as UAVs and intelligent systems, to the region. On the other hand, it is piecing together an “Indo-Pacific version of NATO” with out-of-region countries such as Britain, France and Germany, whose military vessels have taken turns in entering the South China Sea this year. These signs all indicate that the so-called US-led “security multilateralism in the South China Sea” is taking primary shape.

However, the result of America’s military interference in Vietnam 46 years ago bears a stunning resemblance to its same operations in Afghanistan today. People compared two photos, one of a helicopter picking up the last batch of diplomats at the “Saigon moment” and hovering above the American embassy in South Vietnam, and the other of a helicopter picking up diplomats above the American embassy in Afghanistan, and one can barely tell them apart. Forty-six years after its debacle in Southeast Asia, the US is now stirring up trouble again in the region, and what awaits it will be no different from 46 years ago.

(The author is from the College of Information and Communication, PLA National University of Defense Technology.)

Editor's note: This article is originally published on news.youth.cn, and is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.


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