Two recent conferences have highlighted US antagonism toward Russia and China. The first was the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations Leaders’ Meeting with the United States, which US President Joe Biden hosted in Washington in May. The second was the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore from June 10-12.
The good news is that ASEAN continues to maintain its neutrality, refusing to follow the United States in condemning Russia or President Vladimir Putin, or in making efforts to keep China out of the region. ASEAN has maintained its neutral position on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, although all its member states want the conflict to end. The association has also maintained its neutrality by saying it is ready to work with both the United States and China, despite US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s criticism of China in his speech in Singapore.
The G7 summit in Germany from June 26-28 also showcased US efforts to target China and Russia, as Biden led other G7 leaders in detailing plans to mobilize $600 billion from funding for the developing world, which is actually aimed at countering the China-led Belt and Road Initiative.
In stark contrast, the High-Level Dialogue on Global Development hosted by China on June 24 called for joint efforts to promote global development and foster a development paradigm that offers benefits for all, balanced coordination, inclusiveness, win-win cooperation and common prosperity. The difference between China’s inclusive efforts to promote global development and the global development approach that divides the G7 could not be more stark.
In a world plagued by economic downturn, record oil prices and supply chain disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, ASEAN neutrality is an anchor of stability.
It is tragic that some American politicians still have the negative world view of “if they win, we lose” and want to contain the rise of China. It is a mystery why they are not pursuing a win-win scenario in bringing the world’s two largest economies to work together to overcome global challenges and drive global economic recovery.
The United States will fail if it continues to counter China, because most ASEAN member states want to expand economic exchanges and deepen cooperation with China, the most important neighbor and traditional trading partner.
US attempts to persuade ASEAN members to take a tougher stance and join its trade sanctions against Russia will also fail, as the Russian energy giant enjoys good relations with most Southeast Asian countries and they prefer dialogue and diplomacy to resolve disputes and believe in the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.
Another factor reinforcing ASEAN’s neutrality is the sluggish US economy, which could slide into recession, and its inability to respond appropriately to the pandemic leading to social unrest, which has made it even more difficult for it to keep its promises to other countries.
The fact is that the United States now has a limited ability to deliver on its promises, due to its own domestic political and economic issues and the upcoming midterm elections in November. In fact, the May 3 New York Times asked, “Will President Biden spend the next two years pushing his agenda in a deeply divided Washington where Democrats still hold at least one house of Congress, or will he face a tsunami of investigations – and even impeachment – by a hostile right-wing dominated Congress?”
A recent report by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies even said that many ASEAN member states have expressed concern that the Indo-Pacific economic framework for prosperity proposed by the United States is primarily a political enterprise aimed at countering China, rather than a sincere and thoughtful initiative to integrate economic policies.
This perception of an anti-China bias has had a chilling effect on some South and Southeast Asian countries that would otherwise have participated in the initiative, as they wish to deepen economic relations with China and the United States.
On the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the executive director of the International Peace Bureau, Reiner Braun, called for an immediate ceasefire on Italy’s proposals. Braun also opposed NATO expansion in Asia in his June 7 speech at the Pandesal Forum in Quezon City, Philippines. The BIP received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1910 for its advocacy against war and for the promotion of disarmament, demilitarization and denuclearization, and 11 Nobel Peace Prize laureates have been associated with the BIP.
Braun said NATO efforts to weaken Russia or contain China are dangerous and threaten peace.
On the importance of ASEAN’s neutrality, Singaporean diplomat and intellectual Kishore Mahbubani said: “Whenever the second world power (China) is about to overtake the first world power (the United States) , relations inevitably become difficult… US officials may be tempted to enlist all or part of ASEAN in its campaign to embarrass China. This would be a huge strategic mistake. It will not deter China, but the ASEAN could suffer serious damage.
Mahbubani also said: “In any case, the odds are against the United States. While America is a much stronger power than China, it is also perceived to be in decline, while China is perceived as being on the rise. Also, geography matters. All of China’s neighbors know that the United States could be in Asia for another hundred years. However, they know that China will be here for another thousand years. It would be therefore unwise for an Asian country to seriously alienate China… ASEAN’s neutrality is one of its greatest assets.”
In addition, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on May 20 that it is better for Asia’s security arrangements to remain as they are, rather than having countries split into blocs or forming an Asian equivalent. of NATO.
I agree with Braun, Mahbubani and Lee that ASEAN has a better future by maintaining neutrality, being a zone of peace, stability and robust trade without nuclear weapons.
The author is a moderator at the Pandesal Forum, a columnist at the Philippine Star and an economic and political analyst.
Opinions do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.