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Southeast Asia’s Strategic Landscape
Abstract

Abstract:

For thirty-five years following the end of the Vietnam War, U.S. security planners treated Southeast Asia as a region of little concern. However, the rapid growth of Chinese power and strategic ambition beginning in the 1980s has had a southern, not northern, focus. China has seen Southeast Asia as attractive and vulnerable for a host of reasons and has pursued a skilled diplomatic campaign presenting itself to Southeast Asia as an economic partner and benign neighbor. But a modern iteration of a traditional Middle Kingdom vision potentially pits China’s ambitions against key interests of Southeast states as well as an established U.S. security presence.

Abstract:

For thirty-five years following the end of the Vietnam War, U.S. security planners treated Southeast Asia as a region of little concern. It was seen as a region of largely commercial interest reflecting the dramatic growth of Asian economies in the late twentieth century. The closure of American military bases in the Philippines reinforced a tendency to see Asian security issues as limited to northeast Asia and Taiwan. However, the rapid growth of Chinese power and strategic ambition beginning in the 1980s has had a southern, not northern, focus. China has seen Southeast Asia as attractive and vulnerable for a host of reasons and has pursued a skilled diplomatic campaign of presenting itself to Southeast Asia as an economic partner and benign neighbor. A modern iteration of a traditional Middle Kingdom vision potentially pits China’s ambitions against key interests of Southeast states as well as an established U.S. security presence. This tension became increasingly evident with regard to the South China Sea following a July 2010 ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Hanoi. Secretary Clinton’s statement there and President Obama’s subsequent visit to the region signaled a dramatic refocus of U.S. strategic attention.



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