This essay offers a small state perspective on US-China rivalry in the post-COVID-19 era. After tracing the emergence of the “twin chessboards” of big power rivalry, namely, high and low politics competitions, the essay assesses the impact of these competitions on the post-pandemic Asian order, with a focus on Southeast Asia. I argue that while US-China competition has been rising rapidly in high politics (that is, in the military field), the increasing importance of low politics—infrastructure and connectivity development, technology, trade, finance, public health, and other functional areas—is shaping the prospects, pace, and patterns of the onset of Cold War 2.0. The intensified US-China animosity across the twin chessboards is widening the scope of the competition, increasing the number of players, and mounting pressure on all smaller states. Arguably, however, it is also providing these smaller states with more maneuvering space. These developments reshape geostrategic supply and demand in Southeast Asia. Accordingly, the smaller states are developing additional layers of partnerships with actors near and far, thereby broadening their hedging options in an increasingly uncertain and high-stake environment.
big power politics, US-China relations, Southeast Asia, smaller states, high politics, low politics, geostrategic supply and demand, hedging.