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This essay examines the changing relationship between the U.S. and China, the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on both their relationship and each country's external influence, and the implications for Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia.
main argumentThe tension between the U.S. and China had already begun to rise before the Covid-19 pandemic, as China has been challenging U.S. global leadership for some time. But the pandemic has worsened this rivalry by reducing trust between the two powers. The U.S. has blamed China for what it sees as Beijing's mishandling of the pandemic's outbreak, and the new Biden administration is likely to maintain a hostile policy. China, on the other hand, will keep deflecting such accusations because accepting the blame will set back its ambition to be global leader and undermine the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party domestically. The pandemic has already cost China dearly, as states now see the country as less trustworthy. The post-Covid-19 world will be one that is far more dangerous and conflict-prone due to this lack of trust between great powers and between states in general. The adverse impacts will be strongly felt by Southeast Asia, and especially Indonesia, whose leadership in ASEAN could be eroded.
With rising tension between the U.S. and China, both countries will try to pull Southeast Asian states into their orbits.
In the case of China, its ham-fisted policies in the South China Sea will prevent the country from rallying Southeast Asian states fully to its side.
Given the strategic importance of Southeast Asia in the Sino-U.S. rivalry, the U.S. needs to prioritize rebuilding its relationships with regional states that were neglected by the Trump administration.
Indonesia has a difficult role to play in balancing the interests of both the U.S. and China while maintaining its informal leadership of ASEAN. Therefore, it needs to leverage its position within ASEAN to craft a common policy to achieve its national foreign policy objectives, notably maintaining regional stability, especially in the South China Sea.