Hedging in International Relations

Hedging is a widely-used but under-theorized concept in the study of International Relations. This project aims to explain how, when, and why weaker states hedge, with particular reference to Southeast Asian states’ alignment behavior vis-à-vis the major powers. Hedging is defined here as insurance-seeking behavior, with three attributes: (a) not taking sides; (b) pursuing opposite, mutually-counteracting measures to offset multiple risks; and (c) diversifying and cultivating a fallback position. By this definition, the majority of non-big powers in the Indo-Pacific region are hedgers, although they hedge in different forms, to different degrees, and for different reasons. Adopting a two-level model, I argue that hedging behavior is rooted in both structural and domestic factors. While power uncertainties at the structural level motivate states to hedge, it is domestic political factors that explain why states hedge and why different states hedge differently. Specifically, it is the ruling elites’ pathways of legitimation that explain why some smaller states opt to hedge more heavily than others.

Kuik Cheng-Chwee’s Publications and Presentations on
“Hedging” in International Politics, 2008-2023



Malaysian Conceptions of International Order: Paradoxes of Small-State Pragmatism”, International Affairs 99 (4), pp. 1477-1497.

Navigating the Narratives of Indo-Pacific: ‘Rules’, ‘Like-mindedness’, and ‘Derisking’ in the Eyes of Southeast Asia”, Georgetown Journal of Asian Affairs 9 (August),pp. 51-56.

Binary Trap Threatens ASEAN’s Hedging Role,” East Asia Forum, 1 August.

(with Matt Ferchen) “EU-ASEAN Trade, Investment, and Connectivity Cooperation”, in Lizza Bomassi, ed., Reimagining EU-ASEAN Relations: Challenges and Opportunities (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace).

Southeast Asia Hedges Between Feasibility and Desirability”, East Asia Forum, 4 July.

(with Yew Meng Lai). “Deference and Defiance in Malaysia’s China Policy: Determinants of a Dualistic Diplomacy”, International Journal of Asian Studies (Cambridge University Press).

(with Fikry Abd Rahman). “ASEAN’s Dialogue Mechanisms: Institutionalizing ASEAN Centrality”, in Jörn Dosch and Frederick Kliem, eds., The Elgar Companion to ASEAN (Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar), pp. 177-195


Shades of Grey: Riskification and Hedging in the Indo-Pacific”, The Pacific Review, Vol. 35 (2022).

(w. Chen-Dong Tso) “Hedging in Non-Traditional Security: The Case of Vietnam’s Disaster Response Cooperation”, Chinese Journal of International Politics (2022).

Southeast Asian States and ASEAN: A Center of Courtships and Cooperation”, in David Shambaugh, ed., The International Relations of Asia, 3rd edition (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2022), pp. 189-227.

(w. Abdul Razak Ahmad) “Southeast Asia-U.S. Relations in the Indo-Pacific Era: Navigating Promises and Pitfalls across the Twin Chessboards”, in Gilbert Rozman, ed., Joint U.S.-Korea Academic Studies 2022, Vol. 33 (Washington, DC: Korea Economic Institute of America, 2022), pp. 49-70.

(w. Paul Evans) “ASEAN and Ukraine: Non-Alignment via Multi-Alignment”, TI Observer, Vol. 21 (July 2022), pp. 23-29.

(w. Abdul Razak Ahmad and Ayman Rashdan Wong) “Malaysia and Northeast Asia: What Drives Small-State Forward Diplomacy”, Issues and Studies, Vol. 58, No. 3 (2022).

(w. Thomas Daniel) “Malaysia’s Relations with the United States and China: Asymmetries (and Anxieties) Amplified”, Southeast Asian Affairs 2022, pp. 211-231.

Locating Host-Country Agency and Hedging in Infrastructure Cooperation, in Seth Schindler and Jessica DiCarlo, eds., The Rise of the Infrastructure State: How US-China Rivalry Shapes Politics and Place Worldwide (Bristol: Bristol University Press, 2022), pp. 194-210.


Getting Hedging Right: A Small State Perspective”, China International Strategy Review, Vol. 3 (November), pp. 300–315.

(with Abdul Razak Ahmad) “Malaysia’s Resilient (but Ambiguous) Partnership with the United States”, Asia Policy, Vol. 16, No. 4 (October), pp. 86-95.

Irresistible Inducement? Assessing China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Southeast Asia”, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)’s Asia-Unbound (June 15).

(With Lai Yew Meng) “Structural Sources of Malaysia’s South China Sea Policy: Power Uncertainties and Small-State Hedging”, Australian Journal of International Affairs, DOI:10.1080/10357718.2020.1856329

The Twin Chessboards of US-China Rivalry: Impact on Geostrategic Supply and Demand in Post-Pandemic Asia”, Asian Perspective, Vol. 45, No. 1, pp. 157-176.


Hedging in Post-Pandemic Asia: What, How, and Why?” The Asan Forum: An Online Journal (June 6).

Mapping Malaysia in the Evolving Indo-Pacific Construct, CSCAP Regional Security Outlook 2020 (Canberra: Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific).


Keeping the Balance: Power Transitions Threaten ASEAN’s Hedging Role”, East Asia Forum Quarterly, Vol. 10, No. 1 (January-March), pp. 22-23.

Opening a Strategic Pandora’s Jar? US-China Uncertainties and the Three Wandering Genies in Southeast Asia”, The Asan Forum: An Online Journal (July 2).



How Do Weaker States Hedge? Unpacking ASEAN States’ Alignment Behavior towards China,” Journal of Contemporary China, Vol. 25, No. 100, pp. 500-514.

Malaysia between the United States and China: What do Weaker States Hedge Against?Asian Politics and Policy, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 155-177.

(With Ithrana Lawrence) “A View from Malaysia: Duterte’s and Najib’s China Visits and the Future of Small-State ‘Realignment’ in the Trump Era,” The Asan Forum: An Online Journal (December 14).


Malaysia’s Balancing Act”, New York Times (December 7), p. 8.

(With Gilbert Rozman) Light or Heavy Hedging: Positioning between China and the United States, in Gilbert Rozman, Joint U.S.-Korea Academic Studies 2015, Vol. 26 (Washington, DC: Korea Economic Institute of America), pp. 1-9.   

Variations on a (Hedging) Theme: Comparing ASEAN Core States’ Alignment Behavior,” in Gilbert Rozman, Joint U.S.-Korea Academic Studies 2015, Vol. 26 (Washington, DC: Korea Economic Institute of America), pp. 11-26.

Malaysia’s Relations with Major and Middle Powers”, Observatoire Asie du Sud-est (Paris: Asia Centre, Sciences Po).

Decomposing and Assessing South Korea’s Hedging Options”, in “Special Forum: South Korea’s Foreign Policy Options”, The Asan Forum: An Online Journal, Vol. 3, No. 3 (May-June). 


(With Nor Azizan Idris and Abd Rahim Md Nor) “The China Factor in the U.S. ‘Reengagement’ with Southeast Asia: Drivers and Limits of Converged Hedging,Asian Politics and Policy, Vol. 4, No. 3 (July), pp. 315-344.



The Essence of Hedging: Malaysia and Singapore’s Response to a Rising China,” Contemporary Southeast Asia, Vol. 30, No. 2 (August), pp. 159-185.


Shades of Grey: Riskification and Southeast Asian Responses to the BRI and FOIP” ▪ (Online) Australian Political Studies Association Workshop on “The Competitive Dynamics of Order-Building in the Indo-Pacific: The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Versus the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP)”, Sydney ▪ June 28, 2021

“Ambiguities of Alignment: The Politics of Malaysia-US Relations” ▪ (Online) NYSEAN Talk, co-organized by Columbia University and New York Southeast Asia Network (NYSEAN), New York ▪ April 28, 2021

“Asymmetry, Authority, and the Agency of Smaller States along the Belt and Road” ▪ (Online) Columbia-Harvard China and the World Program, organized by School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), Columbia University, New York ▪ March 29, 2021

The South China Sea Dispute and Southeast Asia’s Dilemmas: A Strategic Perspective” ▪ (Online) UCL Panel Event, organized by University College London (UCL) Diplomacy Society and Asiatic Affairs Society, London ▪ February 25, 2021

Deference and Defiance in Malaysia’s China Policy: Domestic Determinants of Dualistic Diplomacy” ▪ (Online) RSIS Workshop on “China’s Relations with Its Neighboring Countries: Domestic Politics Perspectives”, organized by Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore ▪ February 8-9, 2021

Why Do Weaker States Hedge” ▪ (Online) Lecture Series of Southeast Asian Affairs and Global Perspective, organized by Research School of Southeast Asian Studies, Xiamen University, China ▪ December 14, 2020

“Unpacking the Paradoxes of China’s Rising Influence in Southeast Asia” ▪ (Online) Workshop on Conceptualizing and Measuring China’s Influence in Asia and Beyond, organized by The University of Hong Kong ▪ December 11-13, 2020

Mind the Gaps: A Southeast Asian Perspective of the BRI” ▪ Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Workshop, organized by Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Stanford University ▪ Stanford, March 2-3, 2020

Smaller States and the Twin Chessboards of Asian Geopolitics” ▪ Workshop on “The Future of Power, Norms, and Institutions in the Indo-Pacific”, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the United States Studies Centre (USSC), University of Sydney ▪ Sydney, February 3, 2020

Malaysia between the BRI and the Indo-Pacific: Smaller States and the Politics of Asian Connectivity Visions” ▪ MGIMO ASEAN Academic Days, organized by MGIMO University ▪ Moscow, October 11, 2019

Mapping Malaysia Middlepowership: Structural and Domestic Sources of Small-State Activism” ▪ International Conference on Middle Powers in the Indo-Pacific Region, co-organized by U.S. Naval War College and Bond University ▪ Gold Coast, Australia, October 3-5, 2019

Mind the Gaps: China, BRI, and the Politics of Connectivity Cooperation in Southeast Asia” ▪ Public Lecture on Dealing with China: Lessons from Southeast Asia, co-organized by Leiden Asia Centre and The Clingendael Institute ▪ The Hague, Netherlands, May 8, 2019

The ‘New’ Southeast Asia and the ‘Indo-Pacific’: Analyzing the Weaker States’ (Old) Ambivalence” ▪ Columbia-Harvard International Conference on China and the World, organized by Columbia University ▪ New York City, February 27-28, 2019

Emerging Great Games in Southeast Asia: Influence, Infrastructure, and Institutions (via FONOPs, BRI, and the Indo-Pacific)” ▪ Ifri Annual Conference on Asia 2018: “Power Competition and Regional Stability in Asia”, organized by the French Institute of International Relations (ifri) Center for Asian Studies ▪ Paris, France, December 3, 2018

Art of Ambivalence: A Southeast Asian Perspective of Indo-Pacific” ▪ Valdai Club Asian Regional Conference, co-organized by Valdai Club and International Institute of International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia ▪ Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, November 21-22, 2018

Malaysia’s Response to the New Regional Dynamics in the Trump-Xi Era: Uncertainty, Inducement, and Small-State Hedging” ▪ International Conference on “The Trump Administration and Southeast Asia: Strategic Implications and Southeast Asian Responses”, organized by Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University ▪ New York City, USA, April 12, 2018

When Do Weaker States Hedge? Southeast Asia, China, and the Structural Sources of Alignment Behavior” ▪ Inaugural International Conference on “China and the World: A Cross-discipline Perspective”, organized by Institute for China and the World Studies, Tongji University ▪ Shanghai, PRC, December 17-19, 2017

Inducement and Smaller States’ Triple Trade-offs: Southeast Asian Responses to China’s Belt and Road Initiative” ▪ Southeast Asia Seminar Series, Asian Studies Centre, St, Anthony’s College, University of Oxford ▪ Oxford, November 22, 2017

Structural Uncertainty and Weaker States’ Hedging Behavior: Evidence from Southeast Asia” ▪ LSE Public Panel Discussion on “The Challenges of Trump’s America and Xi’s China: Perspectives and Strategies in Northeast and Southeast Asia”, London School of Economics and Political Science ▪ London, United Kingdom, September 8, 2017

Why Weaker States Hedge Differently: Evidence form Southeast Asia” ▪ Seminar at the National Defense University ▪ Taipei, Taiwan, August 17, 2017

Gaps in Commitments: U.S.-China Struggle and ASEAN States’ Hedging Behavior” ▪ Panel on “How to Promote Peaceful Uses of the Seas in Asia”, World Congress for Korean Politics and Society on “Rebuilding Trust in Peace and Democracy”, Yonsei University ▪ Seoul, South Korea, June 22-23, 2017

Challenges and Options for Small States: ASEAN States’ ‘Impossible Trinity’ amidst China’s Contradictory Strategies” ▪The 9th East Asia Security Outlook Seminar, organized by the Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies (SHHBIDSS), Brunei, November 10, 2016

Risks, Uncertainties, and Hedging in International Relations: Theorizing ASEAN States’ Alignment Behavior” ▪Hanyang-Routledge International Studies Workshop on “IR Theory and Practice in Asia: Where are we and where are we headed”, organized by Hanyang University ▪ Seoul, South Korea, August 27, 2016

Balancing and Hedging in the South China Sea” ▪Lecture at Universiteit Leiden ▪ Leiden, Netherlands, March 21, 2016

Hedging in International Relations” ▪UKM-SNU International Symposium on “Theorizing East Asian International Relations”, organized by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and Seoul National University ▪ Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 29, 2016

Cooperation and “Hedging” in the South China Sea” ▪The Third Workshop on “Cooperation and Development in the South China Sea”, organized by China Institute for Marine Affairs (CIMA) and Collaborative Innovation Center for Territorial Sovereignty and Maritime Rights (CICTSMR) ▪ Wuhan, China, October 28-31, 2015

U.S.-China Relations and Regional States’ Hedging Behavior” ▪International Conference on“America’s Asia Policy and U.S.-China-Asian Interactions”, organized by Tsinghua University’s Institute of International Strategic and Development Studies ▪ Beijing, China, September 18-19, 2015

How Do Weaker States Hedge? Evolution of ASEAN States’ Alignment Options” ▪ International Symposium on “China and Its Neighbours: The Evolving Regional Order”, co-organized by China Foreign Affairs University (CFAU) and the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University ▪ Beijing, China, May 31, 2015

Malaysia and the South China Sea: The Anatomy of a Small-State Hedging Behavior” ▪ 2nd Conference on South China Sea, co-organized by Centre on Asia and Globalisation, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore & Collaborative Innovation Centre for South China Sea Studies, Nanjing University ▪ Nanjing, China, April 24-25, 2015 

Malaysia between the Great Powers: What Do Weaker States Hedge Against?” ▪ Workshop on “America’s Asian Allies: Managing Competitive and Cooperative Pressures”, co-organized by Australian National University (ANU) and East-West Center (EWC) Washington Office ▪ Washington, DC, April 14-15, 2015

Why, When, and How Do Weaker States Hedge? Explaining Southeast Asia’s Responses to China’s Rise” ▪ APARC Seminar, hosted by Southeast Asia Program, Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Stanford University ▪ Stanford, March 31, 2015

Variations on a ‘Hedging’ Theme: The Cases of Core ASEAN States” ▪ Panel on “Hedging or Balancing between China and the United States”, Association for Asian Studies (AAS) 2015 Annual Conference, March 26-29 ▪ Chicago, March 28, 2015

When and Why Weaker States Hedge: The Case of ASEAN States’ Responses to a Rising China”, IR Seminar Series, organized by Tsinghua University’s Department of International Relations ▪ Beijing, China, March 14, 2014

The Origins of Hedging: Theorizing Weaker States’ Alignment Choices toward a Rising Power” ▪ 7th Annual China and the World Program Fellows Workshop ▪ Harvard University, December 6, 2013

Hedging in International Relations: ASEAN States’ Responses to a Rising China” ▪ Princeton “China and the World Program” Talk ▪ Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, October 16, 2013

When and Why Weaker States Hedge: Southeast Asian States’ Responses to a Rising China” ▪ 6th Regional Powers Network Conference “Rising Powers and Contested Orders in the Multipolar System”, jointly organized by the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA) and the BRICS Policy Center (BPC) ▪ Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, September 19-20, 2013

Malaysia between the Great Powers” ▪ Workshop on Southeast Asia Regional Security in the Context of Sino-U.S. Rivalry, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, June 7, 2013

Malaysia and the Great Powers” ▪ Freeman Foundation Symposium on “Strengthening Cooperation between the United States and East Asia”, Salzburg Global Seminar (SGS), Salzburg, June 17-22, 2011

The Essence of Hedging: Malaysia and Singapore’s Response to a Rising China” ▪ ISEAS Public Seminar, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, February 26, 2010

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