EAIR-IDFR-IKMAS-USIP Workshop (2023), Southeast Asia in a World of Strategic Competition: Assessing Agency and Options

Bringing together scholars from Southeast Asia and the United States, the two-day workshop explored how US-China strategic competition manifests in Southeast Asia, how the countries of the region were navigating the changing power dynamics in Asia, as well as ways to manage more effectively the shared challenges, maximize the shared interests, while maintaining peace and stability. Attention was focused on assessing the agency and options of individual Southeast Asian states as well as collectively, through institutions such as ASEAN, in an age of increasing uncertainty. 

Ten papers were presented by Southeast Asia-based country specialists (in their personal capacities) at the workshop. The papers covered the following themes and questions based on the respective country’s internal and external circumstances.

Theme 1: Manifestations (and Implications) of Big-Power Competition

  • How has US-China competition manifested in Country Z? In which area(s) has the country faced the greatest pressures? Maritime affairs? Defense arrangements? Political relations? Domestic influence? Trade and economic cooperation? Cyber security? Technological ties? Have some of these pressures become greater in recent years? 
  • In what way and to what extent has the competition benefited Country Z? Some analysts opine that the economic and technological “decoupling” will bring short-term benefits to Southeast Asian states but pose longer-term challenges to the regional countries. From Country Z’s perspective, is this statement true? Why or why not? 
  • Which are the top three problems/ risks/potential dangers/ possible directions that Country Z is most concerned about in the intensifying big-power competition?
  • How, and to what extent can “other powers” (in and out of Asia) play a role in tempering tensions and mitigating risks while enhancing cooperation?      

Theme 2: Southeast Asian Agency and Options

  • How can “agency” be understood and assessed in the context of strategic competition for Country Z?
  • What are the options available to Country Z? Balancing? Bandwagoning? Neutrality?  
  • In what ways do ASEAN and other ASEAN-based mechanisms serve to enhance Southeast Asian agency? What is the role of ASEAN in a world of strategic competition? How viable is ASEAN neutrality? 
  • What does “centrality” mean for ASEAN? Does “centrality” go hand-in-hand with “neutrality”? Why or why not?
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