Blinken’s visit to Southeast Asia highlights the importance of the potential battleground with China
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Southeast Asia presents a ripe opportunity for the United States and its Western allies to diversify their supply chain away from China, making it the next big economic battleground between the rival nations.
“China is a geographic fact in the region, it’s an economic fact,” Ashok Mirpuri, Singapore’s ambassador to the US, said during the Aspen Security Forum in July. “It’s been there for generations: it’s gone up, it’s gone down, it’s gone up again, but the region has had to learn to live with China.”
“The United States has in many ways been a stabilizing force in the region, and we don’t see it as an outsider,” he continued. “We also see them as a resident power in the region. So both, dealing with a Southeast Asian region. [with] 600 million people, it’s really where the competition plays out day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken began his visit on Tuesday when he met with leaders in Cambodia, which currently heads the 10-nation trade bloc known as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
ASEAN has been in the spotlight not only because of its proximity to China, but also because of the promising business opportunities present in the region. Blinken will also attend a ministerial meeting with ASEAN foreign ministers on Wednesday.
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Mirpuri highlighted Southeast Asia’s role at the “heart of this competitive dynamic between China and the United States,” which has turned the region into a growing economic battleground between the two world powers. China’s “Zero-COVID” policy led to global supply chain disruption, and the threat of an invasion by Taiwan has many trading partners considering security options.
Ford opened a factory in Cambodia in April after investing $21 million to build facilities in Pursat province, which Prime Minister’s Deputy Minister Keo Rattanak said was part of trying to attract new business and partners in the region. Meanwhile, Apple opened a new iPad factory in Vietnam in 2021, a process that began in 2019 as part of avoiding US tariffs on Chinese products, the New York Times reported.
Kao Kim Hourn, Deputy Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia, told Fox News Digital that ASEAN allows its members to operate as “one big market” to benefit from each country’s competitive advantages.
“I think it depends on the international companies that are investing in these countries and where they want to invest,” Kao said, using the example of a Japanese company that he said had been hesitant to open a factory in Cambodia, but has now started building several. factories in the country.
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“Of course, we all welcome investment, we welcome the relocation of factories and companies in production to Southeast Asia,” he said. “This is good for us. It’s good for the region.”
ASEAN members have sought to draw the US and China into a more “cooperative and coordinated” relationship in the region to help maximize investment and growth. Mirpuri pointed to other “major powers” in the region, such as India and Japan, who could help ASEAN members while expressing concern about the “uncertainty” in the US-China relationship.
“We have trade relations with both the US and China, [and] we have security relationships in the region, so we are operating in that space,” he said.
ASEAN has monitored the impacts of the war between Ukraine and Russia: the war has exacerbated inflationary problems and threatened food security.
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However, this has also presented some business opportunities for the region, Kao explained. He said ASEAN countries have produced millions of tons of rice, 6 million from Cambodia alone, which have helped members maintain a stronger level of food security while exporting it to other countries.
The group’s maritime states, such as Singapore and the Philippines, have struggled a bit more because they need to import staple crops, but Kao insists the alliance will be able to “fix it”.
Kevin Maher, senior adviser at NMV Consulting and former director of the State Department’s Japan office, told Fox News Digital that proximity to China makes Southeast Asia “vulnerable” to claims and advances Chinese through their Belt and Road Initiative.
Maher argued that if the United States can step up investment in the region, those countries will no longer need to take out Chinese loans to help build infrastructure, in turn cutting off some of China’s influence in the region while diversifying the US supply chain in a double whammy. Beijing’s economic ambitions.
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“The future is going to be this continued struggle, not only on the military side, but in terms of infrastructure investment, official development aid and economically, to try to balance these very strong efforts by the Chinese to come in and dominate a lot of countries. of Southeast Asia,” Maher said.