Sept. 16 (EIRNS)—A leading expert on Southeast Asia, the Australian Sebastian Strangio, told the East-West Center in Washington on Sept. 15 that the U.S. demand that the ten nations of ASEAN break from China will go nowhere. Strangio did not mention Pompeo by name, but his audience certainly knew that Pompeo had read the Riot Act to the ASEAN forum participants last week, demanding that they cancel contracts with China on the many Belt and Road Initiative projects across the region. Strangio observed that the U.S. had demanded that ASEAN nations dump Huawei, but “they are not offering any alternative.” Huawei is both more advanced and cheaper, he said, and none of the ASEAN countries will comply with such dictates.
Strangio pointed to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose Foreign Secretary Locsin (after a call from Pompeo) recommended cancelling the contracts with Chinese companies which were sanctioned by the U.S., including a new airport being built by the China Communications Construction Company. Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque announced Sept. 1 that Duterte “will not follow the directives of Americans because we are a free and independent nation and we need those investments from China. We are not a vassal state of any foreign power.” Strangio said this sentiment is true across the region, and although they all want to remain friends with the U.S., they will not submit to dictates.
Strangio has just released a book titled In the Dragon’s Shadow: Southeast Asia in the Chinese Century. He said that the South China Sea issue, although causing some anger in the region against China, has to be seen in the same way that the U.S. views the Caribbean, implying that they cannot allow foreign military power in the region to threaten their security (the Cuban missile crisis comes to mind).
He also stated that China and the ASEAN nations share the humiliation of being colonized and subjected to foreign military attacks on their nations, and thus share a strong commitment to national sovereignty, as well as strong nationalist sentiments. The Pompeo “democracy vs authoritarianism” hype does not ring true to any of them, with the possible exception of the Philippines under a different leadership in the future.
Strangio lived in Cambodia for eight years, working at the Phnom Penh Post, and watched China transforming the nation with “bridges, highways across the country, power plants.” He said that the vastly improved connectivity, much of it built by Japan, has made China and ASEAN accessible to each other over land rather than only by sea.
Strangio also wrote that the “Indo-Pacific” campaign is not about the development of the region, but about isolating China, and the ASEAN nations know this very well.