Southeast Asia has had a long history of significant security and economic ties with the United States. However, US President Donald Trump’s dissent and diplomatic ignorance have led to a significant decline in Southeast Asia’s faith in its North American partner. It further resulted in Southeast Asians to believe that China has relatively higher influence and regional power than the United States.
Nevertheless, experts have suggested the US can gain back the trust of the Southeast Asian countries by initiating various efforts to reinforce security and multilateralism in key sectors like economy and investment across the region. Amid the so-called cold war between the US and China, Vietnam is becoming increasingly crucial in US foreign policy.
As 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the US and Vietnam, it is about time that the two countries to initiate efforts in boosting their strategic partnership. In recent weeks, a majority of Vietnamese public have expressed their concerns over the growing political, strategic and military influence of China into the Southeast Asian region. China’s unilateral declaration of sovereignty over 80 per cent of the South China Sea has also intensified tensions in the China-ASEAN relations. These issues have elevated hope among countries, aiming to counter China’s actions, that Vietnam would be supporting them in the endeavours.
Washington has various other opportunities to enhance cooperation and exert regional influence in the Southeast Asian countries. In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, the US and ASEAN countries participated in the 33rd virtual US-ASEAN dialogue that resulted in the two regions agreeing on boosting their capacities to cope with the new waves of the virus infection.
At the same time, Vietnam and other ASEAN countries including Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, have been receiving potential private investment from the US for a long time now. With more investment, these countries can expand their manufacturing and assembly capacities based in China to the US. However, Trump’s “America First” policy can pose major hurdles for increasing economic cooperation between the US and Southeast Asian countries. Recent US sanctions on a number of Chinese firms have stepped up the dialogue between America and ASEAN countries.
It is high time that Washington starts investing more energy in diplomacy, particularly meeting its regional partners face-to-face at any occasion possible. There is a need for the Trump administration to fill in the empty diplomatic positions in a bid to strengthen America’s presence in Southeast Asia.
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