RSIS, The Brookings Institution and Lowy Institute, co-organised a conference on “ASEAN, Australia, and the United States”. Held from 29 to 30 October at Grand Copthorne Waterfront, the dialogue examined the strategic landscape, governance trends, and economic cooperation in Southeast Asia.
Participants of the conference believed that strategic competition between the US and China should be viewed as occurring in multiple dimensions rather than at geopolitical level. Disaggregating the competition allows for issue-based agency for both ASEAN and individual states in the region, and eases the pressure to make a false binary choice between the two powers. Engaging with Middle Powers is key to the idea of collective action by ASEAN based on centrality — allowing the organisation to preserve autonomy and shape its strategic space.
Secondly, participants observed that organisation or individual member states could drive further cooperation with outside partners, collaborating to create public goods and new rules, particularly in the areas of digital technology and regional trade architecture. Economic cooperation could be fostered by recognising that the Chinese debt trap narrative is overblown, and states should instead attempt to persuade Beijing to multilateralise its Belt and Road Initiative projects. This is to embed and socialise China into the multilateral norms of global governance and take the heat out of strategic Great Power competition.