C O U N T R I E S
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is an economic union made up of 10 States: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The ASEAN Declaration states that the aims and purposes of the association are: (1) to accelerate the economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region through joint endeavors in the spirit of equality and partnership in order to strengthen the foundation for a prosperous and peaceful community of Southeast Asian nations, and (2) to promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law in the relationship among countries in the region and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter.
In most of these countries, democracy is fragile and civil rights are, at times, tenuous. Both Russia and China have increased their engagements and cultivated military and diplomatic alliances in the region. They are also trying hard to diminish America’s influence. China in particular is framing the narrative around the South China Sea as “us versus all of them,” perpetuating the claim that any American opposition is a major threat to the entire region.
From the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community:
We expect democracy and civil liberties in many Southeast Asian countries to remain fragile and China to increase its engagement in the region to build its influence while diminishing the influence of the United States and U.S. allies. Russia may also continue its diplomatic and military cultivation of Southeast Asian partners, and some countries will be receptive to Moscow as a balance against China’s push for hegemony.
In the wake of Washington’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, China is promoting a unified stance with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in defense of multilateralism and the WTO reform process, while also fostering a shared perception of U.S. freedom of navigation operations through Chinese-claimed waters in the South China Sea as threats to regional stability.
Russia, too, has been increasing its diplomatic and military cultivation of Southeast Asian partners, some of which have been receptive to Moscow as a power capable of diluting China’s nascent hegemony and helping them diversify their hedging options.