We’ll be speaking next Tuesday to Tang Qifang, a Southeast Asia specialist at the foreign ministry-affiliated China Institute of International Studies. We invite readers to submit questions for the interview at email@example.com .
Southeast Asia is China’s natural backyard. China has extensive land borders with the region, and depends upon Southeast Asia’s sea corridors for economic power and security interests. China’s energy supplies depend on shipments of oil through the Strait of Malacca, while its naval ambitions rely on the ability to operate in the South China Sea.
China has been accused of economic imperialism by its Southeast Asian neighbours. Over the last year, an increasingly self-confident China has become more assertive over its ‘rights and interests’, getting into a series of spats with its neighbours, such as the recent standoff with Vietnam over the two countries’ unresolved maritime border in the South China Sea. There’s an ongoing debate among China-watchers over whether the South China Sea has been declared a ‘core interest’, a phrase that implies a willingness to go to war.
As China’s ‘peaceful intentions’ have come to seem open to doubt, Southeast Asian nations have become eager to hedge their bets, giving other powers like the US and India a chance to bolster their presence in the region.
At the intersection of three major powers, Southeast Asia promises to be one of the most strategically important regions of the 21st century. Whether it will be, as Robert Kaplan recently argued in Foreign Policy, ‘the future of conflict’ depends to a large extent on the stance that China takes.