How has world order changed since the Cold War ended? Do we live in an age of American empire, or is global power shifting to the East with the rise of China? Arguing that existing ideas about the balance of power and power transition are inadequate, this book gives an innovative reinterpretation of the changing nature of U.S. power, focused on the 'order transition' in East Asia.
In Southeast Asia, China’s growing economic and political strength has been accompanied by adept diplomacy and active promotion of regional cooperation, institutions and integration. Southeast Asian states and China engage in ‘strategic regionalism’: they seek regional membership for regime legitimation and collective bargaining; and regional integration to enhance economic development, regarded as essential for ensuring national and regime security. Sino-Southeast Asian regionalism is exemplified by the development plans for the Mekong River basin, where ambitious projects for building regional infrastructural linkages and trade contribute to mediating the security concerns of the Mekong countries. However, Mekong regionalism also generates new insecurities. Developing the resources of the Mekong has led to serious challenges in terms of governance, distribution and economic externalities. Resource allocation and exploitation conflicts occur most obviously within the realm of water projects, especially hydropower development programmes. While such disputes are not likely to erupt into armed conflict because of the power asymmetry between China and the lower Mekong states, they exacerbate Southeast Asian concerns about China’s rise and undermine Chinese rhetoric about peaceful development. But the negative security consequences of developing the Mekong are also due to the shared economic imperative, and the Southeast Asian states’ own difficulties with collective action due to existing intramural conflicts.
In East Asia, the United States is often acknowledged as a key determinant of stability given its military presence and role as a security guarantor. In the post-Cold War period, regional uncertainties about the potential dangers attending a rising China have led some analysts to conclude that almost all Southeast Asian states now see the United States as the critical balancing force. In contrast, based on case studies of Thailand, Singapore, and Vietnam, this study argues that key states in the region do not perceive themselves as having the stark choices of either balancing against or bandwagoning with China. Instead, they pursue hedging strategies that comprise three elements: indirect balancing, which mainly involves persuading the United States to act as counterweight to Chinese regional influence; complex engagement of China at the political, economic, and strategic levels, with the hope that Chinese leaders may be socialized into conduct that abides by international norms; and a more general policy of enmeshing a number of regional great powers in order to give them a stake in a stable regional order. The study also investigates each state?s perceptions of the American role in regional security and discusses how they operationalize their hedging policies against a potential U.S. drawdown in the region, as well as the different degrees to which they use their relationships with the United States as a hedge against potential Chinese domination. Finally, it discusses these states? expectations of what the United States should do to help in their hedging strategies toward China, suggesting a range of policies that span the military as well as political, diplomatic, and economic realms. This is the sixteenth publication in Policy Studies, a peer-reviewed East-West Center Washington series that presents scholarly analysis of key contemporary domestic and international political, economic, and strategic issues affecting Asia in a policy relevant manner.