Editor’s Note: Dr. Jonathan D. London is a professor in the Department of Asian and International Studies and a core member of the Southeast Asia Research Center at the City University of Hong Kong. He wrote this article exclusively for Tuoi Tre News.
In recent weeks, international politics in Asia Pacific has continued to develop in fascinating ways, owing to a series of developments – both foreseen and unforeseen – which, while seemingly serving to reduce tensions, have in reality only served to instenify the pace and deepen the scope of diplomatic activity. Three sets of developments are worthy of special attention.
The first, oddly enough, is the US election result, which appears to have only further weakened the standing of US President Barack Obama, but which in fact likely strengthens the possibility that Mr. Obama will see the further development of his Asia agenda to be among the most important and achievable goals in the remainder of his second term.
Mr. Obama, whose presidency has been weakned mainly by the short-sighted obstructionism of the Republican Party, nonetheless will seek to take advantage of the Republicans’ electoral gains by pushing through the TPP, which protectionist elements in his own party had vowed to block.
The second major development in recent weeks was, of course, the APEC summit in Beijing. Perhaps most notably were the efforts of China to project itself as the center of Asia, the center of a new regional order, and the dominant and ‘indispensable nation’ in Asia.
For evidence of this, look no further than the new China-centered development bank complete with billions of dollars in infrastructure funds with weak accountability requirements designed to curry favor with neighboring countries, and the manner in which Beijing stage-managed the whole affair so as to appear China was at the center of a new regional ‘silk-road’ tributary network.
Finally we come to the ASEAN Summit in Myanmar, at which both President Obama and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang were present, along with Shinzo Abe and others. ASEAN itself remains divided, as it always will be, at least with respect to international security matters.
The proceedings were mostly friendly and saw no major flareups. Observing them, it is hard not to conclude that Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Mr. Obama have a comfort level with each other that, one would stand to reason, bodes well for the development of relations between Vietnam and the US for the remainder of the US president’s term.
It is also clearer than ever that Vietnam is at the center of a grand competition between Beijing and Washington for influence in Southeast Asia. Everyone hopes relations between the two countries will not descend further into rivalry.
In the meantime, Vietnam’s difficult but unavoidable challenge of maintaing warm relations with both countries will face further tests. Vietnam stands to benefit from warm relations with both countries. There are, however, certain tensions that will continue to threaten peace. These are indeed interesting times.