Mini-Conference: Southeast Asia Faces a Rising China
Discussing The Cases of Cambodia & Laos, and Indonesia & Malaysia, With Sebastian Strangio and Ben Bland
Nowhere in the world is China’s emergence of economic, military and cultural presence more apparent than in the eleven countries of Southeast Asia: Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, East Timor and the Philippines. While the nations look at China with justified alarm, their responses differ vastly, from Cambodia and Laos having the closest ties with China, to Indonesia and Malaysia having fruitful economic, but complicated relationships. Southeast Asia, increasingly recognized as a crucial diplomatic player through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and home to significant global trading routes, is not only of strategic importance to China. Once again it has become the focus of a global contest for power.
Sebastian Strangio, journalist and author of In the Dragon's Shadow: Southeast Asia in the Chinese Century, gives a keynote presentation on China’s rise in Southeast Asia. The talk opened up the third mini-conference on China in Southeast Asia, co-hosted by Asia Society Switzerland and Asia Society Australia, in which Strangio examined Cambodia, and Laos and Ben Bland, director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Lowy Institute and author of Man of Contradictions: Joko Widodo and the Struggle to Remake Indonesia, looked at Indonesia and Malaysia. Watch the keynote prentation and listen to the first part of the discussions on the case of Cambodia and Laos, and Indonesia and Malaysia.
Session A: The Case of Cambodia and Laos
China is the largest source of development assistance and investment in both Cambodia and Laos. Both governments maintain close relations with China, where its presence is more marked than anywhere else in Southeast Asia. What makes Cambodia and Laos so recipient to China? What policies do they have towards China? What are China’s interests? And what are the biggest schisms between elite and public perceptions of China prevalent in Cambodia and Laos? Listen to the first part of the conversation with Sebastian Strangio.
Session B: The Case of Indonesia and Malaysia
China’s relations with the historically more remote, maritime and Muslim-majority countries Indonesia and Malaysia are complex and historically intertwined. For both Indonesia and Malaysia China is a vital economic partner, but tensions in the South China Sea and anti-China sentiments remain prevalent. How have Indonesia’s and Malaysia’s relations towards China evolved? How can we describe their foreign policy strategies? What are China’s interests? And which sentiments towards China does one encounter? Listen to the first part of the conversation with Ben Bland.
Sebastian Strangio is a journalist and author focusing on Southeast Asia, and currently works as Southeast Asia Editor at The Diplomat. In 2008, he began his career as a reporter at The Phnom Penh Post in Cambodia, and has since travelled and reported extensively across the ten nations of ASEAN, paying special attention to the impact of China’s growing power. Sebastian’s writing has appeared in leading publications including Foreign Affairs, the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, and The New York Times. He is also the author of Hun Sen’s Cambodia (Yale University Press, 2014), a path-breaking examination of Cambodia since the fall of the Khmer Rouge. Alongside his journalistic work, Sebastian has also consulted for a wide variety of economic risk firms and non-government organizations, and has been quoted widely in the international media. Sebastian was born and raised in Australia and currently lives in Adelaide.
Ben Bland is the Director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Lowy Institute and the author of Man of Contradictions: Joko Widodo and the Struggle to Remake Indonesia. Ben was previously an award-winning correspondent for the Financial Times in Indonesia, China and Vietnam. His first book, Generation HK: Seeking Identity in China’s Shadow, was acclaimed for its prescient insights into Hong Kong’s deepening political conflict with Beijing. Ben has a Masters degree in Southeast Asia Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London and a Bachelors degree in History from the University of Cambridge. He regularly writes and commentates for a wide range of international media including the BBC, Bloomberg, CNN, the Financial Times, Reuters and the Washington Post.