For decades, the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) has united the ten Southeast Asian member states as a team, helping and promoting member nations to grow stronger. The cooperating economic union amplified the member states’ voices in global platforms and strengthened their influence, making it impossible for major powers to ignore their presence. With the increased tension between the United States and China, however, the Asean is at risk of division. 

The US has been the world’s most influential economic power for years, and the Asean nations helped to gain control in the Asian market. At the same time, the geographic distance made the Asean nations America’s weaker links. Meanwhile, China has been attempting to sway the–US friendly–Asean nations to them. 

(Image Via The Jakarta Post)

As a matter of fact, the Philippines, one of the United States’ oldest allies, has recently suggested ending the Visiting Forces Agreement while showing friendlier attitudes to China. Countries similar to the Philippines’ change in course cause conflicts within the Asean union. Many of the Asean nations, which seemed united before, have been showing divided diplomatic attitudes based on what the United States and China can give. 

In the midst of the US-China rivalry, how well the two nations can satisfy and have good relationships with the Asean nations will be a key factor in their competition. When talking about the United States and China’s economic (but not limited to economic) competition in Asia, people tend to focus on Korea’s and Japan’s role in the fight. Whereas it is evident that the two East Asian countries have significant influence, Asean’s role in this tension is also noteworthy. How the Asean nations respond will not only impact the US and China but also other nations diplomatically tied with them.