March 12, 2024 Special Dispatch No. 11193

Manila-Based Academic Heydarian: 'Majority' Of Continental Southeast Asian Nations 'Seem Invested In Their Bilateral Relations With China'; Southeast Asian States Should Coordinate 'A More Robust Position Against China's Hegemonic Excesses'

March 12, 2024
China | Special Dispatch No. 11193

On March 5, 2024, Manila-based academic Richard Heydarian published an article in the Philippine media outlet Inquirer, titled "Strategic Reset: Marcos, Australia, And Asean." Heydarian suggested that, in light of China's dangerous and aggressive behavior toward the Philippines' sovereignty, Asean countries[1] should coordinate "a more robust position against China's hegemonic excesses in tandem with middle powers such as Australia." If this does not happen, Heydarian wrote that the Asean's political and economic role will fade "into geopolitical irrelevance," leading the Philippines to drift away from fellow Southeast Asian nations in favor of traditional Western partners.

March 5, 2024, Philippine Coast Guard personnel inspecting the hull of the ship during a collision incident between the Philippine Coast Guard vessel BRP Sindangan and a Chinese Coast Guard ship in the disputed South China Sea. (Source: Philippine Coast Guard)

Following are excerpts of Heydarian's article:[2]

"Philippine-Australia Ties... In Light Of Beijing's Bullying Behavior In Adjacent Waters"

"Six years ago, I had the privilege of attending a track II event on the sidelines of the inaugural Australia-Asean Summit in Sydney, where I ended up explaining why our then pro-Beijing President Rodrigo Duterte was the only no-show leader from Asean. Last week, however, we saw a Philippine President setting the tone for the latest iteration of the Australia-Asean Summit by delivering a spirited speech before the Australian Parliament.

"This represents nothing short of a 'sea change' in Philippine-Australia ties, especially with both countries vowing to step up their joint naval drills and military cooperation in light of Beijing's bullying behavior in adjacent waters. But this time around, my fear is that the Philippines may end up as an outlier for completely opposite reasons.

"During his state visit to Down Under [i.e. Australia], Mr. Marcos not only highlighted China's aggressive actions in the South China Sea, but also sought to rally traditional partners such as Australia to jointly hold the line for a rules-based international order. The problem, however, is that I doubt other Asean leaders will follow suit."

The Philippines May Continue "Its Quiet Drift Away From Fellow Southeast Asian Nations In Favor Of Traditional Western Partners"

"Malaysia's current leadership seems more interested in bashing the West's double-standards in the Middle East than pointing out China's atrocious treatment of its own Muslim minority groups... Both Singapore and Vietnam, meanwhile, have adopted an increasingly Beijing-friendly diplomatic language in recent years in order to reap economic rewards.

"As for Indonesia, we are yet to see how the incoming Prabowo administration[3] will exercise regional leadership, if at all. As for majority of continental Southeast Asian nations, they seem more invested in their bilateral relations with China than standing up for so-called 'Asean centrality.'

"Nevertheless, the only way forward is for a constructive form of 'Asean minilateralism,' whereby key Southeast Asian states steadily yet subtly coordinate a more robust position against China's hegemonic excesses in tandem with middle powers such as Australia. Otherwise, either Asean fades into geopolitical irrelevance and/or the Philippines continues its quiet drift away from fellow Southeast Asian nations in favor of traditional Western partners."


[1] Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is an intergovernmental organization of ten Southeast Asian countries: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

[2], March 5, 2024.

[3] Indonesia's defense minister, Prabowo Subianto, is set to become the next president of Indonesia.

Share this Report: