ASEAN: A nexus of conflict and prosperity

Nighttime view of motorway junction in Bangkok, Thailand
Improved road and rail connections could make Thailand the natural hub of ASEAN’s five mainland members, a combined market of 240 million people (source: dpa)
  • China is using divide-and-rule tactics to split ASEAN’s mainland and maritime members
  • The bloc’s mainland economies could benefit from more intraregional investment
  • ASEAN can become an economic powerhouse if it manages Chinese expansion

The recent peace offensive by North Korean President Kim Jong-un, now stalled after United States President Donald Trump canceled the on-again, off-again bilateral summit meeting, has diverted attention from East Asia’s two other traditional hot spots – the Formosa Strait between Taiwan and China, and the South China Sea.

The latter body of water is treated by China as its own backyard, at the expense of other territorial claimants from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The severity and complexity of these unresolved disputes are bringing Chinese dealings with ASEAN into heightened geopolitical focus. Assuming the situation in North Korea does not blow up (a possibility that should not be dismissed), the highest-risk area in East Asia will likely be the South China Sea, which six of ASEAN’s 10 members border directly.

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