Southeast Asia’s tangled web of economic ties may help limit China’s sway

Malaysia, March 21, 2015: a group photo of Asean countries’ finance ministers who met in Kuala Lumpur to discuss how to speed up the process of forming the Asean Economic Community (source: dpa)
Malaysia, March 21, 2015: a group photo of Asean countries’ finance ministers who met in Kuala Lumpur to discuss how to speed up the process of forming the Asean Economic Community (source: dpa)

Now that China is Southeast Asia’s top trading partner, many argue that a new alignment of power is emerging. Certainly, increased trade has helped transform perceptions of Chinese influence in the region from negative to relatively positive. But there is little risk of a China-centred trade bloc materialising. The biggest reason for this is the diversity of economic interaction, which key players in the neighbourhood – especially the United States and its allies – have an interest in maintaining.

Complex interaction

In 2009 China became the largest trading partner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), a political and economic bloc comprising Brunei, Cambo...

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