Over the past five years, Beijing has embarked on a much more assertive military and diplomatic approach in Southeast Asia, as in many other parts of the world. It has stepped up its militarization of the South China Sea and its use of fishing vessels and troops to drive off fishing boats from Southeast Asian states operating in regional waters. It has increasingly menaced Taiwan, and its diplomats have adopted an aggressive, sometimes bullying “wolf warrior” style of diplomacy in many other parts of the world in recent years. It also has cracked down hard on civil liberties in Hong Kong and at home, and, during its zero COVID era, sometimes appeared to have lost control of aspects of its own populace.
Yet despite all these problems, China’s influence in Southeast Asia, its nearest neighborhood and one of the most vital areas for contestation between Beijing and the United States and its partners, has soared in recent years. China’s rising influence has come largely at the expense of the United States, which is seeing its regional influence ebb at great speed.
For more on the United States’s declining influence in Southeast Asia and why it is occurring, see my new World Politics Review article.