AuthorChurchman, Catherine


Editors: Malcolm Cook and Daljit Singh

Published by: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore, 2020, 426pp, US$42.90.

Southeast Asian Affairs 2020 is the 47th edition of the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute's annual review of trends and developments in South-east Asia. Published a year ago just as the world was becoming aware of the coronavirus pandemic, the volume consists of 22 articles on South-east Asia, five introductory thematic chapters on developments relevant either to the whole region or multiple countries within it, eleven chapters of analysis of the political and economic affairs for each of the ASEAN member states and five additional country chapters dealing with a specific theme, one each for Indonesia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

It is immediately noticeable that the main theme of the 2020 edition is the influence of the People's Republic of China in the region. The country features prominently in four of the five introductory chapters, and again in all of the remaining chapters in the various roles of investor, developer, business partner, trade war participant and/or rival territorial claimant. Graham Ong-Webb's 'Southeast Asia in 2019: Adjustment and Adaptation to China's Regional Impact' considers the ASEAN nations' 'drift towards China', noting ASEAN member states' awareness that getting more deeply economically involved with China poses 'the risk of the spread of Chinese influence across the region beyond economic matters'. This point is echoed by Daljit Singh in his chapter 'American Foreign Policy and Southeast Asia'. Singh writes of the United States' 'influence deficit' in Southeast Asia, states there being drawn into China's orbit not because they trust or like China, but because the economic opportunities China offers and 'the high economic cost of opposing China's agenda'. In 'China's Belt and Road Initiative Financing in Southeast Asia', Xue Gong offers a more positive view of China's role in the region, critiquing the idea that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is 'debt trap diplomacy' but also recognising problems with the way Belt and Road investment has been implemented and arguing for a shift away from an elite-oriented approach in dealing with the region that has engendered corruption both in Chinese companies and involved governments. The US-China trade war features in Manu Bhaskaran's 'Economic Overview of Southeast Asia' as one...

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