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  • Author: Charles Dunst
  • Publication Date: 05-2021
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s close relationship with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has led scholars and policymakers alike to suggest that Beijing’s backing will keep him in power. While Hun Sen himself seems to believe this to be true, his reliance on China is actually enflaming Cambodian discontent to such an extent that his planned patrimonial succession is at risk. Given the fragility of regimes mid-succession, Hun Sen’s Chinese shelter is augmenting the potential of his clan’s fall. Yet as Hun Sen faces increased domestic opposition, he will only further deepen ties with China in hopes of remaining in power, thereby creating a vicious cycle from which escaping will prove difficult.
  • Topic: International Relations, Power Politics, Bilateral Relations, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, Cambodia, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Hannah Foreman
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Timor-Leste is a small democratic country in an increasingly strategic region. Since gaining independence in 2002, Timor-Leste has made remarkable progress as Asia’s youngest democracy, but it has a long way to go in improving its economic and political situation. ASEAN membership for the Timorese is viewed as a way to reconcile economic, security, and geopolitical interests, while carving out a regional identity. Timor-Leste’s push for ASEAN membership started in 2011 and intensified during the latter half of 2019 when Foreign Minister Dionisio Babo Soares visited all ten ASEAN capitals in the summer followed by ASEAN fact finding missions in Dili in the fall. While Timor-Leste’s response to COVID-19 is impressive, the economic toll continues to be severe. Therefore, ASEAN membership is a comparatively lower priority this year, but is still under consideration by members, based on Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc’s speech during the recent ASEAN Summit.
  • Topic: Security, Economics, Democracy, Geopolitics, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Timor-Leste, Asia-Pacific
  • Author: Sunil KC
  • Publication Date: 05-2021
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Recently, the government of Nepal, led by Nepal Communist Party Chairman KP Sharma Oli who ascended to power in 2018, came up with an integrated foreign policy that reflects rapid changes in both the domestic and geopolitical spheres. The new foreign policy has shifted from a traditional course to a modern one with “Economic Diplomacy” as the main driver. With the slogan of “Happy Nepali, Prosperous Nepal”, Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali has prioritized engagement with regional groupings. It is in this context that the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation or (BIMSTEC), established in 1996, with a permanent secretariat in Dhaka, Bangladesh, could serve as an important platform in achieving Nepal’s foreign policy goals of development and prosperity. Nepal became a member of BIMSTEC in 2004.. BIMSTEC acts as a vital bridge for Nepal to connect with South and Southeast Asia to expand its trade, economy, business, investments, and cultural connections. However, due to an unstable domestic political environment, Nepal has not been utilizing regional forums in advancing the nation’s interest. Now, with a stable government in power, Nepal must look at regional forums as important gateways for conducting business and national development.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Development, Geopolitics, Economic Growth
  • Political Geography: South Asia, Nepal, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Prakash Gopal
  • Publication Date: 06-2021
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: The past year has witnessed tumultuous and unforeseen changes in the global geopolitical landscape due to the pandemic. While India struggles to contain its devastating second wave, it is simultaneously confronted with a significant national security challenge from across the disputed Himalayan border with China. A skirmish along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that started in May 2020 escalated rapidly into a full-blown crisis, with clashes in Galwan on June 15, 2020, causing casualties on both sides. After multiple rounds of talks, the crisis remains unresolved and has starkly exposed India’s lack of credible deterrence that could either deny or punish China’s belligerence across the unsettled border. In response to the border crisis, the Indian government promoted and contributed to the rapid coalescence of the quadrilateral security dialogue (Quad)—a loose coalition of the United States, Japan, Australia, and India. Notable milestones in the Quad’s accelerated development include the addition of Australia in the Malabar series of naval exercises and several high-level meetings of officials from the four countries, the highest-profile of which being the first leaders’ summit in March 2021. The assumption that India’s sudden moves to consolidate the Quad were driven primarily by Chinese actions along the LAC may be debated. Nevertheless, if that is the case, it follows that India views its renewed efforts in coalition-building as part of a solution to its China problem. Though the Quad may be useful in tackling security threats in the larger Indo-Pacific region, in the near term, it is unlikely to meaningfully contribute to bolstering India’s ability to deter China along land borders or in the maritime domain.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Security, Geopolitics, Borders, Dialogue
  • Political Geography: China, South Asia, India
  • Author: Jonathan Pryke
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: In an atmosphere of heightened geostrategic competition, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has raised questions about the risk of debt problems in less-developed countries. Such risks are especially worrying for the small and fragile economies of the Pacific. A close look at the evidence suggests that China has not been engaged in debt-trap diplomacy in the Pacific, at least not so far. Nonetheless, if future Chinese lending continues on a business-as-usual basis, serious problems of debt sustainability will arise, and concerns about quality and corruption are valid.There have been recent signs that both China and Pacific Island governments recognize the need for reform. China needs to adopt formal lending rules similar to those of the multilateral development banks, providing more favorable terms to countries at greater risk of debt distress. Alternative approaches might include replacing or partially replacing EXIM loans with the interest-free loans and grants that the Chinese Ministry of Commerce already provides.
  • Topic: Debt, Development, Diplomacy, Geopolitics, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, Asia-Pacific
  • Author: Riaz A. Khokhar
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Within the Indo-Pacific region, the United States and Pakistan have sharply divergent strategic objectives. While American objectives have changed over time, focusing in recent years on rivalry with China, Pakistan’s strategic objective has remained constant—to maintain a balance of power with India. Yet Pakistan retains close strategic and economic ties with China, and the United States considers India an important strategic partner. Nevertheless, the two countries have worked together for nearly two decades toward two tactical goals—achieving a political settlement in Afghanistan and eliminating terrorism in South Asia. There is potential for them to cooperate more broadly, for example, increasing direct foreign investment to Pakistan and helping Islamabad balance its relations with the United States and China. Washington’s willingness to expand such cooperation will depend on Pakistan’s cooperation in fighting terrorism in the region.
  • Topic: International Cooperation, Terrorism, Power Politics, Foreign Direct Investment, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, South Asia, India, North America, United States of America, Indo-Pacific
  • Author: Rebecca Strating
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: The seas are an increasingly important domain for understanding the balance-of-power dynamics between a rising People’s Republic of China and the United States. Specifically, disputes in the South China Sea have intensified over the past decade. Multifaceted disputes concern overlapping claims to territory and maritime jurisdiction, strategic control over maritime domain, and differences in legal interpretations of freedom of navigation. These disputes have become a highly visible microcosm of a broader contest between a maritime order underpinned by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and challenger conceptions of order that see a bigger role for rising powers in generating new rules and alternative interpretations of existing international law. This issue examines the responses of non-claimant regional states—India, Australia, South Korea, and Japan—to the South China Sea disputes.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Territorial Disputes, Geopolitics, Maritime, Jurisdiction
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, North America, United States of America, South China Sea
  • Author: Huong Le Thu
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Dr. Huong Le Thu, Senior Analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, explains that “To many, shared concerns about China are the driving force for Vietnam‐U.S. relations.”
  • Topic: Bilateral Relations, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: China, Vietnam, North America, Southeast Asia, United States of America
  • Author: Steven McGann
  • Publication Date: 09-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: The United States and Fiji continue to strengthen security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. Ties between the regional partners endured throughout Fiji’s 2006 military takeover and resultant domestic political challenges. During this period Washington’s engagement with Suva included humanitarian assistance/disaster response, maritime security, law enforcement cooperation, counter-narcotics, and anti-trafficking of vulnerable populations.
  • Topic: Security, Defense Policy, International Cooperation, Partnerships, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: United States of America, Fiji
  • Author: Courtney Weatherby
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has re-centered discussion of geopolitical competition in Asia around infrastructure. Responding both to BRI and the region’s well-known infrastructure gap, the United States has launched efforts to unlock US private investment for infrastructure. Japan’s engagements in the region emphasize high-quality infrastructure and best practices (an implicit criticism of China’s sometimes less rigorous standards). The foreign policy approaches of the United States and Japan dovetail nicely and have led to many new initiatives and institutional partnerships, as well as the quality-focused Blue Dot Network. But despite the two countries’ intentions to work collaboratively, their efforts have been held back by differences in organizational practices, the lengthy overhaul of US financing, and a lack of immediate movement from US-Japan consortia. For now, a less ambitious approach of closely coordinating technical assistance and conditional funding on proposed projects may serve as a model for closer US-Japan collaboration as efforts mature.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Energy Policy, Bilateral Relations, Infrastructure, Geopolitics, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Renewable Energy, Strategic Competition
  • Political Geography: Japan, China, Asia, United States of America