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Asian Countries Shift Alliances from U.S. to China as Beijing Ramps Up Economic, Military Efforts

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By: Jake Smith, Daily Caller News Foundation

Nations making up Southeast Asia are deciding to ally with China and turn away from the U.S. under the Biden administration, according to an April survey from the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

President Joe Biden has taken steps since taking office to bolster ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), such as creating the “ASEAN Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” in 2022 with countries including the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore. Many ASEAN countries in 2024, however, would side with China over the U.S. when put in an ultimatum position, according to the survey.

“These countries find themselves in a Melian-like situation, ‘where the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.’ As they look to the West, they see a United States that too easily abandons its partners — Israel, Ukraine, Afghanistan,” China Tech Threat Special Advisor Steve Coonen told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “They see American warriors attacked and killed with little to no consequences.”

In 2024, roughly 49% of ASEAN nations would side with the U.S. over China if they were “forced to align” with one or the other, compared to 50.5% who said the opposite, according to the survey. As of 2023, over 61% said they would align themselves with the U.S. over China in such a scenario, compared to roughly 38% who said the opposite.

The survey was conducted with 1,994 respondents from ASEAN nations with affiliations including academia, think tanks, nongovernmental organizations, media representatives and government officials. A 10% weighing average was applied to each nation’s results to “ensure that the responses of each country are represented by equal proportion, given that ASEAN’s decision-making processes are based on each country having equal say, regardless of geographical or population size.”

Biden created the ASEAN Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in 2022 as part of an effort to strengthen ties with Southeast Asian and Indo-Pacific nations in the region. ASEAN nations also received a total of $12.1 billion in economic and security assistance from 2002 to 2021, and the Biden administration requested an additional $1.2 billion in economic security assistance in its 2024 budget.

U.S. and ASEAN countries created over $520 billion in trade and over 1.6 million jobs in 2022, according to the White House.

“President Biden has overseen an unprecedented expansion in U.S.-ASEAN relations,” the White House said in a statement in November 2022. “Under the framework of our newly established U.S.-ASEAN Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, the United States and ASEAN will institutionalize and expand cooperation in each of these important areas, in order to support robust implementation of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific and promote a free and open region that is connected, prosperous, secure, and resilient.”

China is expanding its presence in ASEAN countries through a multi-trillion dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a global investment project made up of over 100 countries — including a swath of ASEAN countries, the report notes. A signature initiative started by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, the BRI began as an attempt to create linked infrastructure projects throughout Asia and Europe, but has since expanded to countries in Africa and Latin America, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

“China is probably the dominant trade partner of all the respondents already, in a way that the United States is not. That’s just going to be the reality,” Bryan Burack, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told the DCNF. “The other side of the coin too is that we’ve essentially failed to demonstrate that we have a lot to bring to the table economically … Southeast Asia still wants us to be participating in multilateral trade, and that’s just something that we hear in every single meeting.”

“[ASEAN] sees a United States that is unwilling to commit the resources necessary to counter China’s military buildup. They see China’s thuggish behavior in the East and South China Seas go unchallenged,” Coonen told the DCNF. “In short, they see the international rule-based order that the United States had championed since the end of WWII crumple under the ineptitude of the Biden administration.”

China has increased its military presence outside of its borders, such as in regions like the South China Sea. ASEAN countries, including the Philippines, have clashed with China in the South China Sea on several occasions.

The White House and China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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