Japan and the United States held their first strategic dialogue on Southeast Asian affairs on Wednesday, as part of broader policy coordination in an area under increasing Chinese influence.
According to Kyodo News, senior officials from both nations met digitally after Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and US President Joe Biden agreed to strengthen ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) during meetings last week in Tokyo.
The new conversation centred on how the two allies can work together to bring ASEAN member states closer to a US-led group of free and democratic countries, as China appears to be attempting to change the status quo in the East and South China seas, as well as other areas of the Indo-Pacific, through force and coercion.
“A free and open Indo-Pacific requires Southeast Asia,” Foreign Ministry Press Secretary Hikariko Ono told a press conference following the virtual talks, according to Kyodo News.
As the US pushes up to leave its battle with China behind in wooing the ASEAN, South-East Asia has suddenly become the East’s power stage.
As part of its effort to be wooed by the big powers, ASEAN makes no bones about the fact that it recognises it is trapped between China and the United States and wants concessions on its own terms.
”ASEAN would certainly prefer to see greater US support towards its ASEAN-led institutions, as opposed to US-led minilateral groupings like the Quad and Aukus,” Joanne Lin, a principal researcher at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, told CNBC.
According to Asian media reports, China has been courting ASEAN “not just with trade and investment, which are likely its most powerful levers of influence in Southeast Asia,” because
“Beijing has steadily expanded its media influence in these countries in four key ways, as a means of shaping their views” over the last decade.
Compared to President Biden’s high-profile wooing initiatives, China’s efforts have been quiet and sustained over decades.
The communist regime has relied on its massive propaganda apparatus to target ASEAN countries with specialised information on a regular basis.
China’s main state media outlet, Xinhua, for example, has print bureaus in every Southeast Asian country. CCTV-4 and CGTN, an English-language news channel, both have bureaus in this region. In Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar, China Radio International broadcasts multilingual content.
(With Inputs from ANI)