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The new geopolitics and geoeconomics in the region have many layers. China is worried about the US military presence in the Indo-Pacific (islands chains) could cut off its trade and supply routes. To expand control over the South China Sea, China has bolstered its military presence. To break out of the perceived stranglehold, the Belt and Road Initiative open up alternative routes to the West, all the way to Europe. Chinese state-owned enterprises have also acquired shares of a string of ports. In Djibouti, at the entrance of the Red Sea, Beijing has set up its first overseas military base. Through the ASEAN-initiated Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in trade terms and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in the security realm, China also hopes to intensify economic and political cooperation with its neighbours.
The United States perceives these aspirations as a threat to its hegemony. Hopes in Washington that China would integrate seamlessly into the liberal world order have evaporated. Washington has long started to shift its diplomatic and military footprint in the Indo-Pacific as part of its ”Pivot to Asia”. With continued attempts to decouple the world’s two biggest economies, Washington is increasing pressure on allies in Europe and Asia (major non-NATO allies) to follow suit. In the East and South China Seas as well as the Strait of Malacca, the areas of influence of the two rivals directly meet.
Elsewhere in the region, there are various other flashpoints not only between the two superpowers but also China and India. Old territorial disputes have provoked new clashes in the Kashmir as well as Sikkim/ Bhutan regions. New Delhi appears to be rethinking its traditional posture of non–alliance, and is strengthening its cooperation with the United States, Japan and Australia in the QUAD format. Other countries caught in those dynamics are pursuing regional initiatives and bilateral strategies to avoid having to choose sides, particularly in Southeast Asia.
The shape and terms of the future global order will be renegotiated in the coming years – with the Greater Eurasia region at the centre. The complex patterns of competition, conflict, cooperation and (dis-)integration will play out in many dimensions, including with regard to the future of multilateralism and the rules-based international order, collective security, connectivity, trade, supply routes, resources, artificial intelligence and technological supremacy in the age of digital capitalism.
Content and contact: Marc Saxer, Director, FES Office for Regional Cooperation in Asia
Conceptualisation and design: INFOGRAFIK PRO
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