Asean was originally an organization built by its founding fathers to be a neutral and independent regional organization free of big power interference. Over the years, willingly or otherwise, some members started to lean closer with the Americans, even signing military alliances to be part of the American Empire. Though Asean still maintained its neutrality, and the American allies played their American card close to their chest, gradually the mask came off, and they openly took sides with the Americans and fronting up for American interests. On the Chinese camp, a couple of new Asean countries joined the organization wearing their historical ties with China on their chests.
The expansion of Asean also led to the transformation of Asean with two opposing camps and allies strutting around with pride that they are allies of big powers. The veneer thin Asean neutrality was history and no longer touted as the key principle of what Asean stood for. The myth of a neutral Asean, built on the cardinal principle of neutrality has become bullshit.
As recently as the beginning of the year, the Americans were boasting about their pivot to Asia, a veiled expansionist move to stay in Asia by relocating their military hardware into the region. This move was generally supported by some Asean countries, namely Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore and to a certain extent Thailand. The rest of the Asean states were neutral except for Laos and Cambodia that were traditionally China’s close neigbours. Asean totally ignored the interest of Indonesia as the big brother and brought in a monster to rule the region, making Indonesia looking like a part of the Empire.
Obama was riding high and American projection of military power in Southeast Asia was as good as done with the Philippines and a few hardcore Asean states openly and covertly egging the Americans to stay in the region. Obama had 5 aces in his hand in Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. And the Americans agitated the SCS dispute to its full advantage, encouraging these countries to confront China and to make counter claims on Chinese islands.
All this is history. The aces in Obama’s hand have turned to 2s. The Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand have switched sides. They refused to provoke China on the SCS claims, choosing to court China for economic development and trade and opting to talk and negotiate with China for a peaceful solution. The tension and threats of war in the South China Sea fizzled out. Obama is now left with only Vietnam and Singapore as the two aces in his hand.
China on the contrary have turned around and now holding 5 aces in Laos, Cambodia, the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia with the rest of Asean states remaining neutral other than Vietnam and Singapore. Vietnam is looking like making a U turn as well with China waving the carrots of more trade and economic development, with no interference in their domestic affairs.
Obama’s hand is now weak, as weak as his last few days in Office. There is an Asean Revolution against the Americans. The stoking of tension and probability of war in the region failed. What Ash Carter said about isolating China has backfired. It is the USA being isolated and the last nail onto this coffin would be the killing of the TPP, the futile American attempt to isolate China.
Bye bye America. Or as Duterte has said, America, you lost. Southeast Asia would not be dragged into a war and turmoil at the will of the Americans. The Asean leaders are not that stupid (there are exceptions) to be at the becks and calls of the Americans to destroy their countries and the lives of their people. They want peace and progress for their people, not war, not death and destruction.
The American nightmare is just beginning.
PS. Happy Deepavali to all our Indian brothers and sisters.