Beijing's head start over Biden in South-east Asia

China is faring better and doing more than the United States in the contest for influence, even though there is much goodwill for the Biden administration in the region.

A vaccination centre in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, earlier this month. The US lags behind China in vaccine diplomacy towards South-east Asia, says the writer.PHOTO: AFP

There is a striking similarity in the titles of two prominent books published recently about China and South-east Asia - In The Dragon's Shadow: Southeast Asia In The Chinese Century by Sebastian Strangio and Under Beijing's Shadow: Southeast Asia's China Challenge by Murray Hiebert.

"Shadow" is a metaphor, but also a physical reality of China standing tall at South-east Asia's doorstep. This proximity, together with China's cultural-historical ties and economic gravity, underlies the Chinese vision of a "community of shared destiny" with South-east Asia - a hierarchical regional order in which Beijing sees smaller states' acceptance of its leadership and centrality as a natural way of things.

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