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U.S.–Southeast Asia Relations: Raised Stakes and Renewed Importance
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U.S.–Southeast Asia Relations: Raised Stakes and Renewed Importance

Brian Harding argues that U.S. interests will be well-served by continuing down a bipartisan path of deeper engagement in Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia’s profile has risen dramatically in U.S. foreign policy circles in recent years. After the United States drifted away from the region following the end of its involvement in Vietnam in 1975, U.S. attention began to return in the early days of the George W. Bush administration, although at that time largely in the context of President Bush’s global war on terrorism. Toward the end of the Bush years, Washington began to wake up to the broader importance of the region as a hub of global growth and as an arena where competition for the future shape of Asia would take place in the context of China’s rising regional influence. In 2007 the Bush administration sent a strong signal of U.S. interest in deepening ties with the region when it made the United States the first country to nominate an ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Meanwhile, outside the U.S. government, Southeast Asia studies programs began to crop up in the Washington think-tank community, suggesting broad interest among foreign policy elites in reflecting more deeply on the region’s importance. This pattern accelerated dramatically under President Barack Obama.

This essay begins by describing developments in U.S.–Southeast Asia relations during the Obama administration and then outlines challenges that the Trump administration will face in the region. It concludes with policy recommendations for the Trump administration.

The above excerpt was originally published in Asia Policy. Click here to view the full article.

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Brian Harding

Director, East and Southeast Asia