Rivalry and Response: Assessing Great Power Dynamics in Southeast Asia.

AuthorTinh, Le Dinh

Rivalry and Response: Assessing Great Power Dynamics in Southeast Asia. Edited by Jonathan R. Stromseth. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2021. Softcover: 202pp.

Building on a trilateral initiative by the Brookings Institution, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and Lowy Institute, Jonathan Stromseth has put together a volume of well-written and stimulating essays by renowned authors on the relationship between Australia, the United States and ASEAN. This important publication comes at a time when Southeast Asia is set to become a "hotbed of strategic rivalry between China and the United States" (p. 1).

The collection starts with an overview chapter by Jonathan Stromseth which sets the scene for the subsequent analyses by outlining the current strategic landscape of Southeast Asia and providing a summary of the book's policy recommendations. The eight subsequent chapters can be grouped under two themes: one dealing with specific actors and the other with substantive issues. While Lindsey Ford examines the United States' Indo-Pacific Strategy, Richard Heydarian discusses ASEAN centrality vis-a-vis Sino-US rivalry and Herve Lemahieu analyses Australia's engagement with Southeast Asia. Under the second theme, David Dollar looks into major power competition over regional infrastructure, which is supplemented by a sharp juxtaposition by Roland Rajah on the Indo-Pacific Infrastructure and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In the next two chapters, Khuong Vu offers a forward-looking piece on the economic challenges facing ASEAN, while Ben Bland provides a convincing account of historical and contemporary governance in the region, using Indonesia as a case study. The volume concludes with a vigorous analysis by Thomas Pepinsky on development and democracy in Southeast Asia.

The authors' treatment of Southeast Asia's challenges posed by its complex strategic environment and the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the fact that there is no linear way of understanding the region's dynamics. One has to acknowledge the diversity of the region's history as well as the heterogeneity in the strategic planning process of each Southeast Asian country. For instance, Bland argues that "it is more instructive to see the problems faced by these countries in their own unique historical context" (p. 135). Also, as stated by Heydarian, "ASEAN constantly emphasizes its unwillingness to choose between competing sides" (p. 56), not just because...

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