Where Great Powers Meet: America & China in Southeast Asia.

Where Great Powers Meet: America & China in Southeast Asia. By David Shambaugh. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021. Hardcover: 326pp.

Since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, insufficient attention has been directed towards the role Southeast Asia has played in both American and Chinese foreign policy. Having extracted itself from conflicts in Indochina nearly a half century ago, the United States has since devoted most of its attention and energy to Europe and the Middle East. A rising China and a burgeoning nuclear North Korea were Indo-Pacific exceptions. Meanwhile, China has worked assiduously to fill the Great Power vacuum in Southeast Asia created by oscillations in US economic and strategic engagements with ASEAN member states.

The above suppositions comprise what is regarded as the "common wisdom" and are generally accepted by many international relations analysts and observers. They fail, however, to adequately explain the concrete dynamics and complexities underlying Sino-American competition in Southeast Asia.

David Shambaugh's new book, Where Great Powers Meet: America & China in Southeast Asia, represents a breakthrough effort to shed more light on comparative Chinese and American influence in Southeast Asia. One of the world's pre-eminent authorities on the international relations of China and East Asia, he has generated, via numerous interviews and through the persistent cultivation of an extraordinary network of government officials, business leaders, academic experts in Southeast Asia and beyond, what must be viewed as the authoritative empirical work comparing Chinese and American influence and weaknesses in that region.

As his main argument, Shambaugh introduces the idea of Sino-American "comprehensive competition" as it applies to Southeast Asia between the superpowers in the region of concern. Comprehensive competition is not an uncompromising zero-sum or action-reaction contest between China and the United States. Rather it is a process adopted by both countries to advance and maximize their own respective positions in Southeast Asia without necessarily affecting one's primary rival in every instance. Comprehensive competition is therefore viewed more accurately, argues Shambaugh, as "soft rivalry" with incidental "shadow boxing" between Beijing and Washington rather than a Cold War-like "hard rivalry" (pp. 3-4).

The author notes that both powers enjoy visible strengths and suffer from discernible weaknesses in...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT