VANGUARD - Expressing the viewpoint of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist)
For National Independence and Socialism •


US imperialism and its attempts to control South-east Asia

Two recent reports, written independently of each other, have both confirmed how the US is beginning to experience serious diplomatic problems in South-east Asia. The small sub-area of the vast Indo-Pacific has been a powerhouse of the global economy in recent decades; regional diplomatic organisation has become, therefore, a major global consideration.

In the half century since the establishment of ASEAN, however, the US has witnessed the eclipse of power in their regional foreign policy, to one which is now subject to challenge from its rival imperialism, China.

In late July the Asia Society, published Prioritising South-east Asia in American Strategy, a report which detailed how the US was losing the diplomatic offensive in South-east Asia. (1) The right-wing business intelligence and lobby organisation based in Washington is part of a global network and states its role is to, 'navigate shared futures for Asia'. (2)

The publication coincided with another similar report, 'Quad erat demonstandium', by a number of Japanese and South Korean academics not usually associated with either progressive or left-wing causes. (3) In fact, many of those involved in the report were part of the US university system. They, nevertheless, had a great deal to state about recent Japanese foreign policy, and noted, 'Japan needs a more autonomous foreign policy', which was not US-led. (4)

Behind the scenes both reports were drawing attention to the shortcomings of recent US regional foreign policy and the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) intelligence-sharing organisation which has elevated the US-Japan alliance to global significance. (5) It has had far-reaching implications for US regional foreign policy, particularly in South-east Asia.

The small sub-area of the vast Indo-Pacific region is placed largely in-between the first and second island chains, which are used by the Pentagon to contain and encircle China's foreign policy. The area is also one of the most economically dynamic in the global economy. Traditionally under US hegemony, in recent times the challenge from China has sent US diplomatic tensions soaring.

While US foreign direct investment into South-east Asia has reached $328.5 billion, the equivalent of that of China, South Korea, and Japan combined, it has been noted, however, 'Washington's biggest problem was the lack of a compelling trade agenda'. (6) Floods of imperialist finance capital do not are not designed to create meaningful economic development; in fact, they tend to be accompanied with strings and other considerations.

In order to monitor their finance capital, the US tends to create 'front-type companies' in the corporate sector, usually controlled by US citizens; shadowy bodies where influence is brought to bear from elsewhere inside the corridors of power of the host country, ensuring the money trail remains opaque.

Regional diplomatic organisations such as ASEAN, established during the last Cold War during the 1960s as essentially pro-US and anti-communist, now, however, welcome China. Times have changed. Modern-day ASEAN is also careful to use informal decision-making procedures as a means of establishing mutually beneficial diplomacy in a very politically and culturally diverse member environment in order to promote regional harmony.

Japan, while not officially an ASEAN member, has, nevertheless, maintained extremely close and cordial relations for over three decades; the 2008 ASEAN-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement cemented already strong trade and diplomatic links. ASEAN is now Japan's second largest trading partner. Japan also regards ASEAN as the key to peace and stability in the region.

The US position of continually pushing forward the GSOMIA has, therefore, created problems in Japan and elsewhere.

Countries in South-east Asia have been allocated the position of lower-level partners inside the US-Japan global alliance; they are expected to follow the Pentagon-line of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy, aimed directly at China, which is not necessarily in their own interests. (7)

The fact that Beijing is ASEAN's largest trading partner, has, therefore, raised serious questions for the eleven member countries. Their governments see no reason to offend China; they increasingly rely upon Beijing for favourable trade and diplomacy in what China describes as a multi-polar world.

The ever-increasing war-mongering by the US is regarded as problematic; while Washington remains the largest provider of military equipment and weapons for South-east Asia, governments are increasingly reluctant to be seen to antagonise China. They are also concerned at the ability of the US military-industrial complex to dictate foreign policy which they are supposed to comply with, without comment or criticism.  

US 'allies', likewise, are also increasingly faced with similar problems.

The 'Quad erat demonstadium' report, for example, also had some harsh words to say about the US-Australia alliance, with the statement, 'in Australia, meanwhile, the military brass section still dominates the foreign policy orchestra … with reference to … more US troop rotations'. (8)

The recent announcement of Australia hosting a Combined Intelligence Centre with the US, within the Defence Intelligence Organisation next year is another warning sign of the country being drawn ever closer to Pentagon military positions, with all the problems which that entails. Australian regional diplomatic initiatives will merge with intelligence-gathering, for what are, essentially, 'US interests'.

A comment from an informed source that Australia will also be hosting the deployment of US missiles, and that Canberra had been regarded as failing the US diplomatic position to accurately assess China's role in the Pacific, show how the increased wave of militarism has affected Australia. (9) But even the best of the Pentagon's plans have gone astray.

It is interesting to note the Asia Society report drew specific attention to the claim that 'US engagement in the region was failing … and … many disliked its lectures on adhering to the rules-based order'. (10) And for good reason. Studies of the problem have concluded that, 'an imperial lens provides a more precise explanation of how the rules-based order operates and in whose interests'. (11) ASEAN members, furthermore, have tended to regard the US diplomatic position as hypocritical over a number of issues in light of Washington's continued refusal to sign the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention. (12)

In conclusion, government personnel in Canberra could do well to study the two reports and assess the likely outcome in years to come, particularly in light of a recent statement that Australia was designing a new aid program for South-east Asia for use with ASEAN. An official media statement said that 'the new aid policy will aim to connect Australia more closely to the region'. (13)

Those concerned in Canberra might like to consider in whose interests the new aid program is being formulated and implemented, and just who is actually pulling the strings to challenge the emerging multi-polar nature of regional diplomacy:

                                          We need an independent foreign policy!

1.     US diplomacy off the boil in South-east Asia, Australian, 3 August 2023.                 
2.     Official website: Asia Society, Washington.
3.     'Quad erat demonstandium', Inside Story, National Affairs, 31 July 2023.
4.     Ibid.
5.     The reasons behind Washington's push for GSOMIA., Hankyoreh, 12 November 2019.
6.     Australian, op.cit., 3 August 2023.
7.     Hankyoreh, op.cit., 12 November 2019.
8.     Inside Story, op.cit., 31 July 2023.
9.     Vale Sovereignty,, 7 August 2023.
10.   Australian, op.cit., 3 August 2023.
11.   Sub-Imperial Power, Clinton Fernandes, (Melbourne, 2002), page 45.
12.   Australian, op.cit., 3 August 2023.
13.   Regional aid plan to restore relations, Australian, 4 August 2023.