The role of the US in the region has always been viewed as crucial, often described as the “least distrusted power”. Asia’s peace and security for the last 40 years was largely premised on the unipolar leadership the US has built, but this is set to change with the rise of China both economically and militarily. A multipolar environment is inevitable, as a US navy in the Asia-Pacific with no support from the White House would impact Asia’s stability.
China’s vision for the future world order is best encapsulated by three principles: (1) Issues of the world are the shared responsibility of all countries; (2) The future world order must reflect everyone’s view, not just those of the big powers; and (3) All countries, regardless of size, must be treated as equals and big countries should not exert their power on smaller ones. China sees the Belt and Road Initiative – a manifestation of this vision – not as a unilateral initiative but a global platform where all participating countries can reap benefits in areas where China can contribute.
The recent prominence of the Indo-Pacific points to India’s need for a more overt foreign policy towards the Pacific and the discernment of considerable convergence in the Quad security initiative, comprising market economies, democracies and maritime powers. ASEAN has to be a flexible shape-shifting organisation – hedging, balancing and bandwagoning are not options but necessary acts to preserve ASEAN centrality and autonomy amid major powers, in addition to making itself relevant.