– geographically, culturally and historically. It stretches from the Indochinese Peninsula, which comprises Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and parts of Malaysia, through the Indonesian archipelago with Indonesia, Brunei, Papua New Guinea, East Timor, Brunei and the rest of Malaysia, all the way to Australia. The Philippine islands lie to the north. Further to the southeast are New Zealand and the islands of Oceania.
Geographically, the Indonesian archipelago and Australia form the dividing line between the Pacific and the Indian Oceans.
The region’s ethnic, religious, historical and political characteristics are varied. Indonesia and Malaysia are predominantly Muslim, the Philippines is Catholic. Australia and New Zealand are Christian, and their populations are predominantly of European origin, whereas the people of Indochina are strongly influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism. Most countries in the region claim to be democracies. Vietnam remains a self-declared communist state, though it allows private property and a market-driven economy.
Economically, the differences are also significant. Singapore is extremely prosperous. Australia and New Zealand are well-to-do countries in the European style, albeit with some pockets of poverty.
What all these countries have in common is their largest trading partner: China. Beijing’s assertive policymaking is the most important strategic issue in the region.
With a reported deal to allow the Chinese military access to a key naval base, Cambodia has gained the attention of those following the Sino-U.S. rivalry. For Phnom Penh, however, its partnership with Beijing is about carefully balancing Vietnam and Thailand, two strong regional powers with which it still has tensions. Cambodia shares a broad spectrum of interests with China, to a degree that the U.S., EU and Japan do not.
The future of Malaysia’s ruling coalition and its ambitious reforms program hangs on the determination of two iconic leaders, formerly bitter rivals, to set aside their personal grievances and work together for the country’s future. This determination has been put to a test lately.
After elections in May, Australia’s new government must decide how to balance its ties with the United States and China. The economic relationship with China is paramount, but Australia also has interests in the security of its immediate neighborhood and shares a great deal with the U.S. The trade war and broader rivalry between the U.S. China trade war will present Australia with tough choices about its regional orientation.
Vietnam, with its more than 3,400-kilometer coastline on the South China Sea, its growing economy and its large military, is a linchpin of Southeast Asia. It also lies at the crux of global powers’ interests in the region. So far, it has managed to maximize its independence, but rapidly changing geopolitical dynamics in the region threaten to undermine its strategy. This Dossier reviews GIS experts’ analysis of and predictions for this emerging regional leader.