– 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.
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.
Before his triumphant return to office at the unlikely age of 93, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad made a deal to hand over power after an interim period to his former deputy-turned-bitter rival Anwar Ibrahim. Both men left the timing vague, intent to avoid any repeat of the falling-out that led to Mr. Anwar’s imprisonment in 1999. It might take Dr. Mahathir more than two years to clean up the previous government’s mess, but Mr. Anwar seems content to wait.
Thailand has a wealth of geographic, historical and economic advantages, and yet it lags in terms of political liberalization. It is more monarchy than democracy, an arrangement that worked to its advantage during the Cold War but is now holding it back. At issue is whether the country can find a new balance between the forces of tradition and modernity. If not, Thailand may become too weak to resist China’s expanding influence in the region.