The battle for China’s backyard

THE ECONOMIST February 25TH 2021

The rivalry between America and China will hinge on South-East Asia.

DURING THEIR 45-year feud, America and the Soviet Union fought proxy battles all across the world. But the cold war was at its most intense in Europe, where the Soviets constantly worried about their satellites breaking away, and America always fretted that its allies were going soft. The contest between China and America, happily, is different from that. For one thing, the two sides armed forces are not glowering at one another across any front lines—although in Taiwan and North Korea each has an ally in a tense, decades-long stand-off with the other. Even so, in the rivalry between the two powers, there will be a main zone of contention: South-East Asia. And although the region has drawn up no clear battle-lines, that only makes the competition more complex.

People across South-East Asia already see America and China as two poles, pulling their countries in opposite directions. Those protesting against the recent military coup in Myanmar, for example, hold up angry placards that attack China for backing the generals and pleading ones that beg America to intervene. Governments feel under pressure to pick sides. In 2016 Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, loudly announced his country’s “separation from America” and pledged allegiance to China instead.



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