Southeast Asia After the Cold War: A Contemporary History traces the development of the international relations of Southeast Asia from the end of the Cold War to 2017–18. It takes stock of how the international relations of the region have evolved since 1990, the changes, continuities, and likely trajectories. Looking back almost 30 years since the Cold War ended, this book attempts to answer the following questions: What was the international politics of the region like at the end of the Cold War or at the beginning of the post-Cold War era?
After the fall of the Soviet Union, a unipolar world emerged with the United States as the only superpower. This state of affairs did not last long because of the rise of China. As a result, disputes between ASEAN nations and China over sovereignty in the South China Sea take up a good portion of Southeast Asia After the Cold War: A Contemporary History, which analyses the big issues the members of ASEAN have faced since 1990. While he does not have space here to go into the recent history of individual Southeast Asian nations in any depth, the overwhelming feeling is that ASEAN can’t achieve what it wants to give its huge differences in culture, forms of government, and geography.
The narrative begins with the 1990s. Despite Western pressure to keep the country isolated, Myanmar joined in 1997; letting them in caused ASEAN some inconvenience with Western powers critical of the country’s human rights record. That same year, the Asian Financial Crisis caused further havoc for ASEAN, throwing the organization’s largest member, Indonesia, into political turmoil and ultimately causing the downfall of President Suharto.
After 9/11, the War on Terror brought troubles especially for Indonesia and Malaysia, but in the 21st century, the main focus of ASEAN has been the South China Sea dispute. The author’s narrative takes us through the various flashpoints, for example, the appropriately named Mischief Reef where China has been reclaiming land and building a military base.
ASEAN has failed to pin China down to a legally binding code of conduct for the South China Sea. China prefers to deal with countries bilaterally, whereas a multinational approach would allow Southeast Asia to stand up to the superpower. ASEAN members, however, find it hard to agree with each other, because, for example, Cambodia and Laos are more dependent on China than others.
Yet even had the group been able to get China to sign a binding code it’s doubtful it would have made a difference, given that China rejected the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s decision which ruled in the Philippines’ favor in 2016. This decision rejected China’s ‘nine-dash line’ which has them owning the main archipelagos in the South China Sea, the Spratly Islands, and the Paracel Islands.
Southeast Asia After the Cold War: A Contemporary History is written in the mode of contemporary history, presenting a complete, analytically informed narrative that covers the region, highlighting change, continuity, and context. Crucial as a tool to make sense of the dynamics of the region, this account of Southeast Asia’s international relations will also be of immediate relevance to those in China, the USA, and elsewhere who engage with the region, with its young, dynamic population, and its strategic position across the world’s key choke-points of trade. This is essential reading for decision-makers who wish to understand our current situation, looking back to the end of the Cold War thirty years ago, and forward to an uncertain future.