The Sino-American rivalry, the underlying issue of the Asean summit

Joe Biden at the opening of the Asean Summit by videoconference at the White House on October 26, 2021. AP - Susan Walsh

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The summit of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, opened on Tuesday by videoconference and for three days.

The head of the Burmese junta, General Min Aung Hlaing, is excluded, so Burma has decided to boycott the summit.

But the other stake, in the background, is the Sino-American rivalry.

Joe Biden will be there after the systematic absences of Donald Trump.


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The American president will participate in the meeting of heads of state and government of ASEAN which also includes the United States, Russia and China as partners.

For decades, ASEAN has been careful to maintain its neutrality, or what it calls its “centrality” in all areas of cooperation: economic, political and security within the Asia-Pacific. 

For the organization, there is no question of choosing a side.

It's a way for her to keep some leeway.

But today, is this position still tenable in the current atmosphere of bloc confrontation between China and America?   

The new triple alliance

called Aukus

, between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, for example, divides Asean a lot. Some support it discreetly because they want the balance of power in the region, especially since it is part of the logic of the Quad, the informal security forum between Americans, Japanese, Indians and Australians, which aims to be increasingly a bulwark against any Chinese aggression in Asia. 

This is precisely what bothers the other part of the Asean countries, particularly Indonesia and Malaysia, which point the finger at troublemakers, but do not speak of Beijing's massive effort to strengthen its armed presence in the area.

Which, moreover, does not really obey the principle of "not choosing your side".

►Also read: Asean at the top, without Burma


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