Under Beijing's Shadow
Southeast Asia's China Challenge
Lanham, Maryland US: Roman & Littlefield, 2020
Hardcover, 608 pages RRP $76.14
Reviewer: Bruce Brown, June 2022
A pre-occupation of Australia’s foreign policy analysts continues to be the search for appropriate strategies in response to China’s growing assertiveness in the Indo Pacific region. In 2022, for example, news of an agreement between Solomon Islands, a neighbouring Pacific Islands state, and China created a furore over how Australia should have responded. There were, in fact, no case studies or a road map for Australia to explore, unlike those provided for Southeast Asia by Murray Hiebert.
Hiebert’s volume provides an illuminating insight into China‘s engagement with 10 countries in Southeast Asia - another zone of geopolitical importance to Australia. Based on his extensive knowledge and contacts as a journalist in Southeast Asia, Herbert is able to explore how differences in religion, economics and proximity to China shape the responses of each state. Ultimately this undermines the development of a concerted and coherent ASEAN regional response.
Aside from chapters dealing with the ten countries, the opening and closing chapters offer broader perspectives accompanied by maps. The final chapter ‘Epilogue: For Southeast Asia. How close to China is too Close?’ provides an interesting observation for the Australian reader.
‘Prime Minister Morrison in August 2019 paid an official visit to Vietnam, a strategic partner, and announced commitments to increase economic ties and strengthen defence and security cooperation. But the visit took place while a Chinese survey ship and supporting coast guard vessels were hassling a Vietnam-sponsored oil rig exploring for oil and gas …off the coast of southern Vietnam. China’s actions were discussed in Hanoi, but Morrison avoided calling out Beijing’s behaviour, presumably to avoid offending China, which is Australia’s most important economic partner.
The reluctance `of the Australian prime minister to call Beijing out suggests that nations in China’s crosshairs cannot expect much help from countries like Australia that are highly dependent on China economically, said Huong Le Thu of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
Above all, the book can be highly recommended as very readable for the armchair as well as specialist reader.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for providing this copy for review.