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US and EU Evolving Approaches to Southeast Asia. Convergent or Divergent Trajectories?

Asia
Comparative Politics
European Union
USA
Angela Pennisi di Floristella
University of Malta
Angela Pennisi di Floristella
University of Malta

Abstract

With the launch of Obama’s strategic rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, there has been a widening of US military, economic and diplomatic posture to the Southeast Asian region. Likewise, since 2012 the EU has also enhanced its credentials towards Southeast Asia beyond traditional issues of trade and business, facts that have led to the suggestion that the EU was developing its own pivot to the region (Islam 2015: 300). These developments have raised increasing attention from academic circles and think tanks. Much has been written about US rebalancing policy in Southeast Asia (Graham 2013; Emmers 2013; Limaye 2010) and about EU evolving partnership in the region (Islam 2015; Kennes 2015; Pennisi di Floristella 2016). Yet in 2016 the advent of the new US Presidency is lingering questions about US role in the region. Southeast Asia did not figure in Trump’s presidential campaign (Dalpino 2017) and Southeast Asian partners are worrying that under the “American first” motto, the US could abandon its support for multilateral institutions and regional diplomacy. At the same time, EU long term commitment to Southeast Asia is also constrained by daunting challenges, coming both within EU borders and its immediate neighborhood, notably North Africa and the Middle East, as well as limited resources in qualitative and quantitative terms. It is though clear that Southeast Asia is a region of interest for both the EU and the US despite their different historical, economic and diplomatic ties. Surprisingly however, up to the present a systematic comparison of EU and US approaches to Southeast Asia is largely lacking. To fill this void, by utilizing some commonly employed tools of foreign policy analysis, this article compares US and EU: 1) strategies 2) policy objectives and; 3) main instruments of cooperation in the Southeast Asian region. In particular, by deploying this analytical frame, this paper analyzes commonalities and differences of the transatlantic relationship. In so doing, the article addresses the following questions: are there any similarities and or differences in EU and US approaches to Southeast Asia? To what extent are US and EU approaches to Southeast Asia getting closer or distant? And is there any prospect of transatlantic cooperation in the region? Examining whether the EU and the US are moving towards a greater converge of intent is of crucial importance to identify opportunities for the development of the transatlantic relationship in Southeast Asian through cooperation and division of labor rather than confrontation.