For all their cautious public remarks, Southeast Asian governments still fret over China’s growing influence and would welcome a return to US engagement in the region. An American foreign policy better geared to Southeast Asia’s needs is not incompatible with promoting US economic and security national interests or competing with China.
Containing the pandemic and rekindling the economy are the most pressing priorities as Covid-19 continues to roil the region. There are also opportunities to benefit from supply chains moving away from China and to learn from success stories like Singapore and Vietnam.
Beyond the economy, Widodo’s greatest fear is a rupture in the social fabric of Indonesia like the one that occurred during the Asian financial crisis, writes Richard Maude.
Few Southeast Asian states have the resources, wealth and government capabilities to respond to a pandemic that even the richest nations are struggling to defeat.