Note — Dec 20, 2020

Pillar or Pawn

Other than constantly reading that title as “Pillar or prawn,” I quite enjoyed this perspective on how Southeast Asia is squeezed between the politics of China and the US, yet gains investment, development, and its own kind of autonomy in the process. One should always be weary of considering a country as a homogenous block, never mind a group of countries, but they are under some of the same pressures and benefitting from some of the same opportunities, so I found the piece a valuable high level look.

Knit tightly into global supply chains, Southeast Asia’s manufacturing sector effectively wins twice from the U.S.-China trade war: American companies are shifting investment from China to reduce costs and avoid tariffs, and China will import more from Southeast Asia to substitute for the U.S. within the RCEP framework. […]

In the arena of digital services, such as cloud computing and business transformation consulting, American players Amazon, Microsoft, and Google are also the region’s leaders — all ahead of Alibaba. […]

Southeast Asian nations are fully aware of all of this jostling at the diplomatic and commercial levels. This mere fact has encouraged them to incrementally push forward with their own regional agenda. Indeed, there is strong evidence that Southeast Asia is, rather than splitting up along Cold War lines, coming together and asserting its collective leverage. […]

The region is clearly not a bloc. Rather, it is a sponge, absorbing foreign technology and practices to increase its own weight. The winner of the U.S.-China confrontation may well be Southeast Asia.