NEW DELHI: U.S. President Donald Trump is “completely obsessed with re-election” and doesn’t “understand how the deep Chinese embrace,” of South East Asian countries is “pulling them into Beijing’s womb,” says Elizabeth Becker, award winning author and expert on the region. Speaking to StratNews Global Associate Editor Amitabh P. Revi, she says China is “picking off one Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) country after another.” The ex-New York Times journalist feels “Thailand has been able to balance” the U.S. and China, despite Beijing’s push, but Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte is a “perfect stooge to ensure ASEAN doesn’t take a strong position on the South China Sea”. He even “turned his back” on the favourable international court ruling on territorial claims for Chinese deals, she points out. In the first week of September, 2020, the President has insisted on pushing ahead on infrastructure projects with Chinese firms blacklisted by the U.S. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen also “fits the profile,” the author of ‘When The War Was Over: Cambodia & the Khmer Rouge Revolution’, says, adding the Chinese Communist Party is “very clever at the organised corruption of the elite,” and knows “how to manipulate the leadership”.
The countries of Southeast Asia are experiencing the Chinese “21st century version of colonialism, Ms Becker says, pointing to advertisements “to buy an apartment in Shanghai, which offer a free house in Phnom Penh.” Cambodia has given up the coastal city of Sihanoukville, she adds, turning it into Las Vegas, which is “Chinese built, with Chinese workers, Chinese owners and Chinese gamblers,” along with giving access to a nearby military port. Even Vietnam, which along with Singapore is leading the pushback against China, has “Beijing’s shadow” over it, Ms Becker feels.
The author who has reported on wars in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and whose next book is ‘You Don’t Belong Here: How Three Women Rewrote The Story Of War’ warns that the U.S. is putting “all its eggs in the military basket” in South East Asia, running the danger of “triggering” a conflict.