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The eagle has landed: The US rebalance to Southeast Asia

By Peter Chalk

Early in his administration, President Barack Obama announced the ‘Asia rebalance’, a US reorientation that became official policy in January 2012. This so-called ‘pivot’ explicitly recognises the need for America to re-embrace partner nations in Asia, leveraging their significant and growing capabilities to build a network of states that nurtures, strengthens and sustains a rules-based order that’s capable of effectively addressing regional challenges.

The fundamental question is whether the US will continue with its current ASEAN-centric policy as part of a broader program of Asian engagement. 

Assuming that the rebalance survives, it’s clear that a central challenge will be convincing China that the return to Southeast Asia isn’t a thinly veiled strategy of Sino-containment but, rather, an effort to revitalise and strengthen partnerships in a key part of the world. The optimal and most sustainable outcome will be the emergence of a regional order that promotes risk-averse behaviour by Beijing and insulates against the type of unilateral action that could quickly escalate out of control to threaten American and local allied interests.