Misha is joined by Cindy Yu, of the Spectator, to talk with James Crabtree of IISS on how Southeast Asia is the cockpit of geopolitical competition among China, the US, and India.
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Michael Auslin: Welcome back to the Pacific Century, a Hoover Institution podcast on China, America, the Indo-Pacific, and the fate of the 21st century. I am your host, Michael Auslin and due to enormous and unending demand by the listenership, I am once again joined, in fact, soon to be usurped by my wonderful co-host at times, Cindy Yu of The Spectator in the UK. Cindy, welcome back.
Cindy Yu: Thanks for having me, Michael. Hope not to usurp you.
Michael Auslin: No, I think that the mail is running nine to one in favor of you usurping me. They'd like to see an abdication. I'm not sure it's going to happen, but people were writing in saying, "When is Cindy coming back?" So I know that listeners will be thrilled to have you back. For those who don't remember or don't know, Cindy is the broadcast editor of The Spectator in the UK, The Spectator the world's oldest, continuously published magazine. And also, presenter of the Chinese Whispers podcast, another must listen podcast. Cindy was brought up in Nanjing and she has a master's in Chinese studies at Oxford, and you can follow her on Twitter @CindyXiadonYu. And those of you who know Chinese will know exactly how to spell that. And so Cindy, we have a great guest today. Someone I've been looking forward to having on for a while, not least because he, well like you was a journalist and is based out in Singapore. And that is James Crabtree. James is the executive director of double I double S Asia, IISS, which is the International Institute for Strategic Studies based in London. As many of you know, James is also an associate professor of practice at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. He was a journalist for the Financial Time-
Michael Auslin: ... wait I'm getting waved off.
Crew: He isn't anymore an associate professor in practice.
James Crabtree: Used to be.
Michael Auslin: He isn't anymore. So his double I double S webpage needs to be updated.
Crew: It should say he used to be.
Michael Auslin: He was folks, he was an associate professor, and he also was a journalist for the Financial Times and his bestselling book from 2018, The Billionaire Raj: A Journey through India's New Gilded Age, which is a must read for those of you interested in India. So James Crabtree, welcome to the Pacific Century.
James Crabtree: Delighted to be here, Michael, Cindy. Thanks so much for having me.
Michael Auslin: We are really glad. There's a lot to talk about. Obviously, you have a unique perspective on Southeast Asia, your work on India, China, of course, we want to get to all of that. But we have to ask about the Queen, the funeral, the king, not least because over here in the states in DC and everywhere has been focused on this. Not as much of course as Cindy and in London, but people have been focused on it for 10 years. And on the show, we've actually had a decent number of British guests, including our common friend Tom Tugendhat, who is now minister of state for security. We've had the First Sea Lord, Rana Mitter, we've had a number of guests talking about the UK's connection to Asia, the tilt back east, the moving back East of Suez. So just a quick sort of color question, James, you're in Singapore, former colony member of the Commonwealth. There are 19 commonwealth countries in Asia. Has this had any impact? Did people pay attention? Does it mean anything to them or not at all, and we can move on?
James Crabtree: I think it is an unusual moment, maybe the last great moment of sort of British soft power of global dominance in a funny way. So there was an awful lot of media coverage and people paid attention. I don't think with anything like the fervor that was true in the United Kingdom. And in a strange way, I think this may be the high point of a moment in which a country like the United Kingdom in Europe can produce an event that has this kind of global impact. It's almost the last of its era. I mean, you've seen commentary about the fact that the death of the Queen is the marks close of a long imperial era, but I think it also probably marks the close of a moment in which a country like Britain can produce a global event of this scale. So yeah, I mean, it's been widely observed even at an institute. So the Institute for Strategic Studies, I found that there were diplomats and friends in Singapore who were spontaneously reaching out to offer condolences as if they were feeling like they should be condoling somebody and the nearest Brit would do the job. So a little bit like I was sort of an outpost of the British High Commission, I was the recipient of a few random acts of condolence. But I think one should see this as a sort of almost a moment in the trajectory of relative decline as opposed to a symbolism of British vitality somehow.
Michael Auslin: Interesting. That's very interesting. Because a lot of people, there's been commentary that this shows obviously the soft power, hate the term, but the soft power of Britain, the continuing attraction and that there might be some type of revitalization, but of course the economic and political headwinds are extraordinary. So it's an interesting take from your part and of course the open question of where the commonwealth will go after this without the Queen really who's not brainchild, but certainly one of the key parts of her reign was focusing and building and developing commonwealth ties. So we'll keep an eye on that. Maybe we'll come back to you in a few years of King Charles's reign to see how the commonwealth is doing. But I know that Cindy has a bigger question to move us into the politics of today in the future as opposed to as you put James, the politics of the past.
Cindy Yu: James, so this is slightly cheeky because it's such a broad question, so I'm going to warn you that now. And I just thought we could start by talking, you just mentioned in decline, but let's talk about the rise, the rise of empires or the rise of influence. When we look at the American experience, we can see that certainly for the US securing its near broad, the countries near it was so important for example through the Monroe Doctrine. When we look at Southeast Asia then for China's rise, how successful has it been in creating alliances in this vast region that we call Southeast Asia? And also, what are the areas at which it still struggles or that it would never overcome? So is it for example, trade where it does very, very well and security where it doesn't, What is that overview like?
James Crabtree: So it's a great question. I think you answer it in one of two ways, which is on one level, China has been hopeless at creating alliances. It doesn't really have any formal treaty allies in the way that the United States does. So the US is enmeshed in this system of alliance relationships in NATO in the northern hemisphere. And then for the east it has this web of bilateral security ties with Australia and Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, and China doesn't have any such relationships. And so, India doesn't either mean for historical reasons, both countries have been very skeptical of the value of alliances because they fear that they might entrap them in various ways into conflict. But China has been much more successful in developing various strong ties, partnerships of different kinds with countries in its near broad, it has two or three countries that you might class as kind of near allies in North Korea, Cambodia, Pakistan I guess would be part of that Carter. And then in the midst you have Southeast Asia, which is in a sense the focal point to some degree of the new Cold War. So just as Central Europe was the battle ground of the old Cold War, so much of Central Asia is really where the two superpowers are looking to win over the Non-Aligned. And so China has been trying to do that partly simply by the sheer power of its economic engine, which many countries in Southeast Asia look to as the future of their meal ticket in the future. It has been doing it through expensive infrastructure projects, all sorts of ways in which China has been trying to secure its near abroad without resorting to military power and that. At the double I doubles S every year we host a big defense summit called the Shangri-La dialogue. And so in a sense the Shangri-La dialogue is one of the places that you come to on a Saturday in June at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore. And you see both the US defense minister and the Chinese Defense Minister and all of the Southeast Asian defense ministers and the conversation that they're really having between one another is where stands this relationship between the great powers and the countries of Southeast Asia caught in between both the US and China and to some degree in here as well.
Cindy Yu: And just follow up on your point about America, it does seem like in this moment of Taiwan being a flash point that's coming up closer and closer and in the after aftermath of Pelosi's visit that the Americans are particularly keen on making countries pick sides. Is that a wise move to keep going with or that actually do Southeast Asian countries actually prefer the kind of ambiguity that they can trade with China but also get other benefits from America that they don't want to pick sides?
James Crabtree: The Southeast Asian countries definitely don't want to pick sides. That's the mantra that you hear in this part of the world all the time. It's almost a kick to official policy for any of the ASEAN members. We don't want to pick sides, we want to have good relations with both countries. The cliche is that they look to China for economic growth and many of them look to the US as the bulwark of the security order in the region. And some of them like Singapore have quite deep security partnerships with the US as well. So whether the US is actually forcing countries to choose sides, I think you could contest that. I mean certainly they pay lip service to the idea that they aren't forcing countries in Southeast Asia to pick sides. If you are sitting there in the State Department or The Pentagon, then the situation these Southeast Asian countries find themselves in and you don't really expect that Singapore or Vietnam is going to become a formal US treaty ally and start saying that you're going to intervene in the defense of Taiwan. What you're trying to do is stop the perception of a gradual drift towards China in this region as China's economic and military power grows. And that I think is the thing that frightens American officials that if they do nothing then there's a feeling that the gravity of China's sheer size, its presence in the region, it's growing, military might will simply draw more and more countries into its orbit.
Michael Auslin: And just to follow up with that, how do you assess the US, James in terms of its success or not in achieving that slow, trying to slow down that Chinese expansion and expansion of influence and power?
James Crabtree: I think it's a mixed bag to be honest. Under the Biden administration for the first year, the critique of the administration was that they hadn't actually done anything very much in Southeast Asia. So there hadn't been any visits, they weren't really paying attention, they had other things that they were focused on, in the last year that's improved a bit. I don't think anybody's grumbling anymore about no one turning up. You've had plenty of visits and it seems like the US is sort of reasonably engaged, not just in Southeast Asia but also in other areas like the Western Pacific where suddenly you've got quite a lot of us attention. On the other hand, there still is a bit of a lopsided economic relationship that US isn't offering countries in the region, the kind of trading relationships that they tend to want, although they're making a kind of half halfhearted attempt to develop a new Indo-Pacific economic framework. So I think the problem from the US perspective is it appears to be a slightly one note strategy in which the US is attempting to say that it can be an all-weather great power, but really what it's viewed as in this region is a security partner either in terms of hard security or to some degree in terms of the provision of public goods, which is okay, it's still an important player, but is it doing enough to both push back against Chinese initiatives. For instance, when China turns up and tries to build a military base in Cambodia or sends a spy ship to Sri Lanka or signs a security pact with a Solomon Islands, is the US sort of doing enough to push back against that or indeed to anticipate these things and stop them before they're happening and is it managing to develop the kind of broad based relationships with its potential partners which will give them options to choose somebody else other than the Chinese?
Cindy Yu: What are the methods for the US to do that? If you were advising President Biden, is it mainly about money and investment? Or is it about intelligence? What is it about?
James Crabtree: It's quite hard to match the Chinese dollar for dollar, although some countries do a decent job of that. Japan is the most obvious in this region. I think there's a sort of tension in the US approach, which is it's trying to do two things at once. On the one hand it's trying to push back against China from a hard security perspective and that means putting more military equipment into the area and investing more money, higher defense spending more aircraft carriers, more missiles, more facilities in Guam trying to do more with its core allies in the Quad in particular. So doing more with Australia, doing more with Japan. So it's trying to do that on the one hand sort of hard security balancing to try and keep China's military rise in check or balance, but it's also trying to position itself as a provider of public goods. So if you're a Southeast Asian economy that has slightly rickety infrastructure or is worried about climate change or doesn't quite know how to manage the rise of artificial intelligence, then the United States and its partners want to swoop in and say, "Well, we'll help you. We are providing all these useful things that will help your country develop COVID vaccines was a good example of that." Whether quad countries came together and said, well we'll provide a whole bunch of vaccines for people in Southeast Asia because we're nice people and we're trying to win friends and influence people. The problem is those two things are to some degree intention with one another. They're hard to do it the same time and they're hard to do well. So a body like the Quad for every time it's providing vaccines, it's not focusing on hard security. And so the US is really trying to do two things at once and it's quite difficult to do them at the same time and it's doing both of them for good reason. If you only talk about hard security, then that spooks the horses that the countries in Southeast Asia that are worried about China get very nervous if the US appears to be coming in as it was during the Trump years and being a force for destabilization in the region and encouraging an arms race. So that becomes a problem if on the other hand you spend your time only talking about the kind of cuddly fluffy stuff that we can all agree with infrastructure and vaccines and all the rest of it, then are you taking your eye off the ball of the challenge of China's encroaching military might around the region and do your partners therefore look at you and think, well the US isn't actually doing enough in terms of shifting kit and military spending into the region and therefore China's rise is inevitable and we might as well just accommodate to the fact that that China will be here forever and the Americans might not be. So it's a very tricky dilemma that the US is grappling with, not at all easy one to manage.
Cindy Yu: Well, James, in this context then, what do you make of President Biden's repeated, now repeated claims that the US will come to Taiwan defense militarily, we're recording this a few days after his latest such statement, again walked back by his officials. But what do Southeast Asian countries make of this apparent end to strategic ambiguity when it comes to Taiwan?
James Crabtree: I think people are pretty worried about this. I think there's a degree of confusion about what the US position is, which given the stakes are so high, is it says the Americans trying to shift important elements, the status quo over Taiwan, that I think there are people within the Biden administration who don't want to do that, who want to keep this status quo going as long as they can for fear that anything that follows it would be worse for Taiwan and potentially for the US. I think the big problem though is that every side in the Taiwan dispute is in a sense trying to change the status quo in their own way. So China is self-evidently trying to change the status quo and it's doing this by intimidating Taiwan and most recently by lobbying missiles over the country, the US to some degree is through its government seeking to change elements of the status quote. And even if you don't believe that, if you think the administration is true to its word and is sticking to its One-China policy and all the rest of the associated agreements, the various sort of assurances and the Taiwan Relations Act, then it's pretty clear that the sub-structure on which that US status quo is based is shifting in Congress. In amongst elite opinion in the run up to the 2024 Republican election, it's clear that there's lots of people out there in the US who no longer really believe that the status quo is tenable. And then in Taiwan itself, Taiwan public opinion is if not heading firmly for independence, its sort shifting in that direction. And I think we'll see that quite likely to see that in November's local elections that some people call the midterm elections in which most polls seem to suggest that the KMT, the party that would like to see some degree of reproach more with China is likely to do badly and that the party of president say is likely to do reasonably well. So in a sense, this rather shaky consensus that we've been holding to for the last few decades, it is kind of falling apart at on all sides and that's what makes the situation so unstable and so isn't so much if you are sitting here in Southeast Asia, you look at the US and you think, well the US is kind of ripping up the status quo, that the status quo is sort being chipped away at on all sites and that makes this very unstable and I think it means it's quite likely that we won't have to wait nearly as long for a fifth Taiwan Straits Crisis as we had to wait between the third and the fourth.
Cindy Yu: And maybe this is a good time for us to lead onto a bit of India media, but I just had one more question or more China focus, which is James, you mentioned the Quads there, that's India, Japan and Australia and the cooperation they have with the US but can India be regardless that ally when it comes to dealing with China in Asia given that we have just seen their wrap up of this Shanghai Cooperation organization where India seems very much pulled into the access of this alleged League of Authoritarian Gentleman.
James Crabtree: That's a nice way of putting it, yes. I think, India is a pretty reliable partner of the west, probably more reliable than it's given credit for. So India has been trending in a kind of US pro-western direction for at least the last decade and a half, albeit from a low base given the distrust between the US and India and the West for post-colonial and Cold War reasons up until maybe five years ago. India's position was to sort try and keep a rough hedge between China and the US but the border incursion that China undertook a couple of years ago, which led to clashes on the border had of enormous effect on Indian elite and public opinion and has pushed India much more firmly than I think any of us would've thought possible. In my view, it's an enormous geopolitical blunder on Beijing's part where for some tactical gains in the Himalayas, they have sort of given an excuse for India to move much more close, much, much more closely in lockstep with Europe and Japan and Australia and the US. Now, that doesn't mean that India is going to go along with everything that the west wants to do. And we saw that very clearly in the Ukraine conflict when there was an expectation amongst some in the West who didn't know India that well, that everybody else was going to sanction Russia so India would as well. And India said, "Well, actually we don't really want to do that. We quite value our relationship with Russia. We are worried about China. That's why we want to have a good relationship with Russia." And I don't think it's very realistic to expect, for instance, if China does decide to invade Taiwan, which is an impossible, I don't imagine that India's suddenly going to send troops to Taiwan's defense. So there are limits on the nature of this partnership, but I think the notion that India is somehow playing both sides of this, I don't think is an accurate reading of where Prime Minister Modi and his Foreign Affairs Minister Jaishankar are at. Yes, they are a member of the Shanghai cooperation agreement, but in a funny way it's quite a good thing that they are because it renders the Shanghai cooperation agreement a much less effective body with India than it would be if India was outside. Because India in a sense is a sort actually a kind of blocking mechanism to have India in there, as you saw when Modi was interpreted as chastising Putin over his adventure in Ukraine. So the fact that Modi was there in a funny way, he was sort of acting in that forum as the kind of nearest spokesperson for a view that would've been quite close to the West. So I think it's always ambiguous with India. India finds its own way, has a strong sense of its own national interest, it can be parochial as many indeed all countries can. But I think the right way of reading the trajectory of India's position is to see that it has been undertaking a deliberate and steady realignment to bring it closer to the US in particular, but also the rest of the Quad and the European countries. And that has been continuing post Ukraine and will continue for so long as India feels deeply threatened by the rise of China, which it does, it feels threatened on its long border where the two countries very nearly had a war last year. It feels threatened in the Indian Ocean where China has been making various incursions. And so I think shouldn't expect miracles, but you should see that India's change in geopolitical direction over the last five or 10 years was a sort of sustained and strategic one.
Michael Auslin: So to continue with the India theme for a second, I'd like to ask more about, or in addition about India's relations with Southeast Asia. So there was a lot made about a decade or so ago of the Look East policy that India would not simply be focused on Pakistan and its border there, but would actually be reaching back to some of its traditional trading partners and areas of influence in Southeast Asia. Certainly trade along the southeastern coast from Chennai towards Southeast Asia was a major part of that. How has that gone? Has India actually begun to play a larger role in Southeast Asia independent of the China question or the US question?
James Crabtree: I think it's a mixed bag to the extent that India has been developing stronger bilateral ties really, it's been doing it with the US, with Europe, with the Quad and then with a small of subsection of other countries. So India, Vietnam ties have been improving, maybe India, Singapore you could look to, but I think there's still quite a lot of work to do with Southeast Asia. The challenge that India has is that Southeast Asia is predominantly interested in trading relationships. And so India, which until recently hasn't really been able to offer those kind of trading relationships in particular just as the US exited from the CPTPP trade deal, India decided not to go into RCEP, which was really the big ask that the Southeast Asian countries had equally, I mean India has tried to talk a good game about civilizational diplomacy, trying to make links amongst countries that share either a Hindu or Buddhist sort of heritage, but that doesn't mean terribly much for most people. So I think India still has work to be done. External Affairs Minister Jaishankar recently gave a speech in Thailand, which he tried to push back against this perception that you hear in the region that India just didn't hear very much from India. And he made various arguments that actually India was and was going to increasingly be an important economic player, that there were particular initiatives that India had undertaken where India was contributing to Southeast Asia's common security. And so India is trying to make that case, but I think there's more work left to do and to be fair, my judgment of where India has been putting its diplomatic effort is that it's been putting its effort into building links with European countries, with Australia, with Japan rather than Southeast Asia.
Michael Auslin: Well, let me pick up on the Japan part. Obviously former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was as everyone knows assassinated a few months ago, had a very close relationship with Modi in India and what seemed from the outside at least dramatically deepened their ties even more and so then it seemed the United States was able to do with India. Is that an accurate assessment and where do you see Indo Japanese relations today? Are they a functional element in the geopolitics of the region? Are they deepening or is it really just a lot of talk and nothing else?
James Crabtree: No, I think they are important, and they are deepening. So when Prime Minister Kishida San took office then a visit to see Modi in Delhi was one of his very first international visits. I think there's more interest in Japan in both investing in India now India is having a moment of relative economic optimism. I mean India has now retaken its position as the world's fastest growing economy. And in the upsy downsy story of India's a growth trajectory is having a little moment in the sun where people are getting excited about India's growth potential again. And part of that is geopolitically driven in ways that would interest Japan. So you're just beginning to see for the first time people taking seriously the idea that India could become a producer of semiconductors or well more like microelectronics, but eventually semiconductors becoming more of a kind of factory floor for Asia. And so if you're a Japanese company looking to reduce your reliance on China, then you can't put everything in Vietnam. Vietnam is not a big enough market, it's only about the size of a small Chinese province, India on the other hand, but looks a much more enticing long-term bet. It's a potentially huge domestic market and if it can crack its manufacturing problem then it stands to gain enormously from countries moving away or trying to disentangle them from the Chinese system. Now, there's a lot of ifs and buts in that because India has tried to do this before. It's very complicated. I don't think you're going to see in India as a home for large scale semiconductor manufacturing anytime soon. But clearly, that's the potential. Equally, there are other things that Japan does very well, like infrastructure investment, which India needs a lot of. So I think economically it's important, but really this is a security partnership. The two countries see themselves as having common cause in Asia by being threatened by the rise in China. And so almost more than anything it's the diplomatic support that they provide one another and the relationships that they're trying to forge with an independent of the United States that sort of are the drivers of this.
Cindy Yu: James, when we're talking about India's GDP growth, the thing, it's fascinating when it comes in the context of China's slowing GDP growth. Some people even say that maybe China's growth is China's economy is not going to grow at all this year. When we look at demographics as well, China's demographics is going down, this population is aging, and India is actually the fastest growing country in the world. I think I'm right in saying that. James, I wanted to ask you basically what you think is going to happen with a rising India in the continent? Do these factors like economic growth and demographic growth mean that it could be something to contend with rather than a rising China?
James Crabtree: Well, I think if India is to become a great power or what Mr. Jaishankar until recently call a leading power as in a regional power, it needs to have a strong economy. And that sounds like a very basic point, but you can't afford the costs that come with being a player even in your own region or with aspirations for global status if your economy isn't very large, the military spending and all of the rest that comes with that. So India's rise is a great power is predicated on a certain amount of economic success. Equally, if China's economy slows and India's does begin a sort of sustained rise, then that's the kind of thing that will attract attention. It will make it much easier to develop diplomatic and economic partnerships and other sorts. As I say that, I remember a senior minister in Singapore once telling me that the problem with the relationship with India is it was fine to have these diplomatic links and you had cultural and educational exchanges, but really what countries like Singapore were looking for was opportunities for trade and economic growth. And if India didn't provide that then it meant that the relationship was sort of sitting on a stool with only one leg. I mean this sort of other part of your point, which is the slowing of China's growth I think is a really interesting phenomenon that we haven't really begun to grapple with. Kevin Rudd was here relatively recently in Singapore, and we were on a panel discussion in which he was musing on the challenges of China's economic growth model and how severe it would be and what he would do after the party Congress and the balance between domestic political control and the kind of potential reliberalization that you would need to have the Chinese economy reform and grow at a higher level. If we assume as I think the conventional wisdom is now that it's quite likely that China's economy will be growing not a seven or eight or even five or six, but something like three or 4% over the kind of coming period, then it's an interesting thought to think through, well what will that do to China's relative geo-economic position as in do all these countries in Southeast Asia that have been looking to China as their great meal ticket for the next 20 or 30 years with exports and investment suddenly take a second look and think, "Well, China's part of our economic future but we can't put all of our eggs in that basket and therefore we need to diversify a little bit more to add in that the trend towards economic decoupling and bifurcation." And it may gradually over time lead some of these countries caught in the middle to slightly reevaluate their relationship with China. But I think that will take quite a long time. I don't think it's something that's going to happen overnight and even if there's a financial crisis in China, which some people muse that there might be given the debt levels in the economy even that I think would take a while to work through and one shouldn't be excessively optimistic, if you see what I mean about the way in which countries in the region will peel away from China if the growth begins to slow a bit.
Michael Auslin: James, we've covered a lot of the big countries so far and as we start to wind down a little bit, you're sitting in Singapore which plays a pretty interesting and some would say unique role in the region. Can you just do... It's not a country we talk about that much unfortunately. And in DC sometimes we focus and sometimes we don't. So can you talk a little bit about the role that Singapore as a very small obviously geographically tiny player, but when that punches above its weight as evidenced by Shangri-La that you guys host there and its other relationships, where does Singapore fit into this equation and some of the other countries? And then, because I'm saying this now because I'll forget after you've answered that, I'd like to ask a little bit, there has been some democratic related moves in the region, former Prime Minister Najib losing his appeal and sentenced to jail, his full jail term in Malaysia. Questions of course of what's going on with the Burma situation like so if you could maybe just go around the region and talk about some of the things that we need to think about and be aware of both in London but in Washington and maybe starting with the role that Singapore plays.
James Crabtree: Let me do with Singapore first. I mean I think Singapore, you're right, has an outsized influence because I was telling someone the other day, it's a little bit like the old, I think it was Al Hague who once said, "Who the hell do I call from Washington if I want to call Europe?" And if you want to call Southeast Asia, my sense is most countries call Singapore there, it's a small country but very well connected, excellent skilled bureaucracy, really knows what's going on in the region. And so you'll have noticed that when us bigwigs come to the region, actually the countries that they tend to come to most often are Singapore and Vietnam, neither of which are formal US treaty allies. And in your own way that tells you in a sense where the US and Europeans, I mean Singapore's a very easy place to come to, so people come to it for that reason. But you come to Singapore because it's where you get your best read on the region. And also, Singapore has been adept at developing good partnerships with both sides of the equation and then Vietnam for different reasons because it's seen as a country that is a sort of growth opportunity in various different respects. So Singapore has been influential in another respect, which is it is the most articulate exponent of the Southeast Asian view of the coming era of great power competition, by which I mean. The don't make us choose thesis. And the best articulation of that came in the 2019 Shangri-La dialogue speech, keynote speech given by Prime Minister Lee. And to put this very crudely, the argument that that Singapore has made in the sense speaking for the region is that we need a new modus for Vendi between the two superpowers in which China recognizes that the US is a long term player in Asia and it isn't going to get kicked out and China can't be a hedge man and it's got to live with the reality of American power. But America has to realize that China is a rising and growing force in the region and it's not realistic to imagine that China is going to have the same amount of say when it has an economy this big in a military this big as it did 10 or 20 years ago, and therefore we need to come to some kind of reproach more and then we can all live in peace and everything will be fine and we can trade and grow rich. That has sort of been the Singapore line, that was the argument that Prime Minister Lee made. I think now even Singapore has begun to admit that maybe that moment has passed. And so recently, a couple of months ago, or rather a couple of weeks ago actually Prime Minister Lee gave his annual PowerPoint address to the nation, which is a wonderful moment in the annual Singaporean calendar in which PM Lee gives an hour and a half PowerPoint presentation going into all sorts of hilarious, well, hilarious and rather sort of policy wonkish details about the building of railway, the building of new airports and new housing. But he also talks about geopolitics and his speech this year was very kind of downbeat. He didn't suggest that. He basically said, "We've been trying to get these guys to talk to one another for a while, it's not working very well. We've got to prepare for more difficult times ahead." And so I think to some degree there's a new realism in Southeast Asia that the moment of the sort super power attention that we're in is now a kind of feature, not a bug, it's not something that can be wished away and it may have some quite damaging consequences even in scenarios well short of outright conflict for the growth models that Southeast Asian countries have had. So I think Singapore has been on a kind of journey of its own. There's still a hope that in a sense you can put a floor under this relationship between the US and China and that even if they don't get along, there'll be a degree of untangling and that hopefully Singapore will be fleet of foot and find a way to do business with both sides. It also has the advantage that relatively speaking, Singapore looks very attractive. Hong Kong is in some respect sort of going down the tubes. And so with its largest competitor heading in a rather different direction, Singapore still looks quite attractive. So I think there's a sort of bull case for Singapore, but the moment of US China competition is obviously very complicated for a small country that has traditionally had very good relations with both China and the US. And the question is, can you manage that anymore? Your question about democracy and values is an interesting one and it rubs up against a totally different issue in terms of Biden strategy, which is this top line narrative of democracies against autocracies, which plays very badly in this part of the world because just on the face of it, if you look around Southeast Asia, there aren't really very many democracies. I mean, there's sort of Indonesia moving in roughly the right direction, but even in Indonesia it's a little bit sketchy. You've had the coup in Myanmar, which removes the brightest example of a certain kind of democratization. You had another coup in Thailand. Singapore is sort of roughly holding steady. But if you look on indexes of particularly the liberal democratic indexes, then Singapore has always done rather badly on issues of press freedom and things like that. So if you look around Southeast Asia, it's a good example of a sort of erosion of democracy. It's hard to find many countries in Southeast Asia where one can be very optimistic about the nature of their political systems. And in a sense, US foreign policy sort of reflects this, that as I say, they're very fond of developing new partnerships with Vietnam, which is a communist autocracy. And so in practice it doesn't make all that much difference with who the US is trying to befriend. But some countries in Southeast Asia get kind of teased off with this democracy versus auto rhetoric because it appears to be patronizing. Singapore for instance, was very happy not to be invited to the great gathering of the democracies that mark the early part of Biden's administration, they won't be fussed about this, and they don't see it as very helpful. Equally, even countries like Japan, which are democracies don't tend to see this narrative as very helpful because they see the most important task ahead of forging a diverse coalition of countries of whatever system of governance you like. So long as they're in the business of pushing back against China, the Japanese don't care very much. So they also even as a material parliamentary democracy, don't like to talk in these terms neither to the South Koreans, Taiwanese maybe do a little bit. But yeah, so the basic question is not much optimism for pro-democracy advocates in Southeast Asia, but in a funny way that that question itself is becoming a secondary one to the more urgent question of the coalition that you can cobble together to balance China, which is really the primary driver of foreign policy in almost all of these countries democracies or no.
Michael Auslin: Well, James, that is great and a great overview, but your insights I think into the question of the efficacy of US policy of quite frankly just starting off with the role of major outside powers or potentially major outside powers like the UK, the Indian role. I mean it was just incredibly insightful. There's a lot more we could talk about, but we've covered a lot of ground. So thank you for joining us. Thank you for giving us and update and I hope that we'll be able to come back and talk with you again as maybe we get a little bit more sense of where things will be going over the next year or so. And particularly I think from the US perspective where we started and Cindy asked you about the Taiwan question that's going to be a real touchstone for the US is to try to understand how other nations in the region are looking at this, which as you and you've put down the marker, James, you said we will not have to wait that long for a fifth Taiwan Strait Crisis. So we're going to hold you to that and we'll hopefully be able to talk with you again. So on behalf of Cindy, you and myself here, thank you for joining us.
James Crabtree: Thanks so much for having me. It's very nice. I'm a big fan of the podcast, so long-time, long-time listener, first time up here, but be delighted. Hope to see you both in Singapore before too long.
Michael Auslin: Absolutely, we look forward to that.
Cindy Yu: Thanks James.
Michael Auslin: Thank you, James. Well, Cindy, that was great. I mean we really don't talk enough about Southeast Asia, not simply on the podcast but in America in general and certainly in Washington. So I'm really glad James could review all of that for us. But I had a different question before we close out where we started with, which is obviously folks here have spent a lot of time over the past 10 days watching the memorial, the funeral, the ceremonies if you call them that. But you're there in London and it's obviously a much bigger thing for you all than us. And I just wondered if you'd... What's it been like over the last 10 days, how do people feel? Is there confidence for the future, the new Carolean era and just tell us what it was like. Especially we're taping this the day after the funeral, which was just an extraordinary spectacle.
Cindy Yu: It was absolutely extraordinary, and this is coming from someone who is not a massive monarchist, but just someone who loves tradition, understands the importance of British identity. Watching that yesterday was just, it was very touching, it was amazing, every single part of it. And it was also fabulous that world leaders like Joe Biden was sitting way behind the commonwealth leaders, which really, I think goes to show-
Michael Auslin: I think that's because he came late, that's what we heard. They got stuck in traffic. So he got in row 14.
Cindy Yu: I thought I was giving them credit for a seating plan that meant that a commonwealth was more important than, but perhaps I'm wrong. But the foreign office has been quite busy and then not had, they haven't confirmed a proper guest list at the time of recording yet, but it's been a really, really odd 10 days actually. Of course, the mood of the country has been very somber. I think a lot of people, especially of the older generation, really felt like she was always there throughout their lives. In a 70-year reign you wouldn't really find many British people who are older than her who she wasn't queen of. And so that's odd. There's also been quite bizarre moments where corporate companies like Center Parcs, which is a holiday park in the UK, they just don't really understand what the best way of morning is. So American listeners might be amused to know that Center Parcs initially said on Monday the funeral day they would kick out all of their guests so that if you were over there for a week long holiday, you'd be kicked out on that one day and then you can come back in afterwards because it was a grieving process.
Michael Auslin: Oh, that's weird.
Cindy Yu: Following a backlash. Following a backlash, they then said, "Okay, guests can stay but they have to stay inside of their cabins, they can't leave their rooms." And so it just being quite bizarre and they have to be some quite comical examples of bike shares being locked up in commemoration of the quite odd places because this kind of thing doesn't normally happen. It hasn't happened in 70 years the country it's absolutely monumental thing to happen and I think the country is just kind of getting grips with it. And for us journalists it's been 10 days of no politics, mainly remembering the Queen looking forward to the future as say Michael, the cue, the giant miles long cue to see the Queen's coffin has been quite interesting to watch and very, very touching as well. But yes, I think having had that 10 days of morning, let's trust the prime minister is now hitting the ground running with going to the UN this week. And I think it will be politics rushing back very quickly.
Michael Auslin: And I know you have to run, but I wanted to ask you two questions. One was there a bit of a countertop with the Chinese being invited to the funeral and I think Iain Duncan Smith who was a former conservative leader, tried to get them disinvited. I wanted to ask you quickly about that and then a wrap, a final question and how do you feel the new King has been doing? So maybe start with the Chinese and then we'll go to the King.
Cindy Yu: Sure. So with the Chinese row, basically the funeral guest list was follow the rules of, it's a state funeral which has very strict protocols. And the protocols are that if you have diplomatic relations with the country, you invite their head of state to come. If the head of state can't come, they send a representative. So pretty much all of the countries in wild we're invited with the exception of Russia and Belarus, which whom for obvious reasons the UK is in de facto war with. And also Myanmar, which the UK government doesn't recognize the government of very, very relevant to what we were just talking about. A few other states, heads of state were not invited because the international relations are not normal. For example, North Korea. So given that China was invited, Xi Jinping was invited and Iain Duncan Smith, he co-founded the group, a group called Inter-Parliamentary Association. So co-founded a group called Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, which as the name suggests Inter-Parliamentary, so said international group and he's probably one of the leading hawkish voices on China in the British Parliament. And he basically called this Project Kowtow. Not very original, you might say. Basically, that why should we invite the Chinese when they've sanctioned me and other parliamentarians, we'll have to be sitting the same hall with them, big row over this. And there was a lot of confusion about whether or not the Chinese were invited, not helped by the new Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and the Speaker of the House, Lindsay Hoyle, who all had mixed messaging fundamentally the Chinese were invited, and they were allowed to come to all parts of the funeral. And I think IDS as we call him here, IDS wasn't very happy about it, but obviously-
Michael Auslin: Could be Iain Duncan Smith.
Cindy Yu: Yes, that's right.
Michael Auslin: Just for listeners, Iain Duncan Smith.
Cindy Yu: And I've written on the matter about how non-political the news has been in the UK over the last 10 days, given how non-political the Queen's life was, the monarchy, the constitutional monarchy in the UK should be, that is not a good time to try to reset relationship with China. That if the protocol says if you have documentary relations with the country they come, then I think that's what we should stick by. And indeed, that's what the government sets stuck by in the end. But it does cause a bit of us thinking.
Michael Auslin: And you wrote a great piece on this in the spectator that people can read precisely on this question of the politicization.
Cindy Yu: Exactly. I mean the Queen, one of her biggest merits was that she shook hands with authoritarians and dictators throughout her reign. That was her job to be constitutional, to be a figurehead for British soft power to overcome not just domestic politics but international politics. Michael, you might remember that clip of her meeting Deng Xiaoping for the first time in 1986. I don't think China then is necessarily any worse or better than China now in many ways. Of course, specifics have changed, for example the situation in Sinjar. But nevertheless, it was still detailed to ship and the Queen was happy to shake Deng Xiaoping his hand it was a charming occasion. So I think it's important that we don't politicize her in death and say, "Oh, she would've been so offended had the Chinese come." Which is what some we were hearing from some quarters. And I had a problem with that. As to your last question about the King, I think he's done quite well actually. I think he has done work quite well. I mean it was very touching watching him at the funeral and it was clear that it was a very emotional time for him. But he kept it together, a very British stiff upper lip, you might say. He clearly has been waiting for this role for so long, but as he said himself, you never expect it to actually come. And now a lot of responsibility lies on his head because he has to fill her shoes and she is really the model constitutional monarch. And he has not been known to have no opinions in the past. He's got strong opinions on a lot of things, and he has signaled that he will stop app pining on those things to be more like Queen Elizabeth. And so far, I think he has been very dignified. There have been a few occasions where, which has gone viral about him getting angry at leaky pens in general. But if you think about it, this is a man who's just lost his mother and has now the biggest job in the world or one of the biggest jobs in the world. So I think a little bit of stress coming through is understandable. So I think he's been doing quite well. But the continued meetings with list trust will be quite interesting to see because I think one can safely regards her is probably not his ideal choice of prime minister had he still been Prince of Wales, but now he has to fulfill a different role.
Michael Auslin: And I mean, I'm just amazed his stamina, quite frankly, I'm 73-year-old man and he is walking the Royal Mile, walking the funeral procession, 500 dignitaries, he welcomed all those services, he went to the Four Nations. I mean, I cannot understand how someone could keep going. And by the way, not wearing a t-shirt and jeans, I mean fully dressed up. So I thought it was just amazing on the part of all of them. But as everyone here, a lot of people are very fond of the royal family, ironically as Americans. But we can come back to all of that at some point. But it's been great having you call us again. Thank you so much for joining and I hope we'll be able to get you back soon because I know the listeners appreciate it.
Cindy Yu: Thanks so much Michael and thank you to listeners.
Michael Auslin: More than when I go solo. That's for sure. So again, Cindy Yu from The Spectator, please read her work at The Spectator and follow her blog, Chinese Whispers, and her tweeting for the Pacific Century. This has been Michael Auslin and we will see you again next time.
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