Jakarta. Southeast Asian countries stand to benefit from the current international political climate, despite uncertainty surrounding US President Donald Trump's foreign policy, experts said.
William M. Wise, associate practitioner-in-residence at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) now has a more strategic position to further develop the region.
"Asean is now in a position of creating and managing additional institutional mechanisms that provide order and security in the region," Wise said during an open forum in Jakarta on Friday (27/07).
He said Asean member states could use the regional bloc as an instrument to ensure that the inevitable competition between the United States and China benefit them, rather than the opposite.
The Trump administration's foreign policy has raised questions about the United States' priorities in Southeast Asia, especially after the country's withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, its strong focus on East Asia and more inward-looking "America First" policy.
Since taking office in January last year, Trump has visited six Asian countries, which indicates a positive outlook for US engagement in the region, according to Siswo Pramono, head of policy analysis and development at the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Trump is scheduled to make another visit to Singapore in November to attend a series of Asean meetings.
As foreign policy often requires adapting to changing dynamics and making the best of difficult situations, the same applies when it comes to dealing with uncertainties related to the current US administration.
"We cannot change the United States, but we can influence it through dialogue … If you stray away from Asean, you will likely be on the losing end because it's where the center of growth is," Siswo said.
Asean is the world's sixth-largest economic power, according to the World Economic Forum, which predicts that the bloc will become the fifth-largest economy by 2020, and fourth-largest by 2030.
Wise also referred to Trump's personality as one of the factors affecting the current administration's approach to foreign policy, which he said must be taken into account to better understand its implications.
Siswo added that growing rivalry between the United States and China is another point to consider in evaluating the impact of US foreign policy on the region. He emphasized that Asean must not allow the rivalry between the two major powers cause division within the regional bloc.
"And we will learn to live without the United States, if the situation ever comes to that. [Though] it's not what we hope will happen," Siswo said.
Indonesia sees economic development as key to national resilience, which in turn will result in regional resilience, he said.