Dr Satu Limaye is the director of the East-West Centre in Washington and is also a senior advisor at the CNA Corporation, a non-profit research and analysis group, where he focuses on Asian international relations. Dr Limaye spoke with May Titthara, executive editor of Khmer Times, about geopolitics and China’s global agenda.
KT: What impact is the Asian region having on geopolitics?
Dr Limaye: Due to the growing economic and even military power of countries in Asia, geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond are being changed. The most important rising power is China, but India is also growing, and Japan remains a major country while North Korea has a weak economy but has demonstrated military capabilities that are dangerous. Add to this more complicated and polarised domestic politics in many countries around the world and you have a situation of great geopolitical uncertainty and flux. In a globalised world, Asia does not now play a role only in Asia but in the West and the Middle East and Africa, and even in South America. So, we are seeing the rise of Asia having a global impact.
KT: How has China’s growing influence changed the global agenda?
Dr Limaye: China’s rise has already changed the global agenda and order. On the one hand, China is part of major elements of the international order such as the UN and WTO. On the other, it is pursuing new efforts such as Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and BRI that offer different models, tools and institutions that have mixed responses and results. China has recently taken to suggesting that it will work to promote globalisation including a supposed agreement with the EU to uphold the WTO, but the fact is that China has not supported the international rules and norms completely and in fact, its policies on trade and investment openness are regressive. It has also been a major source of intellectual property and IT theft. So, China presents a very mixed contribution to international order. But there is no denying that China is now a major player on the international stage with enormous influence and implications.
KT: What effect will China’s rise have on developing countries like Cambodia, which heavily relies on ties with China?
Dr Limaye: Cambodia’s situation means that it will have to look for advantages economically to support development from numerous sources including the West, China, but also Japan, as well as Asean countries and Europe and international institutions, too. It must not look just to trade growth, but also the policies and conditions, political and economic, that could make Cambodia a destination for investment. Human capacity building will also be key to Cambodia’s prospects.
KT: Since US President Donald Trump took office he has ushered in protectionism policies. How will this impact other countries, specifically Cambodia?
Dr Limaye: There are certainly protectionist elements in the current US approach to trade, although supporters of such policies would not characterise them as such, but rather as fair and reciprocal policies. I am not certain about the US-Cambodia trade figures, and it is not clear to me that Cambodia is a major target of US tariff increases. It will be worth watching what the spillover effects of US tariff policies on Cambodia.
KT: President Trump entered into a trade war following the G7 Summit, and has been battling Canada’s prime minister, with both sides slapping tariffs on each other’s products. What will the fallout be from this?
Dr Limaye: There are clearly tit-for-tat tariff moves going on. However, so far the scale has been modest, largely because the idea on both sides is to not go too far. This may be a process of negotiation. We will have to see if the situation worsens and leads to a full-fledged tariff war situation. I would not say that we are in such a situation right now.
KT: In 2010, Cambodia and China signed a strategic partnership to enhance cooperation. Now, China is getting more influential in Cambodia by injecting more money for infrastructure and investment. What is your opinion of China’s influence on Cambodia?
Dr Limaye: China and Cambodia are neighbours and given the rise of Chinese economic growth and regional and global relations, it would be odd to not see important cooperation between the two countries. China is increasing its influence via infrastructure investment way beyond Cambodia. However, Cambodia will need to consider the good with the bad in regards to Chinese influence, including debt repayment on Chinese loans, Chinese environmental and labour practices, and political influence. There may be some short and even mid-term benefits for Cambodia, but there may be some very heavy burdens and lack of sovereignty, too.
KT: What does the future hold for Asia?
Dr Limaye: Asia has a number or remarkable opportunities: economic development, and greater diplomatic, military and cultural influence globally. But Asia also has major difficulties ranging from relations among regional countries to demographic and environmental problems. It is a good thing that Asia is concentrating on development, but it must do so in sustainable ways in the context of growing geopolitical uncertainty and change. Asia must move carefully; its future and the world depends upon it.