US-China trade war may benefit Asean
The ongoing trade dispute between the United States and China is yielding more opportunities for Thailand and Asean to extend their grip on international trade, said Matthew Pottinger, an adviser to the Asia desk of the National Security Council (NSC).
"There will be some disruption in the course of the US adjusting its economic relationship with China, and that adjustment is long overdue and inevitable. In the immediate term, what it will mean is new opportunities for Thailand and Asean member states to play a starring role in US supply chains," Mr Pottinger said.
"Asean will be a more attractive destination for foreign direct investments, particularly in the high-tech sector," he said.
"We want to see Thailand and Asean play its role as a central point both figuratively but also geographically in the Indo-Pacific region... There is a huge opportunity embedded in the current strained economic relationship between the US and China," Mr Pottinger said.
He made the comments during a trip to Bangkok to discuss Washington's strategy for Indo-Pacific.
He said the Trump administration is moving forward with implementing its Indo-Pacific strategy, with "free" and "open" as core terminologies for the various bilateral relationships with the US in this region.
The strategy aims to strengthen economic cooperation between the US and Indo-Pacific nations while also allowing the US to support the region against potential coercion and loss of sovereignty.
"What the US government means by free is to ensure that all countries in our strategy are free from coercion, while maintaining independence of sovereignty of every state in the region," he said.
"In terms of infrastructure and development assistance, have a process in the way to rationalise the tools and instruments at the US government's disposal without close coordination, which we will hope to utilise for prioritising the Indo-Pacific," he added.
Alex Wong, deputy assistant secretary of the US Bureau of East Asian Pacific Affairs, mentioned in April that 50% of world trade goes through Indo-Pacific along sea routes, particularly the South China Sea where China has been intensifying its claims of sovereignty.
Mr Pottinger said the strategy aims to further open sea lines of communication and airways, which are vital lifelines for many Asian economies. He lamented China's militarisation of the South China Sea.
"President Trump has made it very clear that the US relationship with Indo-Pacific nations is one of his most important initiatives," he said.