Mainland Southeast Asia, especially the Mekong subregion, has become a site for renewed engagement by external powers, a trend driven by China’s proactive foreign policy as well as its promotion of the Belt and Road Initiative and minilateral forum, the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC).
The United States is at the front line of this strategic competition, especially under its Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy. The US action has spurred other regional players, namely Japan and South Korea, to deepen their ties with the Mekong countries through their respective cooperative schemes.
While the three hold separate policy objectives, the strategic outcome of their various moves seems to be harmonised. In particular, Japan and South Korea have included a commitment to America’s Indo-Pacific strategy within their own arrangements.
It is worth looking at how each is re-engaging the region as China’s role and influence grows among Mekong states.