New US Aid for Southeast Asia Takes Aim at Chinese Influence

The U.S. government aims to take another bite out of Chinese influence in Southeast Asia with a partnership to aid five countries that traditionally tap Beijing for help, experts in the region say.

The Mekong-U.S. Partnership, formed September 11, will give Washington more clout in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam by offering aid for various projects ranging from COVID-19 relief to anti-drought measures.

U.S. officials hope the Southeast Asian partners will favor their largesse over China’s, analysts say. China aggressively builds infrastructure in Southeast Asia but threatens their water supplies with upstream dams and leaves some countries under the threat of debt, the experts say.

China and the United States, rival superpowers, compete in much of the world for the support of smaller countries, as the government in Beijing expands offshore economically as well as militarily. In Southeast Asia, the United States backs Vietnam in resisting Chinese expansion in the South China Sea where the two Asian countries have overlapping claims.

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Ralph Jennings