Southeast Asia between the U.S. and China: Why Do Smaller States (Still) Insist on Hedging?
December 15, 2022 | 2:00PM - 4:00PM|
1 Devonshire Place, Toronto, ON, M5S 3K7
Hedging is widely misunderstood as sitting-on-the-fence behavior. This talk corrected this misunderstanding by focusing on the Southeast Asian states’ policy responses to the U.S.-China rivalry. Far from being opportunistic, speculative behavior, hedging, in fact, seeks survival and avoids speculation. Professor Kuik defined hedging as instinctive, insurance-maximizing behavior under high-uncertainty and high-stakes conditions, where a rational actor seeks to mitigate and offset risks by pursuing active neutrality, inclusive diversification, and prudent contradictions, with the ultimate goal of cultivating a fall-back position. Each of these elements is evidenced in the Southeast Asian states’ responses to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the U.S. Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy. Based on the Southeast Asian states’ alignment patterns over the past decades, Professor Kuik argued that weaker states opt to hedge under two structural conditions: when patron support is uncertain and when threat perception is diffuse and unpredictable. The greater the structural uncertainty, the greater the weaker states’ tendency to hedge, even and especially as space for maneuvering shrinks. Structural conditions, however, only explain when states hedge; it is domestic factors that explain how and why states hedge the ways they do.
Cheng-Chwee Kuik is Professor in International Relations and Head of the Centre for Asian Studies, the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies at the National University of Malaysia (UKM), and a nonresident Fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute, SAIS Johns Hopkins. He received the 2009 Michael Leifer Memorial Prize, presented by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, for his essay “The Essence of Hedging.”
Sponsored by the Asian Institute and co-sponsored by the Belt & Road in Global Perspective at the Munk School.