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China’s Southeast Asian Military Diplomacy


Due to its escalating geopolitical rivalry with the United States and its own security concerns in the region, China is increasing its military engagement with Southeast Asian nations.


GS Paper 2: International Relations

Mains Question

Examine the causes of China’s growing military presence in Southeast Asia and its effects on the safety and stability of the area. (150 words)

Military diplomacy: What is it?

  • Military to military engagements, operations, and policies to develop and preserve national security are collectively referred to as military diplomacy.
  • This diplomacy entails a more sophisticated naval engagement, larger military drills, and more defence export activities.

China’s Military Activities in Southeast Asia:

  • The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been engaged in frequent joint military drills and engagements with a number of Southeast Asian countries.
  • Recent noteworthy events include the Friendship Shield 2023 bilateral military exercise between the PLA and the Laotian People’s Armed Forces (LPAF).
  • This exercise had two goals: to improve interoperability and fight against international armed criminal organisations with bases in forests and mountains.In addition, China has practised cooperative marine operations and anti-terrorism operations with Cambodia and the Singaporean Navy.

Factors Supporting China’s Growing Influence:

  • China seeks to strengthen its comprehensive national power and counter the expanding United States military engagement in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in areas where territorial disputes exist, such as the South and East China Seas;
  • China’s military activities aim to project power;
  • China’s military engagements in Southeast Asia are part of President Xi Jinping’s broader reform process and foreign policy objectives.

The Global Security Initiative (GSI) faces several obstacles, including:

  • ASEAN nations’ reactions to China’s GSI have been mixed, reflecting different perspectives on whether to side with China or take a neutral stance with the United States.
  • The various answers reveal variations within associations in bandwagon and hedging strategies.
  • These comments, however, do not define how the ASEAN nations view China’s overall national might.

Concerns About Recent Closeness Between U.S. and Philippines:

  • China is particularly concerned about the Philippines’ close closeness to the United States.
  • China and the Philippines have a disputed maritime border in the South China Sea’s Luzon Strait, and China has expressed concern over the Philippines’ plan to allow the United States access to military sites.

Effects on the USA and India

  • China is demonstrating its desire to create influence and provide a counterbalance to the United States in Southeast Asia through its military diplomacy.
  • Southeast Asia continues to be a crucial region where both nations compete to influence the regional order as the geopolitical rivalry between China and the United States intensifies.
  • Geopolitical difficulties: It puts India’s Act East Policy and its strategic alliances with nations in the Indo-Pacific region in jeopardy.
  • Maritime Security: India’s trade and energy supplies use the South China Sea as a vital maritime route. Concerns about India’s maritime security are raised by China’s expanding military presence in the area and its ability to obstruct freedom of navigation.
  • Regional Power Balance: It may cause a change in the balance of power and have an impact on India’s relations with Southeast Asian nations.
  • International Law and UNCLOS: Concerns over China’s commitment to international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), have been raised by its actions in the South China Sea.


  • China’s geopolitical rivalry with the United States and its desire for regional security have been the driving forces behind its military diplomacy in Southeast Asia.
  • China wants to establish its power and balance out the expanding American presence in the area through cooperative military drills and engagements.
  • China’s military diplomacy is complicated, as evidenced by the divergent reactions from ASEAN nations, difficulties with the Global Security Initiative, and worries about the proximity of the United States and the Philippines.
  • India and other like-minded nations must work together more to counter China’s aggression in the South China Sea.


July 2024