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Big Powers Seek Trade, Influence in Southeast Asia


U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping speak during the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, September 4, 2016.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping speak during the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, September 4, 2016.

The United States is just one of many countries trying to increase its influence in Southeast Asia. Japan and Russia are also trying to increase trade, diplomatic and military relations with countries in the area.

China has been Southeast Asia’s largest trade partner for many years. Now other countries, including Japan, are trying to increase their trade in the area. Over the past three years, Japan has invested more in ASEAN countries than in China and Hong Kong.

Titli Basu is an expert on Southeast Asia. She says the decision by the United States to increase its influence in the area, and the increase in China’s economic and military power, is the reason Japan is focusing on the area.

She said “the arrival of China as a major power has made Japan really impatient to redefine its role in the Asia-Pacific security order."

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk in Vladivostok, Russia, Friday, September 2, 2016.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk in Vladivostok, Russia, Friday, September 2, 2016.

Japan is working to increase trade as well as security and diplomatic ties.

However, experts are concerned that tensions in the area will increase as other nations try to increase their influence.

Richard Bitzinger is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. He says countries like Russia, China and the U.S. are all trying to cooperate and to compete with each other.

“There’s a lot of places where two countries -- Russia-China, China-the United States -- find lots of opportunities and common interests that make them want to cooperate," he said. "At the same time there are a lot of places where they collide and compete.”

Russia is only now beginning to try to increase its influence in the area. It is selling arms to Vietnam and making energy exploration deals.

Lo Chih-cheng is a political scientist at Soochow University in Taiwan. He says Russia is reacting to rising U.S. influence in Asia.

He said, during the past few years, Russia has been preoccupied with events in Europe. Now, the country is trying to balance what it sees as U.S. influence in the region, says Lo.

Leaders of Asian nations are working to keep tensions from becoming conflicts. Bitzinger says the possibility of accidental conflict is a growing concern.

He says more advanced weapons are flowing into the region. Added to that, he says, are long-running disputes such as the territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

Experts worry even small disputes could quickly grow into a war.

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

VOA Correspondent Bill Ide reported this story from Beijing. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the report for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

focus – v. to direct your attention or effort at something specific

collide – v. used to describe situations in which people or groups disagree or are very different from each other

preoccupied – v. thinking about something a lot or too much (often + with)

region – n. a part of a country, of the world, etc., that is different or separate from other parts in some way

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