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Waiting for Hard Balancing?

Explaining Southeast Asia’s Balancing Behaviour towards China

Moch Faisal Karim and Tangguh Chairil

The continuity of stable peace in East Asia, especially Southeast Asia, since the end of the Cold War raises one major question: why is there no apparent balancing behaviour against China, the emerging great power in East Asia? In response to this question, exceptionalists argue that there will be no balancing behaviour against China from Southeast Asian states, while soft balancing theorists argue that the balancing behaviour has already occurred in the form of institutional balancing. This article refutes those arguments and maintains that balancing behaviour is not yet apparent in Southeast Asian balancing, yet it exists in an indirect form. In order to make this argument, this article examines the recent military build-up among Southeast Asian states as well as recent assessments of the ineffectiveness of the Southeast Asian regional security framework. The article also further analyses the conditions under which Southeast Asia’s indirect balancing might turn into hard balancing.