For centuries Southeast Asia has enjoyed a relatively pleasant relationship with China, its massive neighbor to the north. While Chinese merchants and laborers were common throughout the region, with exception of a 1,000-year occupation of northern Vietnam, China has rarely attempted to exercise control over Southeast Asia. However, in the past two decades, as the Chinese economy has grown by leaps and bounds, the People’s Republic of China has begun to play an increasingly assertive role in mainland and maritime Southeast Asia. President Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative and Maritime Silkroad project seek to build infrastructure throughout the region; Chinese investors have built casinos in Cambodia and Laos, drawing gamblers south; China’s navy has been building bases on tiny islands, shoals, and reefs in the disputed South China Sea; and citizens from the People’s Republic of China have started to move to Malaysia and Singapore to escape east China’s infamous pollution. Meanwhile, Sinophobia remains a potent force in Indonesian and Malaysian politics; Thai and Khmer social media is full of reports and rumors of bad behavior by Chinese tourists; nationalist mobs in Vietnam have attacked Chinese owned businesses; and Chinese dams are creating an environmental disaster for the lower Mekong Basin. Sebastian Strangio’s In the Dragon’s Shadow: Southeast Asia in the Chinese Century (Yale UP, 2020) carefully dissects the People’s Republic of China’s complicated relationships with its southern neighbors.
Sebastian Strangio is the Southeast Asia editor for The Diplomat. Since 2008, his work has been published in Foreign Policy, The New York Times, The Economist, The New Republic, Forbes, Al Jazeera, The Atlantic, The Phnom Penh Post, and many other publications. In addition to living and working in Cambodia, he has reported from the various ASEAN nations, Russia, South Korea, and Bangladesh. His first book, Hun Sen’s Cambodia was first published by Yale University Press and Silkworm Books in 2014. It was named as one of the 2015 Books of the Year by Foreign Affairs. Yale University Press has just issued a revised and updated paperback edition of the book under the title Cambodia: From Pol Pot to Hun Sen And Beyond.
Michael G. Vann is a professor of world history at California State University, Sacramento. A specialist in imperialism and the Cold War in Southeast Asia, he is the author of The Great Hanoi Rat Hunt: Empires, Disease, and Modernity in French Colonial Vietnam (Oxford, 2018). When he’s not quietly reading or happily talking about new books with smart people, Mike can be found surfing in Santa Cruz, California.
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