Book review: Donald K. Emmerson (Ed.). 2020., The Deer and the Dragon: Southeast Asia and China in the 21st Century

Published date01 August 2021
Date01 August 2021
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Donald K. Emmerson (Ed.). 2020., The Deer and the Dragon: Southeast
Asia and China in the 21st Century. Brookings Institution Press. 386 pp.
ISBN: 9781931368537.
Southeast Asia has become the epicentre of great power rivalry between the USA
and China, and Beijing’s expanding influence—both economic and political—
and military presence have thrown into stark contrast the power disparity between
the Middle Kingdom and peripheral Southeast Asian States. The region’s diversity
and relative lack of hard power suggest it lacks the collective power to resist a
dominant China. However, despite fractiousness within the regional grouping the
Association of Southeast Asian States (ASEAN) and a historically ambivalent
(and distant) USA, there may be room for hope for the region’s future.
Donald Emmerson, the head of the Southeast Asia Forum in the Shorenstein
Asia-Pacific Research Center and a senior fellow in the Freeman Spogli Institute
for International Studies at Stanford University, has produced a new edited
volume, The Deer and the Dragon: Southeast Asia and China in the 21st Century,
which brings together an array of voices to analyse Southeast Asia–China
relations, both historical and forward-looking. The book focuses on themes of
heterogeneity, asymmetry, and agency and adds to our understanding of this
multifaceted and often misunderstood sub-region, which is certain to play a
pivotal role in the twenty-first-century balance of power.
The first half of the book focuses on region-wide trends: China’s security and
development policies in a historical context, China-ASEAN trade relations, how
China and ASEAN perceive one another, the South China Sea, and the historical
role of overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia. The second half delves into individual
countries’ relationships with China, including chapters on Cambodia, Indonesia,
Laos, and Singapore. All chapters emphasise to varying degrees the common
themes of heterogeneity, asymmetry, and agency. The result is a rich variety of
views on Southeast Asia’s imbalanced relationships with China and the region’s
Emmerson argues that ASEAN’s heterogeneity allows Beijing to undermine its
strategic autonomy and prevents the organisation from confronting China’s
territorial assertions in disputed waters (p. 125). According to Emmerson,
ASEAN’s internal disunity make a legally binding Code of Conduct with China
an ‘institutional mirage’ (p. 152). Absent a legal mechanism to restrain Chinese
coercion of weaker ASEAN states, several chapters explore the possible
moderating influence of trade and investment ties, though, as Jörn Dosch and
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
8(2) 270–280, 2021
© The Author(s) 2021
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/23477970211017722
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