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This report focuses on U.S. foreign policy towards Southeast Asia. In the summer of 2017 a joint task force of USC students from Los Angeles and SMU students from Singapore conducted foreign policy research in D.C., Los Angeles, and Singapore over four weeks. Our interviews and research was influenced by President Trump’s executive order to withdraw the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Obama’s Administration backed, leaving the United States’ foreign policy position up in the air. With a new foreign policy team entering Washington, the U.S. will need to establish how it will assert its presence with the rest of the world, and especially in East Asia.
Two superpowers have great potential influence in Southeast Asia, which continues to be an important region to evaluate foreign policy. Our research analyzes and evaluates China’s influence over the region in the past years and its future plans, including its interests with South China Sea lanes. Our research uncovered how other Southeast Asian governments and ASEAN feel about their regional stability, and their expectations for the U.S. as another superpower that might establish influence in the region.
My individual research on the drug trafficking trade in Southeast Asia looked at the impacts on domestic stability, as well as the utility of U.S. involvement. Each country in Southeast Asia struggles with its own narcotics issues, stemming from organized crime groups, corruption and lack of enforcement, lack of resources and training to eliminate trade across vast regions, alternative development in place of current production, and public health pandemics. Myanmar and Laos have high opium production and the need for alternative development projects. The Philippines has an overloaded criminal justice system with weak laws in place that prevent constructive justice. Thailand and Myanmar are experiencing rising HIV problems due to injection practices. To help combat these issues, the United States DEA works closely with Thailand and the Philippines, and the U.S. funds alternative development projects and treatment programs in effected nations. However, I recommended that the U.S. work with the ASEAN organization more closely to help with implementation of the ASEAN Work Plan on Securing Communities Against Illicit Drugs 2016-2025.
The issue of drug-trafficking is not merely a value-based, human rights issue, but also an economic and security threat to the region. The root causes stem from inequitable poverty and the lack of economic opportunity for isolated farmers and overworking citizens needing the energy to stay awake. The public health issue arises from the abuse of these drugs that continues to flow through markets in high quantities and low prices. The ability for organized crime groups to circulate the region with facility causes violence, corruption, and instability that hinders economic prosperity.