The Platform


Throughout Asia, the rules and normative framework that have been hard-won through sacrifices by the West are now under serious challenge.

This year marks the 34th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, serving as a stark reminder of the current state of democracy and freedom worldwide.

Unfortunately, this watershed moment in time remains a taboo subject, met with restraint and apprehension in places where ties with Beijing take precedence over the commitment to upholding human rights and freedom. Nonetheless, it serves as a critical reflection on the urgent need to confront and halt the rise of authoritarianism. From Moscow’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine to Beijing’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims, and Pyongyang’s provocative behavior, these actions must be unwaveringly opposed and called out.

In recent years, changes in the region’s security architecture have led to a deepening reliance on Beijing for economic security among certain states. This has given rise to a dangerous trend known as “periphery state autism,” where these states have grown to accept the violation of norms.

Throughout history, violations of agreed-upon rules and norms have been met with solidarity and action to protect the system. Autocracy, fascism, imperialism, Nazism, and terrorism, all direct enemies of democracy, freedom, and human rights, have historically been confronted collectively to counter their destructive challenges. Whether it was the First and Second World Wars, the Cold War, the post-Cold War era, or the global war on terrorism, the global narrative has always emphasized the need to stand firm and protect the legacies and guardrails that have maintained world peace and stability.

However, we are now entering an era where anti-Western sentiments are used to expand influence and normalize intimidating behaviors. Actions that violate norms are often attributed to Western provocations, creating a dangerous precedent for normalizing such behaviors. This can be seen in the case of Ukraine and the aggressive intimidation of Taiwan by China, particularly after the visit by former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Efforts to counter such behavior and actions, which threaten the foundation of the existing system, have been chastised. This sets a dangerous precedent and further justifies autocratic regimes in their claims and actions. When moves to enforce a rules-based order, protect sovereignty, ensure freedom of navigation, and deter aggression are labeled as provocative and irresponsible, autocracies have already gained an advantage in the soft power battle for the legitimacy of their actions.

The United States has been criticized for allegedly pitting regional powers against each other and against China. This narrative has been consistently propagated, portraying the United States and its allies as hypocritical and provocative, and justifying the region’s need to break away from the Western order and empower independent players.

Under the influence of this narrative, states in the region are becoming more tolerant of rule violations due to short-term gains and fear of repercussions.

The West’s call for a free, open, and secure Indo-Pacific, where all states, regardless of size, respect sovereignty and adhere to certain established rules, has been flipped and distorted. It is now wrongly portrayed as a counter-narrative that justifies coercion, bullying, and intimidation in response to the West’s alleged hypocrisy and provocation. This provides further justification for autocrats and undermines the West’s efforts to defend the rules-based order.

Recent changes in global security and power dynamics have strengthened the tolerance of rules-violating behaviors. This is framed as solidarity with a regional power striving to counter the dominant global power’s polarizing conduct.

Consequently, states in the region, particularly those under the influence of China, are undergoing a fundamental shift in their orientations. They are now entering an era of normalizing bullying tactics, either due to economic interests and survival or as a result of the power dynamics between larger and smaller states.

Those already within this periphery will face further repercussions from economic tools and hard power dominance, perpetuating a cycle of submission. Adding to this trap is the region’s own ignorance and misplaced hope that neutrality will ensure safety and security, fearing the consequences of upsetting the status quo.

The region’s dynamics make it challenging to achieve true democracy, leaving it susceptible to addictive overtures that secure regime security and economic lifelines. The West’s call for the region to align with the moral high road and defend the rules-based order has been met with a lukewarm response, as the region finds the criteria unattractive and burdensome.

Instead, it readily embraces Beijing’s economic ventures without the need to adhere to criteria related to sustainable practices, labor standards, human rights, environmental protection, intellectual property, equal and inclusive development opportunities, and more.

By trapping themselves in the economic periphery to secure their own survival, states in the region are increasingly tolerant of unchecked forces in disputed territories. The rules and normative framework that have been hard-won through sacrifices by the West and other partners are now under serious challenge, all in the name of breaking the Western-led global order perceived as a threat to regional peace and stability.

Today, the world is more dangerous and fragile than ever. The stability and peace brought by the rules-based order, are facing their most serious challenge. Freedom, democracy, and the future are at a crossroads. It is crucial for the world to pursue and commit to upholding and defending the ideals of freedom, human rights, and dignity. These are the foundations that matter for the future of humanity.

Collins Chong Yew Keat has been serving in University of Malaya for more than 9 years. His areas of focus include strategic and security studies, America’s foreign policy and power projection, regional conflicts and power parity analysis and has published various publications on numerous platforms including books and chapter articles. He is also a regular contributor in providing op-eds and analytical articles for both the local and international media on various contemporary global issues and regional affairs since 2007.