I thought the book was especially useful in providing clarity on perceptions of ASEAN Countries and the roles the U.S., China, and Japan have in influencing the countries of the region.
Perception #1 - ASEAN countries perceive the U.S. with its relatively strong economy, personal freedoms, strong military (for security), and Democratic government as a more appealing partner than China - Mostly Inaccurate: The first ASEAN summit purposefully excluded the U.S. According to the author, the meeting symbolized an attempt by the ASEAN members to distance themselves from the U.S.
Because China opened its markets faster than the U.S. or Japan it has become the primary source for ASEAN's increased wealth and global stature. "Given China's rising influence relative to Japan and the unpopular U.S. shift toward emphasis on military power and democratization at the expense of its earlier focus on economic development and regional institution-building, these trends severely weakened U.S. influence in Pacific Asia." However, to counterbalance China the members still want the U.S. in the region.
Perception #2 - Continued cold war perception - National stability, peace and economic development can only be achieved by Democratic countries with interdependent economies and not by countries with other forms of government" - Inaccurate: The order of the U.S. Cold War strategic priorities was first to aid in the development of targeted countries' economic revitalization; then to leverage the military to protect the process; with democratization desirable but consigned to third place. The order and implementation of those strategic priorities "transformed Asia and changed world history."
Several countries (i.e. South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Singapore) gradually moved toward and successfully achieved democracy but only after a period of development under authoritarianism. Economic development led to an increased population of middle-class citizens whose higher levels of education and increased economic and political power enabled them to demand and achieve more freedom which led to a successful transition to democracy. Also, the higher standard of living in countries with vigorous and growing economies reduced the power of fanaticism and further stabilized the countries.
Perception #3 - China is a threat to stability in Southeast Asia and U.S. economic prosperity - Potentially: Deng Xiaoping, former leader of the Communist Party of China, followed Taiwan and South Korea's examples of economic reforms and reduced the military budget to less than three percent GDP. The Chinese leader also replaced support for subversive efforts in neighboring countries with support for neighboring country stability. Also, the terms of land boundary disputes China negotiated were agreeable to all parties involved, with Nepal being the exception. China has, as previously mentioned, supported ASEAN without being a member of the state and has opened its markets far more than has Japan. Rather than destabilizing the region China seems to be stabilizing and encouraging its continued development.
The U.S. plays a key role in the stability of Southeast Asia. The U.S. military bases in Japan protected the Japanese so they could invest in building their economy but the U.S. presence also prevented Japan from re-arming which protected and reassured other Asian countries so they too could invest in their economic development. However, if Japan re-arms it may upset the balance of power in Asia resulting in increased tension and potentially a diversion of funds from economic to military development which could have a domino effect on the global economy and security as alliances become reshuffled.
Finally, the book was logically arranged and the chapters could stand on alone so if a reader is interested in a specific topic she/he could read the chapters out of order. Although, there was some unnecessary duplication, overall the analysis was exceptional. This book would benefit anyone preparing to conduct business in Asia to be sensitized to how and why American citizens and the U.S. government are perceived by the local citizenry.