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Q&A: Former US diplomat sees ‘troubling divisions’ in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asian nations are stuck in “troubling divisions” over Myanmar’s coup crisis and China’s expansionism in the South China Sea, according to Scot Marciel, a veteran United States diplomat.

And the former US ambassador to Indonesia and Myanmar, who has just published the book Imperfect Partners: The United States and Southeast Asia, argues the US should use this time not to focus on countering Chinese influence in the region, but instead to prioritise its own engagement efforts.

Washington should focus “more on showing itself to be a consistent, reliable, trusted, and good partner across the board”, Marciel told Al Jazeera.

Imperfect Partners is a hybrid of personal memoir and foreign policy analysis of relations between the US and Southeast Asia, based on Marciel’s decades-long diplomatic career.

Joining the State Department in 1985, he was the first US diplomat to be posted to Hanoi since the Vietnam War. His career took him across the region, from witnessing the People Power revolt in the Philippines to responding to coups in Thailand and the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar.

Marciel retired from the foreign service in 2022 and is currently an Oksenberg-Rohlen Fellow at Stanford University’s Walter H Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center.

Al Jazeera spoke to Marciel about his book and regional politics.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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