The governments of some countries in Southeast Asia have been playing Russian roulette with their citizens’ lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead of ensuring the public’s good, leaders in Indonesia and Cambodia downplayed or downright denied the threat posed by the virus. Meanwhile, other leaders, like Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, are using COVID-19 as an excuse to amass power. The U.S. should present a counter-narrative of values-based policy that prioritizes the rights of Southeast Asians and calls on their own governments to do the same.
The free and open Indo-Pacific strategy hinges on prioritizing human rights and freedom. These are the values that are supposed to undergird U.S. policy in Asia—a continuation of America’s long and worthy commitment to the region.