BGA Senior Adviser Scot Marciel recently published a new book, Imperfect PartnersPart memoir and part foreign policy study of U.S. relations in Southeast Asia, the book looks at the complex realties of key events in the region, such as the “people power” revolt in the Philippines and the opening of diplomatic relations with Vietnam, and U.S. responses to these developments. The book provides rare insights into U.S. foreign policy decision making in Southeast Asia and the work of American diplomats in the field.

Below is a brief interview with Scot on the growing relations between the United States and Southeast Asia, and what U.S. companies should keep in mind when engaging with the region.

What are the Southeast Asians looking for from U.S. involvement in the Indo-Pacific?

Southeast Asians, in general, are looking for consistent U.S. engagement at all levels that gives them confidence that Washington is committed long-term to the region. They would also like to see the United States bolster its economic game, particularly on the trade side.

How can the U.S. compete with a rapidly growing China for the “hearts and minds” of Southeast Asia?

The best way for the U.S. to “compete” is to focus on being a good partner to Southeast Asian nations rather than countering China.  That means investing more in promoting U.S. higher education and innovative American businesses, and in bolstering programs to help the region address pressing health and environmental issues. It also means continued U.S. support for independent media and civil society, along with increased funding for U.S. public diplomacy.

After over three decades working in and on Southeast Asia, what are one or two key points about the region that you would like to impart to U.S. companies?

There are huge opportunities for U.S. business, but success requires patience, persistence and an in-depth understanding of local culture and institutions. Competition is often fierce and processes are not always transparent, so intensive on-the-ground engagement and effort is a must.