With major world powers stepping up their engagement with Southeast Asia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will have to take on a bigger role to create a robust rules-based regional order. “The Barack Obama administration has devoted more attention to South-east Asia than any other United States administration since the Vietnam War … It is an explicit policy and it started before the world started paying attention to China’s increasing assertiveness in Asia,” said Dr Susan Shirk, a professor at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California, San Diego. Prof Shirk, a former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, was speaking during a panel discussion on Major Power Interests and Contestation in Southeast Asia during the Regional Outlook Forum 2016 organised by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. She pointed out that China’s intentions in the regional maritime domain are uncertain, especially since there is a gap between Beijing’s rhetoric of peaceful development and the construction of artificial islands, as well as its possible deployment of military assets in the South China Sea. “The question is how South-east Asia and, in fact, all of Asian countries, can encourage China to pursue a (regional) policy that is aimed at providing a public good of cooperation, freedom of navigation and respect for international law,” she said.