It is difficult to appreciate Southeast Asia's importance for Asia and the world as a whole.

A region once dismissed as a backwater of countries struggling to escape the legacy of colonialism, better known for its distractions than its dynamism, is now seen through a very different lens. It is the geographic nexus of the Indian and Pacific oceans, the literal heart of any Indo-Pacific concept. It straddles the ocean highways by which the region's trade — trillions of dollars each year, and over 90 percent of Northeast Asia's energy supplies — travels.

In 2017, the 10 members of Association of Southeast Asian Nations accounted for 7 percent of global exports, making it the world's fourth-largest exporting region. Those countries have a combined population of 650 million people with a GDP that is almost $3 trillion; this year, its middle-class population will number about 350 million, with some $300 billion of disposable income to spend.