On the East Asian dance floor

Discussion in 'Defence & Strategic Issues' started by ajtr, Oct 20, 2010.

  1. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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    Nitin Pai: On the East Asian dance floor

    Nitin Pai / October 18, 2010, 0:41 IST

    The quest for an East Asian regional architecture is finally coming to an end. After more than a decade of proposals and counter-proposals, we have in the shape of the upcoming East Asia Summit (EAS) a club that is big enough to include the key players and small enough to avoid becoming a talking shop. Comprising the ten Asean states, India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, it’s still not perfect (what are Myanmar, Brunei, Laos, Cambodia and New Zealand doing in there, while the United States, Russia and Taiwan are outside?). The representation is nevertheless far more credible than various other configurations that were thrown up over the last decade.

    But why does East Asia need a regional architecture? Sure, there is a need for Asia’s most important economies to have a common platform for policy coordination and cooperative initiatives. Moreover, many of the risks to stability and prosperity — geo-economic imbalances, jihadi terrorism, environmental pollution, epidemics and natural disasters — transcend national boundaries, and can most effectively be addressed within a multilateral cooperative framework. Underlying all this, however, is the big geopolitical reason: the need to create a set of norms that will bind China, the United States, India and Indonesia, and prevent them from rocking the East Asian boat.
    At the moment, it is China that is doing all the rocking.

    After a series of provocative statements and maritime clashes this year, China toned down at this month’s meeting in Hanoi of the defence ministers of EAS countries, the United States and Russia. Beijing’s relations with the countries of the region had hit such a low that hallway conversations with the Japanese and allowing the US defence secretary to visit China were considered measures of success. There was no give on substantive issues. Refusing to discuss South China Sea maritime boundary conflicts, General Liang Guanglie, China’s defence minister, said that “practical cooperation within multilateral frameworks does not mean settling all security issues”. In other words, China will insist — and quite likely have its way — on negotiating bilaterally with the less powerful disputants. It will also insist on keeping the United States out.

    What this means is although the EAS is set to become the pre-eminent regional grouping, bilateral alignments remain in a state of flux.

    A divide is emerging between countries that have a dispute with China, and countries that don’t. The former — a list that includes Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei — will seek greater security in the form of alliances with the United States and India.

    These countries want a closer tango, not least in the security arena. During Defence Minister A K Antony’s visit, his Vietnamese counterpart General Phung Quang Thanh welcomed Indian Navy ships to make more port calls and offered maintenance facilities at Vietnamese ports. Last month, South Korea signed two defence cooperation agreements with India encompassing a broad range of activities, including exchange of visits, R&D, training and joint exercises. An agreement is still some distance away, but the very fact that India and Japan are currently negotiating a civil nuclear agreement is already a sign of how far Tokyo has travelled.

    India will have to go beyond defence and invest in building deep, broad and balanced economic relationships with these countries. As the experience with Russia has taught us, a merely defence-centred bilateral relationship can often be troublesome.

    On the other side of the divide, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and even Australia — countries which do not have territorial disputes with China — while desiring an outcome where the big powers balance each other out, will be reluctant to do anything that might attract Beijing’s unpleasant attention. Not unlike the Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms of historical South East Asia that preserved their independence by paying nominal tribute to the Chinese Emperor in return for being left alone.

    In a recent monograph, Hugh White, an Australian strategist, argues that “(Australia) should try to persuade the US that it would be in everyone’s best interests for it to relinquish primacy in Asia, but remain engaged as a member of a collective leadership; staying in Asia to balance, not to dominate... China needs to be persuaded that it, too, should settle for a shared leadership in Asia, a continued strong role for the US and growing roles for Japan and India”.

    Also, once the EAS gains momentum, it will diminish the relevance of Asean, the core around which all the regional groupings arose. Likewise, dynamics within the South East Asian grouping are set to weaken it. For instance, there is a growing quarter in Indonesia, Asean’s biggest power, that perceives the grouping as a constraint on Jakarta’s foreign policy, limiting it to a sub-regional theatre. Besides, the very unity of the grouping will be tested if China reneges on its 2002 agreement with Asean on the rules of conduct in the South China Sea. Asean will have to stand up for the interests of those of its members adversely affected by China’s positions, but to do so, unaffected members will have to put their own relations with Beijing at risk.

    As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gets set to attend the fifth East Asia Summit in Hanoi later this month, it is important to bear in mind that the club only provides the dance floor. India will have to court its dancing partners on an individual basis.

    The author is founder and fellow for geopolitics at the Takshashila Institution and editor of Pragati — The Indian National Interest Review
  3. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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    LYONS: Countering China's aggression

    Communist dictatorship presents trouble in Asia and abroad


    Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates met with China's Minister of Defense Gen. Liang Guanglie last week at the ASEAN defense ministers conference. Although the specifics of their agenda were unknown, China's aggression and arrogance this year means there should have been no lack of talking points. Certainly, China's unprecedented military buildup along with its illegal claims to the South China Sea should have been addressed head-on. However, it appears the main focus was on getting the Chinese to resume military-to-military relations and extending an invitation for Mr. Gates to visit Beijing in 2011.

    It should be clear by now that China's Communist Party and People's Liberation Army refuse to value building military-to-military relationships as does the United States. The more we stress this goal, the more China is simply going to use it as a means to force U.S. concessions. For example, two presidents have failed to approve the sale of new F-16 aircraft and new conventional submarines to Taiwan in hopes that China will moderate its aggressive actions. China deftly employs the same psychology to prevent the United States from defending its interests in the useless six-party talks on North Korea while China's increasing support for North Korea allows Pyongyang's nuclear threat to grow.

    On the other hand, China has no problem with advancing its priorities, which start with building the most powerful military in Asia as a direct challenge to the United States. In so doing, its intent is to place Japan, South Korea, Australia, India and other ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) nations in positions of strategic subordination as well as destroying the democratic system in Taiwan. Furthermore, from the 2020s onward, China intends to challenge the United States for global military supremacy. In short, China's goal is to make the world "safe" for the continued survival of the Chinese communist dictatorship. China's successes, if unchecked, will come only with diminished influence and freedoms for the United States as well as for our friends and allies.

    So far in 2010, China in April conducted provocative naval exercises in the East China Sea followed by precipitating low-level clashes with Japanese fishing trawlers in August. In September, a Chinese trawler rammed two Japanese coast guard patrol boats in the Senkakus, stoking Chinese bluster when the captain justly was arrested. Further, China has made illegal claims to most of the South China Sea and then declared it to be a "core interest," meaning it is on par with Tibet and Taiwan in importance. China's continued military buildup opposite Taiwan, despite progress on economic and political relations, makes no sense unless China is preparing for war against the only Chinese democracy.

    China also has expanded foreign military activities, such as maintaining constant naval patrols off Somalia, and a peace mission 2010 exercise in Kazakhstan in September that demonstrated heightened capabilities for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization alliance of dictatorships. Most disturbing was a late-September Chinese air force exercise with the Turkish air force (which included a stop in Iran) that probably compromised sensitive NATO air-war-fighting tactics. Such an exercise, when coupled with other unhelpful recent Turkish actions, raise questions about Turkey's continued slide away from NATO. Certainly there is a need to review the decision to sell Turkey our latest F-35 stealth fighter.

    As China faces no ostensible threat, its accelerating military buildup cannot be allowed to go unchecked. The Chinese have begun testing an ABM system at the same time suspicion grows that it is putting multiple warheads on its ICBMs, which should raise concerns over the START Treaty with Russia. China's new naval base on Hainan Island for its nuclear-missile, nuclear-attack submarines and aircraft carriers threatens the critical sea lanes from the Straits of Malacca to our key Western Pacific allies. China's anti-ship ballistic missile clearly is aimed at denying the U.S. Navy freedom of action in the Western Pacific. China has built more than 500 fourth-generation combat aircraft and is moving its fifth-generation fighter into testing. It also has accelerated construction of its first aircraft carrier. It also has launched a new conventional submarine with the possibility of two production lines. Finally, China is advancing its moon and space-station program, which likely will have military missions.

    After a year of dallying, the Obama administration has started to stand up to China, but it is not doing enough. Its January arms-sales package to Taiwan was empty without F-16s and submarines. It laid down a marker on China's illegal claims to the South China Sea by siding with the ASEAN nations, but this is only rhetoric until we revive a real, conventional military relationship with the Philippines, our only treaty ally in that region. Support for South Korea after the North Korean torpedo attack was wobbly in the face of Chinese opposition. To its credit, the administration backed Japan against Chinese intimidation in the East China Sea.

    Deterring Chinese aggression will require much more. We need to increase our military capability in the Western Pacific, to include our own anti-missile and anti-ship ballistic-missile capabilities as well as enhanced anti-submarine forces. We should convert older ballistic-missile submarines with core life remaining to cruise-missile submarines, which is allowed under the New START Treaty.

    Our message should be that the world's leading democracy will not be intimidated or bullied by another communist threat. In addition to remaining militarily superior, the United States also can begin to organize multinational political and economic pressures that could help accelerate China's evolution from communism. We led a similar campaign in the not-too-distant past.

    Retired Navy Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.

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