Book Review: Islands and Rocks in the South China Sea: Post-Hague Ruling


July 13, 2017

Book Review: Islands and Rocks in the South China Sea: Post-Hague Ruling

by Philip Bowring

Book Review: Islands and Rocks in the South China Sea: Post-Hague Ruling

The 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration against China on Beijing’s maritime claims to almost the entire South China Sea should have been a seminal event in east Asian history.

Here was an international body rejecting China’s “historic” claims to almost the whole sea and supporting the Exclusive Economic Zone claims of Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei as well as those of the Philippines which had brought the case.

In reality, thus far at least, apart from Vietnam the non-Chinese nations themselves have shown themselves to be less interested in principles and long-term national interest than in diplomatic dances and hints of deal-making with China. One year on, China is as forceful and unapologetic as ever in pressing its imperial claims on the ground.

And the other states, again Vietnam excepted, lack of resolve is a reminder that they are relatively recent creations with little sense of their pre-colonial history and hence limited commitment to more than rhetorical nationalism.

Anyone wanting to see in detail the chasm between the precision and detail of the Court of Arbitration and the woolly-minded responses of so many of the region’s politicians and diplomats should get a copy of this collection of essays edited and with a concise preface by James Borton, an independent journalist and a senior fellow at the US-Asia Institute. They complement Bill Hayton’s excellent work “The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia” which was published in 2014 and provides the most comprehensive coverage of the past history and the evolution of current claims. Borton’s book was the outcome of a workshop held in Nha Trang last August.

Necessarily in such a collection the quality varies but overall it provides a very useful tour of facts and views. There is detailed if dense exposition of the legal foundations of the Court’s decision and its clarification of Article 121(3) of the Law of the Sea Convention. There are well presented arguments from Vietnamese and Philippine experts both on the ruling and in the Vietnam case its national approaches to settlement of sea boundary disputes such as in the Gulf of Thailand.

Japanese, Indians and Koreans look at the ruling in the light of their own issues with China. US and other academics looks at the wider strategic ramifications of the situation.  And contributors from Thailand and Indonesia show how so many find it easier to drone on about ASEAN unity than address the real issues confronting their neighbors.

Malaysian representation is unfortunately lacking in this collection. But perhaps that accurately reflects its determination to close its eyes and focus on collecting Chinese money than defending its seas – especially those most under threat from China lie off Sabah and Sarawak, not the peninsula where the power lies.

The volume also brings attention to the importance of environmental issues and particularly the management of the fast dwindling fish resources on which so many in the littoral states depend for their livelihood. Indeed, in that context the decision of Philippine “populist” President Duterte to set aside the ruling in pursuit of Chinese gold looks bizarre – or just reflects the lack of deep national commitment among some of the region’s political elites.

Philip Bowring is writing a maritime history of the South China Sea. He is a founder and consulting editor to Asia Sentinel.

On North Korea, hope is not a strategy


July 11, 2017

On North Korea, hope is not a strategy

by Fareed Zakaria*

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Fareed Zakaria with POTUS Donald J. Trump

*Dr. Fareed Zakaria writes a foreign affairs column for The Post. He is also the host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS and a contributing editor for The Atlantic. Before being named to his position at time in October 2010, Zakaria spent 10 years overseeing Newsweek’s editions abroad and eight years as the managing editor of Foreign Affairs. He is the author of “The Post-American World” (2009) and “The Future of Freedom” (2007). Born in India, Zakaria received a B.A. from Yale College and a Ph.D. from Harvard University. He lives in New York City with his wife, son and two daughters.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/syndication/columnists/fareed-zakaria/?utm_term=.59f31eadcc52

In Washington, there is a conventional wisdom on North Korea that spans both parties and much of elite opinion. It goes roughly like this: North Korea is the world’s most bizarre country, run by a crackpot dictator with a strange haircut. He is unpredictable and irrational and cannot be negotiated with. Eventually this weird and cruel regime will collapse. Meanwhile, the only solution is more and more pressure. But what if the conventional wisdom is wrong?

The North Korean regime has survived for almost seven decades, preserving not just its basic form of government but also its family dynasty, father to son to grandson. It has persisted through the fall of the Soviet Union and its communist satellites, the Orange Revolution, the Arab Spring and the demise of other Asian dictatorships, from South Korea to Taiwan to Indonesia.

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North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un defies Donald Trump and his allies and now threatens peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific. His survival depends on the Military and the backing of China and Russia.–Din Merican

The Kim dynasty has been able to achieve striking success in its primary objective — survival. Of course, this is because it rules in a brutal and oppressive fashion, but so did many other regimes, from Romania to Syria to Myanmar. But somehow North Korea has maintained its system.

Kim Jong Un is a young man but has been highly effective at preserving his authority. He has secured the support of the military and sidelined or killed anyone who threatened his grip on power — including his uncle and, allegedly, his half-brother.

Look at the world from North Korea’s perspective. The regime saw the collapse of the Soviet empire and an even more unsettling transformation in China, which went from being a fiery ideological soul mate to a pragmatic trading state that has eagerly integrated into world markets. These days, Beijing seems to view Pyongyang as a nuisance, and China now often votes to condemn and sanction North Korea at the United Nations.

And the world’s most powerful country has made clear that North Korea is destined for the ash heap of history. After 9/11, when the U.S. was attacked by Islamist terrorists emanating from the Middle East, George W. Bush announced that the United States would no longer tolerate an “axis of evil” comprising Iraq, Iran — and North Korea. It invaded Iraq. Current U.S. policy toward Iran, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently said, is to “work toward support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government.” And regarding North Korea, Donald Trump wants China to “end this nonsense once and for all,” which again can only mean getting rid of the Kim government in some way.

So, the North Korean regime has tried to buy insurance. And in the realm of international affairs, the best insurance is having a nuclear capacity. Pyongyang knows that it has a large-enough army and the Korean theater of war is so small and dense that a conventional war would be unthinkable, producing hundreds of thousands of casualties and millions of refugees pouring into China and South Korea. North Korea has accurately calculated that China and South Korea are more terrified of the chaos that would follow its collapse than of its nuclear arsenal.

Perhaps the right way to look at North Korea is as a smart, rational, calculating government that is functioning shrewdly given its priority of regime survival. More pressure only strengthens its resolve to buy even more insurance. How to handle it under these circumstances?

The first way to break the logjam in U.S. policy would be to convince China to put real pressure on its ally. That won’t happen by serving President Xi Jinping chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago. Beijing faces an understandable nightmare — under sanctions and pressure, North Korea collapses and the newly unified country becomes a giant version of South Korea, with a defense treaty with Washington, nearly 30,000 American troops and possibly dozens of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons — all on China’s border.

Washington will have to promise Beijing now that in the event of unification, it would withdraw its troops, change the nature of its treaty relationship with the new Korea and, working with China, eliminate Korea’s nuclear arsenal.

But pressure will work only if there is also some reason for North Korea to make concessions. Pyongyang has indicated in the past that it seeks a formal end to the Korean War (Washington signed only an armistice in 1953), a recognition of the regime, and the lifting of sanctions. Obviously none of this should be offered right now, but there is no harm in talking to Pyongyang and searching for ways to trade some of these concessions for the complete eradication of the nuclear program.

It’s a bitter pill for Washington to swallow, but the alternative is to hope that China will act against its interests and crush its ally, or that North Korea will finally collapse. But hope is not a strategy.

Fareed Zakaria’s email address is comments@fareedzakaria.com.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

 

The Emerging Geopolitics of the Indian Ocean Region


June 29, 2017

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Number 386 | June 28, 2017
ANALYSIS

The Emerging Geopolitics of the Indian Ocean Region

By Jonathan D. T. Ward

In a world in which Asia plays an increasingly important economic and geopolitical role, the Indian Ocean provides the foundation for the trading systems that underpin Asia’s economic rise. The Indian Ocean is the basin in which trade from Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa connects. It is also the energy lifeline on which several of the world’s major economies depend. Littered with maritime chokepoints, the geopolitical outcomes that will determine the region’s future have yet to be decided.

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Three essential pieces are visible in the geopolitics and economics of the Indian Ocean Region.

First, the Chinese economy depends on access to this region. Energy imports from the Middle East, resources from Africa, and trade with Europe must transit the Indian Ocean in order to reach China. To make things more difficult, Indian Ocean shipping towards China must pass through the two-mile-wide Strait of Malacca. Former PRC Chairman Hu Jintao termed this chokepoint ‘the Malacca Dilemma’, both because of the difficulty of transiting trade back to China through this narrow waterway, and also because of its vulnerability to blockade or maritime interdiction. As such, China must deal with a very difficult geography in the region which it depends on for economic survival and growth.

Second, the region is home to a rising India which possesses much more advantageous geography than China does when it comes to maritime trade and security. As China builds up its expeditionary naval forces to embark on a ‘two-ocean strategy’ that focuses on the Pacific and Indian Ocean, India, in its most recent maritime strategy, made clear that it considers the Indian Ocean, from the Cape of Good Hope to the Lombok Straits, as its primary area of interest. The Indian Navy plans to field three aircraft carrier groups, one which will patrol the Eastern Indian Ocean, a second for the Western Indian Ocean, and a third to be held in reserve. Chinese naval visits to Indian Ocean nations such as Sri Lanka and Pakistan, two essential nodes on China’s ‘Maritime Silk Road’, have led to discomfort in New Delhi.

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India’s  Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Chinese President Xi Jinping –Indian Ocean Diplomacy

Third, while the Indian Ocean is increasingly the realm in which the geopolitics of China-India relations will take shape in the coming decades, many other nations are also dependent on its waterways for commerce, and it is increasingly becoming a feature in national strategy documents, where the ‘Asia-Pacific’ often becomes the ‘Indo-Pacific’ as nations measure their global and regional strategic interests. If the Pacific links the Americas to Asia, the Indian Ocean links East, South, Southeast, and West Asia, as well linking Asia to Africa and Europe. It is the waterway that makes an Asian trading system possible, and with it the possibility of a world with Asia increasingly at its economic center. As such, while access to the Indian Ocean is essential to many, domination of the Indian Ocean by any single power is likely to be resisted.

In this vital region, initiatives that attempt to secure access and influence are already underway. China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) initiative, half of which is focused on Indian Ocean trade routes from China to Africa to Europe, aims to build infrastructure that will link these other continents more tightly with China. While ‘OBOR’ is marketed as an economic project, key places on the ‘Maritime Silk Road’ have also been used for military purposes. China’s most recent defense strategy emphasizes that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) must ‘safeguard the security of China’s overseas interests’, as well as tasking the PLA Navy to ‘shift its focus from “offshore waters defense” to the combination of “offshore waters defense” with “open seas protection”. In addition to building military infrastructure in the South China Sea, China has begun construction of its first overseas military base in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, at the opposite end of Indian Ocean sea lines of communication that are vital to China. In addition to visits by Chinese naval assets to the East African coast during anti-piracy operations, underway since 2008, Chinese submarines docked in Pakistan in 2015, and in Sri Lanka in 2014, at a Chinese owned terminal in the port of Colombo. This month, three Chinese warships arrived in Pakistan where a joint naval exercise is scheduled. A Chinese naval officer said of prior exercises with Pakistan in November, 2016 that they would ‘improve the naval capability of both countries to protect Gwadar port activities’ – Pakistan’s Gwadar is a hub on OBOR’s ‘Maritime Silk Road’.

Chinese investment in Indian Ocean countries has been rising, leading to concerns over indebtedness to China by smaller Indian Ocean states including Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Djibouti. The possibility of an Indian Ocean Rim constructed of heavily indebted poor countries (HIPCs) beholden to China should not be overlooked as the geopolitical future of this vital region takes shape.

The military dynamics of the Indian Ocean Region are evolving rapidly, particularly as China and India build up expeditionary naval forces, and each one supplies partner nations with military material. China has agreed to provide Pakistan with eight diesel-electric submarines, exercising with Pakistan’s navy last year in the East China Sea, and this month in the Indian Ocean. India has upgraded its relationship with Vietnam to a ‘comprehensive strategic partnership,’ and has found substantial partners in the United States and Japan. Meanwhile, India has extended its naval relationships across the Indo-Pacific, inaugurating bilateral naval exercises with Japan, Australia, and Indonesia.

If there is a great game in the Indian Ocean, it may be a game of economics, infrastructure, and investment. At present, however, there are few players that can rival China’s influence and impact, particularly as OBOR gains ground in both developing and advanced economies around the world. India has not yet reached an economic position in which large levels of outbound investment can garner influence in other nations, and the Modi government is currently busy building much needed domestic port and infrastructure projects under the Sagarmala program.

The Asian Development Bank estimates that Asia has $26 trillion in infrastructure needs from 2016 to 2030, and HSBC estimates Asia’s needs at $11.5 trillion over the same period. Both numbers are well outside the scope of new Chinese initiatives including OBOR, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), or the OBOR-focused Silk Road Fund. However, the Indian Ocean Region – which comprises East Africa, the Red Sea and Suez, the Persian Gulf, South Asia, South East Asia, and Australia – is rarely studied as an economic region unto itself. Data from AEI’s China Global Investment Tracker shows that China invested nearly $500 billion in the region from 2005-2016, more than double its investments in Europe or East Asia and triple its investments in the United States in the same period. As the vital interests of major Asian nations are increasingly linked to this ocean, and as a contest for security and assured access is likely to continue, we can expect many players, near and far, to realize the importance of this ocean to a world system in which Asia plays a major role, and, accordingly, to turn attention to the shape that this region will take in the coming decades.

About the Author

Dr. Jonathan Ward has recently completed his Ph.D. at the University of Oxford, specializing in China-India relations. He is the founder of the recently established Atlas Organization, a consultancy which advises on China, India, and their strategic interests. He can be contacted at Ward@AtlasOrganization.com.

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

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APB Series Coordinator: Peter Valente, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

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ASEAN’s strategic diplomacy underpins regional stability


June 19, 2017

ASEAN’s strategic diplomacy underpins regional stability

by Kishore Mahbubani, Dean, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, NUS

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/06/18/aseans-strategic-diplomacy-underpins-regional-stability/

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (R) stands next to Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen (L) during the opening of World Economic Forum on ASEAN in Phnom Penh on May 11, 2017.

Try imagining a world where the Middle East is at peace. The thought seems almost inconceivable. Imagine a world where Israel and Palestine, two nations splintered from one piece of territory, live harmoniously. Impossible? This is what Malaysia and Singapore accomplished. After an acrimonious divorce in 1965, they live together in peace.

Imagine a world where Egypt, the most populous Islamic country in the Middle East, emerges as a stable and prosperous democracy. Impossible? Then ask yourself how it is that Indonesia, the most populous Islamic country in Southeast Asia—with more than four times as many people as Egypt—has emerged as a beacon of democracy. Egypt and Indonesia both suffered from corruption. And both experienced decades of military rule, under Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Suharto in Indonesia.

Yet Egypt remains under military rule while Indonesia has emerged as the leading democracy in the Islamic world. What explains the difference? The one-word answer is ASEAN. ASEAN’s success in practising strategic diplomacy over the past 50 years has been one of the most undersold stories of our time.

If one were looking around the world to find the most promising region for international cooperation, Southeast Asia would have been at the bottom of the list. Home to 240 million Muslims, 130 million Christians, 140 million Buddhists and 7 million Hindus, it is the most diverse region in the world. In the 1960s, when ASEAN was formed, the region had garnered a reputation as ‘the Balkans of Asia’, due to its geopolitical rivalries and pervasive disputes.

Today, ASEAN is more important than ever. It has become more than an important neutral zone for great-power engagement. Its success in forging unity in diversity is a beacon of hope for our troubled world.

As the ASEAN dynamic gained momentum and the organisation moved towards creating hundreds of multilateral meetings a year, the Southeast Asian region became more closely connected. Webs of networks developed in different areas of cooperation, from trade to defence.

ASEAN camaraderie has defused many potential crises in the region. One shining example of the success of ASEAN’s strategic diplomacy occurred in 2007. In August that year, the world was shocked when monks in Yangon were shot during street protests after the unexpected removal of fuel subsidies led to a drastic overnight rise in commodity prices. Since ASEAN had admitted Myanmar as a member in 1997, there was pressure on ASEAN countries to make a statement criticising these shootings.

As an ASEAN member state, Myanmar had two options. It could have vetoed an ASEAN joint statement or disassociated itself from such a statement. Then there would have been a statement among the remaining nine countries criticising Myanmar. Many, including the nine other ASEAN foreign ministers, expected this to be the outcome.

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ASEAN–Building Strategic Partnerships for Peace, Stability and Development

To their surprise, Myanmar’s foreign minister, Nyan Win, agreed that all 10 countries, including Myanmar, should endorse the statement. This was a truly remarkable decision—the statement said that the ASEAN foreign ministers ‘were appalled to receive reports of automatic weapons being used and demanded that the Myanmar government immediately desist from the use of violence against demonstrators’.

In short, even when there were sharp disagreements between Myanmar and its fellow ASEAN countries, Myanmar decided that sticking with ASEAN was preferable to opting out. Clearly the ASEAN policy of engaging the military regime in Myanmar with strategic diplomacy had succeeded. This story of engagement almost reads as a foil to the EU’s disastrous policy of isolating Syria.

ASEAN’s ability to foster peace extends outside its member states. In an era of growing geopolitical pessimism, when many leading geopolitical thinkers predict rising competition and tension between great powers—especially between the United States and China—ASEAN has created an indispensable diplomatic platform that regularly brings all the great powers together. Within ASEAN, a culture of peace has evolved as a result of imbibing the Indonesian custom of musyawarah and muafakat (consultation and consensus).

Now ASEAN has begun to share this culture of peace with the larger Asia Pacific region. When tensions rise between China and Japan and their leaders find it difficult to speak to each other, ASEAN provides a face-saving platform and the right setting to restart the conversation. In particular, ASEAN has facilitated China’s peaceful rise by generating a framework that moderates aggressive impulses. In short, ASEAN’s strategic culture has infected the larger Asia Pacific region.

One of the miracles of the Asia Pacific is that significant great-power conflict prevented, even though there have been enormous shifts of power among the great nations in the region. Of course, the reasons for this lack of conflict are complex. ASEAN’s neutrality, which helps the organisation retain its centrality in the region, is one factor in keeping the region stable and peaceful.

This is why it is important that in the growing Sino–US geopolitical competition, both sides should treat ASEAN as a delicate Ming vase that could easily break. US and Chinese interests will both suffer if ASEAN is damaged or destroyed—delicacy in dealing with ASEAN is critical for both sides.

ASEAN is far from perfect—its many flaws have been well documented, especially in the Anglo-Saxon media. It never progresses in a linear fashion, often moving like a crab, taking two steps forward, one step backwards and one step sideways. Viewed over a short period, progress is hard to see. But despite its many imperfections, in a longer view, ASEAN’s forward progress has been tangible. In these interesting times, ASEAN’s policies and practices of strategic diplomacy deserve appreciation and study by the global community.

Kishore Mahbubani is dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore and co-author of The ASEAN Miracle

An extended version of this article appeared in the most recent edition of East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Strategic diplomacy in Asia’.

BOOK REVIEW: Muddy Boots & Smart Suits –Researching Asia-Pacific Affairs


June 18, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Muddy Boots & Smart Suits —Researching Asia-Pacific Affairs

Nicholas Farrelly, Amy King, Michael Wesley, and Hugh White (eds) (ISEAS Publishing)

reviewed by Tom Pepinsky

http://www.newmandala.org

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Muddy Boots & Smart Suits is a sprawling volume, containing everything from a plea for the practice turn in international relations theory to an explanation of cross-validation in predictive quantitative modeling to reflections on internet access in rural Myanmar. It is also, paraphrasing the introductory chapter by Michael Wesley, an attempt at reflection on Asia-Pacific studies by researchers with current or past links to the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University. Reading this volume as a big fan of (and occasional visitor to) the ANU, I had the sense that this volume reflects not just a larger conversation that has been happening for decades now between ‘area studies’ and ‘the disciplines’, but also something more special to the ANU.

The book succeeds in showcasing the breadth and diversity of scholarship on Asia and the Pacific within that community. Looking across the volume as a whole, some of the more useful contributions (to the mind of this reader) are those that touch on the policy process, and the ANU’s position as a national university serving Australia itself. There are also some interesting discussions of Australia’s position in the Asia-Pacific region, viewing the country as not just an outside observer but as itself a case.

Readers curious about particular topics or questions will also find much to learn in the individual chapters, which showcase scholars’ areas of expertise in an engaging and sometimes speculative manner. I suspect that this volume’s best use will be as a series of chapters, read individually by students and specialists who find the chapter topics engaging and wish to know more.

This leads me to my main criticism. Taken as a whole, the volume’s weakness is how disjointed the individual contributions are. This may have been inevitable given the volume’s charge, but there are missed opportunities for interesting and productive engagement across chapters that may have led to some more substantial conclusions. Here is one example: the chapter on strategic cultures by Peter J. Dean and Greg Raymond summarises various disagreements between first and third generation schools of strategic culture. Simplifying mightily, one axis in this debate is between whether behavior is just a dependent variable or is both a dependent and an independent variable.  It would have been revealing to put this into conversation with Paul Kenny’s chapter on design-based inference. If the first generation strategic culture theorists are right, what does this mean for a research strategy that requires a strict conceptual separation between causal variables and their effects? Is this tension irresolvable? If so, what’s next?

Another tension is between chapters that express a preference for microlevel details versus those interested in broad national trajectories. Evi Fitriani studies regional alignments in Asia with a conceptual focus on state-level processes. Nick Bisley’s chapter on power also operates at the state level. Contrast this with Cecelia Jacob’s preference for local-level studies of conflict and local-level understandings of international norms, each of which requires a focus on the individual or subnational community level. Should scholars following in Jacob’s tradition find Fitriani and Bisley’s analyses compelling, and vice versa? One argument—which I find overly simplistic—is that this is just a depth/breadth tradeoff. I suspect that the issues are more substantial, and would have enjoyed reading the authors grapple explicitly with them, in direct conversation with one another.

More narrowly, but importantly for the volume’s broader reach, I disagree with two characterisations of Asia Pacific studies in Wesley’s introductory chapter, which for better or for worse frames the entire volume. First, I take issue with the claim that Asia Pacific studies has been ‘remarkably non self-reflective’. It is impossible to list all of the volumes, workshops, seminars, and conference panels devoted to ‘rethinking’ or ‘reimagining’ or ‘refocusing’ the unwieldy body of intellectual inquiry captured under the term ‘Asian and Pacific Studies’, not just in Australia but in North America, Europe, and in Asia itself. There are at least four common themes that can be found throughout the subgenre of self-reflection: (1) the constructedness and artificiality of ‘Asia and the Pacific’; (2) discipline versus area studies; (3) positionality, hegemony, and Orientalism; (4) local versus global and sub-, cross-, trans-, and international studies.

The other disagreement I have is that ‘few methodological or conceptual debates have originated from within the study of Asian and Pacific societies’. The exceptions are just subaltern studies and the rise of great powers. How narrow a view of the contributions of Asianists this is! Just a glance at my bookshelf reveals so many additions. Margaret Mead on Samoa. Benedict Anderson on nationalism. Clifford Geertz on the Balinese cockfight. James Scott on the resistance and the state. Aihwa Ong and Michael Peletz on gender and identity. Chalmers Johnson on the developmental state in Japan. I could certainly go on—that list just reflects my idiosyncratic tastes and interests. These are major contributions by regional experts working on regional issues that have shaped entire disciplinary conversations, each with methodological implications that has occupied a generation of graduate seminars around the world.

The more general observation that emerges from this discussion has implications beyond Muddy Boots & Smart Suits as a volume. Research on Asia is important: the study of Asia and the Pacific has proven to be remarkably generative, providing major concepts and debates in the social sciences and humanities. Muddy Boots & Smart Suits reminds us of the value of self-reflection, and especially of the individual researchers, political incentives, and institutional support required to make these contributions.

Thomas Pepinsky is Associate Professor in Cornell University’s Department of Government, and a faculty member of its Southeast Asia Program.

India, Japan, and the Indo-Pacific: Breaking Out of the Middle Power Status


June 16, 2017

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Number 384 | June 15, 2017

ANALYSIS

 

India, Japan, and the Indo-Pacific: Breaking Out of the Middle Power Status

By Nidhi Prasad

A day after China launched its second aircraft carrier, the American administration under Mr. Donald J. Trump appeared jubilant about celebrating the first 100 days of its “America first” policy. Asian nations have to grapple with an uncertain security environment which lacks the structure or predictability that existed during the Cold War. They are caught between an aggressive China – their largest trading partner and their security ally or partner – and an increasingly capricious United States. Should one kowtow and shape Asia’s “common destiny” or negotiate a deal to “make America great again”? This article explains three ways in which India and Japan refuse to be caught in binary choices and are gradually creating room within which other Asian countries can  maneuver.

First, India and Japan under Prime Ministers Modi and Abe respectively, have attempted to change the geopolitical imagination of their nations. By 2014 China had announced its plans to link the Eurasian landmass and Pacific Rimland (through ports, pipelines, etc) by reviving the maritime and continental ‘Silk Road’. In 2015 India and Japan signed a joint statement to mutually work towards building peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region within a decade. This was the first time the two nations agreed to expand the geographic scope of their strategic partnership (almost a decade after Abe first proposed it in India). Until 2014 the two nations looked for convergence in their foreign policies (‘Act East’, ‘Proactive Contribution to Peace’, ‘Make in India’, ‘Quality Infrastructure Initiative’, etc…). The United States under the Obama Administration additionally engaged in ‘burden sharing’ and institution building, as well as recognizing Indian and Japanese intentions to break out of their middle power status. It promoted India’s ‘leading power’ ambitions and supported the unprecedented changes in Japanese security legislation to make it more ‘proactive’.

Secondly, India and Japan are making attempts to transform the security order rather than being either status-quo nations or revisionist actors. The United States expects its Asian partners to balance against Chinese aggression while China’s biggest concern is a joint coalition that would resuscitate the ‘cold war mentality’ of containment. China has increasingly used its geo-economic tools punitively to target trade, tourism, and other sectors against any diplomatic disobedience. This was glaringly visible when South Korea decided to go ahead with setting up the THAAD missile defense system against Chinese wishes. Recently Beijing standardized the names of Arunchal Pradesh localities with Chinese character in retaliation against the Dalai Lama’s visit to the Indian state (which Beijing claims is part of “South Tibet”). Meanwhile, Japan has deployed its helicopter carrier Izumo to a tour through the South China Sea (where China and ASEAN countries have disputed territories). Additionally, Izumo will participate in the Indo-US-Japan Malabar exercise in the Indian Ocean in July this year. Such “resistance” by India and Japan is a sign that both nations are unwilling to be dictated to by China.

India and Japan are keen to play active roles and engage in close cooperation with all actors in their respective restive neighborhoods on issues for which China exercises influence such as the North Korean nuclear crisis or negotiations on Afghanistan. The complexity of relations further illustrates that states in this region cannot adopt simple strategies of balancing, band-wagoning, or hedging; rather, India and Japan need to present alternatives to others that are unable to afford to maneuver in the present system.

Third, India and Japan are moving beyond middle power narratives as they seek to support smaller Asian nations and provide alternatives to China’s “win-win” diplomacy that has placed nations like Sri Lanka and Cambodia in a Chinese debt-trap. In 2016 India and Japan articulated a joint “Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy” towards achieving this goal, but have not yet spelled out any specifics. The two countries can assist with the need to fill the estimated $1.3 trillion estimated infrastructure gap in the region. China, under the pretense of connectivity and trade, is attempting to “hard-wire” geopolitical realities and Chinese influence, brush territorial disputes and disagreements under the carpet and carry out business as usual. Neither India, Japan, nor the United States were among the 28 countries that sent heads of government to China’s maiden Belt and Road Forum. Before the forum develops into an overarching platform to discuss Indo-Pacific security issues, India and Japan need to quicken the pace of infrastructure cooperation.

In order to succeed Japan and India must compete with China’s ability to mobilize resources at a fast pace and engage in robust diplomacy without threatening smaller nations or appearing interventionist. India is seeking Japan’s help to regain lost geopolitical capital in its neighborhood. Ultimately, India and Japan need to help realize the aspirations of smaller nations like Sri Lanka, Nepal, Vietnam, Pacific Island countries, and others who need economic and security assistance.

Finally, the role of the United States to project power and influence is also of great significance to Indian and Japanese strategy. Recent talks of the creation of an Asia Pacific Stability Initiative (with a fund of approximately $7.5 billion) and other diplomatic overtures hold the potential to stem the direction of the current power transition in the region. Asian nations now have to deal with an America that expects allies to do most of the heavy-lifting, and security guarantees in the future will be conditional on free and fair trade. Unlike before, it is the United States (in order to retain its dominance) that has to strengthen credibility in dealing with a new geo-strategic landscape, where intra-Asian trade is high and China is no longer shy about its hegemonic aspirations. Ultimately the United States would have to pressure China and maintain the security and stability of the region. To preclude China’s hegemony or Sino-US rapprochement, India and Japan are breaking out of their traditional roles and are willing to shoulder the responsibility of securing the Indo-Pacific region.

About the Author

Nidhi Prasad is a Researcher in the Department of International Politics at Aoyama Gakuin University in Japan. She completed her Master of Philosophy in Japanese Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. She can be reached at Nidhi29Prasad@gmail.com.

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