ASEAN — finding middle path in the US-China conflict


 

November 9, 2018

Opinion

ASEAN — finding middle path in the US-China conflict

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Despite local uncertainties, the region must be bold in shaping its own future

For almost a decade, the basic strategic issue for Southeast Asia has been how to respond to the changing dynamics of the Sino-American relationship as it enters a new phase of heightened long-term competition.

The U.S. and China will not quickly or easily reach a new modus vivendi. Southeast Asia will have to navigate a prolonged period of unusual uncertainty.

U.S.-China rivalry in the South China Sea has emerged as something of a proxy for their competition. Strategically, the situation is a stalemate. China will not give up its territorial claims and the deployment of military assets. But neither can China stop the U.S. and its allies operating in the area without risking a war it does not want because it cannot win.

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The Trump administration has given the 7th Fleet more latitude to conduct Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea. Japan and other U.S. allies are beginning to push back against China’s claims. The U.S. has signaled its intention to conduct even larger shows of force. This raises the risk of accidental clashes. Still, that risk does not at present seem unacceptably high.

A premeditated war is improbable. China will feel it must fight only if the U.S. supports Taiwan independence. This is unlikely. If an accidental clash should occur in the South China Sea or elsewhere, both sides will probably try to contain it. The Association of Southeast Nations ought to be able to cope with situations short of a U.S.-China war. ASEAN has previously managed far more dangerous circumstances. But this will require greater agility, unity and resolve than ASEAN has shown recently.

 

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The most obvious manifestation of increased Sino-American competition is U.S. President Donald Trump’s “trade war.” Trade is the means; the objective is strategic competition. China accuses the U.S. of using trade to hamper its development. China is not wrong.

Although attention has focused on the tit-for-tat tariffs, the more significant aspect is new U.S. legislation to limit technology transfers to China, which sets new rules that future administrations will find hard to change.

Trump’s attitude toward China is no aberration, but reflects a bipartisan view — widely shared in business as well as politics — that the U.S. has been too accommodating to Beijing. Whoever succeeds Trump will likely stay tough on China.

The Trump administration has often been described as isolationist, but this is a distortion. Rather, it believes that this is an era of great power competition and is determined to compete robustly, with a preference for bilateralism over multilateralism, and a return to “peace through strength.”

China has misread the implications of the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 by believing its own propaganda about the U.S. being in irrevocable decline. It missed the souring mood of U.S. business toward China, mainly over intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers. These concerns are shared by businesses in other developed economies, which support Trump’s goals although they may disagree about his methods.

President Xi Jinping’s 19th Party Congress speech a year ago abandoned Deng Xiaoping’s approach of “hiding light and biding time.” But his main focus was domestic. Xi said China’s new “principal contradiction” was between “unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life.” This poses a fundamental challenge. Unless those needs are met — which will require immense resources — Communist Party rule could be at risk.

To find a new growth model, the party must balance control and market efficiency. An enhanced role for markets implies a loosening of control.

It remains to be seen what Xi will do. So far he seems to have opted for stronger control, and may have sharpened the problems he faces.

The Belt and Road Initiative is as much about this domestic challenge as China’s global ambition. The BRI exports the old growth model based on state-led infrastructure investment. The BRI buys time to find a new balance between the market and the party.

But the BRI rests on the foundation of U.S.-led globalization. Can it succeed if the world turns protectionist? China may well be the main loser if that global order frays. China cannot replace U.S. leadership. An open international order cannot be based on a largely closed Chinese model. BRI partner countries are pushing back, including in Southeast Asia, and implementation will be problematic.

China is not happy with every aspect of the post-Cold War order based on U.S.-led globalization. China wants its new status acknowledged. But Xi has championed and profited from globalization. The trade war is now hurting China and slowing growth. China may seek to become more self-sufficient technologically, but this will take time while the pressures are immediate.

Some have speculated that there may be opportunities for ASEAN if foreign companies shift production from China. This is possible. But doing so is easier said than done and no one will forgo the Chinese market. ASEAN members must also resist temptations to act as a backdoor into the U.S. for Chinese companies.

A prolonged trade war and concerns that China may have compromised the security of supply chains, are likely to upend existing supply links. This could seriously complicate ASEAN members’ efforts to move up the value chain, for example if U.S. groups relocate business back to America. In response, ASEAN must attract higher grade investments by improving infrastructure and skills, and assuring investors their technology is secure.

Low labor costs and a potential market of 700 million consumers are no longer sufficient to make Southeast Asia an attractive investment destination. The attitude of ASEAN members toward China and the extent to which they are beholden to it are likely to become important considerations in investment decisions.

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BALI, Oct 12 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has lamented ASEAN for not fully tapping its potential as an economic powerhouse, despite having abundant resources and a consumer market of nearly 700 million people.

ASEAN needs to move decisively to hedge against long-term uncertainties, while taking advantage of available opportunities.

Reforms such as the removal of non-tariff barriers and harmonization of ASEAN’s approach toward services and labor mobility could help make Southeast Asia a common production platform. Member states meanwhile should implement plans to upgrade skills and infrastructure. But internal political changes in some member countries could undermine the goal of closer economic integration. Unfortunately, ASEAN has, in recent years, become too timid for its own good.

 

 

Ambassador A Large Bilahari Kausikan, a former Permanent Secretary at Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is Chairman of the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore.

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WEF on ASEAN: Key Agenda


September 8, 2018

WEF on ASEAN: Key Agenda

by Chheang Vannarith / Khmer Times
 
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Justin Wood, Head of Asia-Pacific, Member of the WEF Executive Committee told reporters on September 6 (Photo: VNA)

 

The World Economic Forum of ASEAN will discuss the Fourth Industrial Revolution, powered by a wide range of new breakthroughs. Chheang Vannarith writes these new technologies are revolutionary due to the speed, breadth and depth of anticipated change they will bring and warns that if Asean leaders do not think regionally, they will miss out on opportunities and fail to address growing challenges.

The World Economic Forum on ASEAN is going to take place in Hanoi on 11-13 September, with the participation of, if nothing changes, seven state leaders from ASEAN member states, namely State Counsellor of Myanmar Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

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The main theme of the forum this year focuses on how Asean can embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution – which generally refers to technological revolution in the fields of artificial intelligence, robotics, 3-D printing, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing. This is a new, critical area of regional cooperation as Asean moves towards building a genuine people-centered, people-oriented community.

Opportunities are present, stemming from the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and we need to be aware of and get ready to face emerging challenges such as job losses and disruption, inequality and political instability, and cyberattacks. With the accelerating pace of change and transformation in almost all dimensions of social, economic and political landscapes, Asean member countries need to accelerate their comprehensive reforms, especially regulatory reforms, in order to grasp the benefits and overcome the challenges.

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Information and knowledge sharing is critical to building national and regional capacity in navigating through these transformations and uncertainties. The less developed economies like Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar need more international support in building their digital infrastructure and human capital to survive and stay economically competitive. If not, they risk being left far behind. Be aware that widening the development gap within the region will prevent the realisation of a genuine regional community and could potentially trigger regional division and instability. A two-tiered ASEAN is not a healthy ASEAN.

The report by the World Economic Forum and the Asian Development Bank in 2017 suggests that regional governments must be fast, agile, experimental, inclusive, and open in developing an ecosystem for digital integration. Being inclusive in policy design and execution has been one of the main shortcomings in regional integration in Southeast Asia since regional projects are chiefly led by political ruling elites with low participation from the private sector and civil society. It is commonly said that ASEAN is an elite-driven regional project.

How to transform this unprecedented breadth and depth of technological revolution into a source of inclusive and sustainable development remains the top challenge for ASEAN and its member states. It is proven that inequality is one of the root causes of political and social instability and ASEAN must develop a strategy to link technology with the narrowing development gap – one of which is to promote “an inclusive Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

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The new Cambodian government to be formed today has included digital economy into its development agenda for the next five years, with the expectation that it will help Cambodia to compete with other regional countries within the context of intensifying market competition, the gradual collapsing of labor-intensive manufacturing industry, and the concentration of market power by multinational companies.

The local enterprises, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), will face mounting challenges to remain competitive in the market that will transition to virtual products and services than real ones. Technology remains unaffordable and inaccessible for many SMEs in the region and there is an urgent need to develop a support mechanism, both financial and technical support, to assist SMEs in utilizing the benefits accorded in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Another interesting agenda of the forum is the dialogue session on the future of the Mekong region – a new growth center and strategic frontier of Asia. The leaders from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam will present their views on the current state of regional development and integration in the Mekong and the management of the Mekong River. There are increasing concerns that hydropower dams being constructed and planned along the mainstream of the river will severely affect the livelihoods and ecosystem in the whole Mekong River Basin. The recent dam collapse in Laos has prompted riparian countries to review their hydropower projects.

The two downstream countries, Cambodia and Vietnam, are the most affected countries. They have put certain pressures on upstream countries, particularly Laos, to conduct trans-boundary environmental and social impact assessments before constructing dams. Data sharing on water flow and quality is another key area of cooperation, especially in the dry season. There are many outstanding issues and emerging challenges that the Mekong countries need to overcome and find suitable solutions for all. A win-win cooperation must be real on the ground, not only in diplomatic statements. The perception of the local people, not the ruling elites, is the best indicator to reflect and prove whether a development project is a win-win project.

ASEAN and other sub-regional institutions such as the Mekong River Commission share one common weakness which is the lack of implementation and enforcement. Policies abound – either in the form of blueprints, declarations, or joint statements – but implementation is lacking. Next week, ASEAN leaders will share their perspectives on the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Mekong River. It will be a reminder that people want to know concrete actions and solutions that benefit whole societies and not small groups of political and business elites. That is what inclusiveness is all about.

Chheang Vannarith is a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum.

 

Foreign Policy: China can’t be selective on the Law of the Sea


August 7, 2018

Foreign Policy: China can’t be selective on the Law of the Sea

by  Tuan N Pham, Yokosuka (Japan)

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

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Last May, Washington disinvited Beijing from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercise on the grounds that Chinese actions in the South China Sea run counter to the pursuit of free and open seas. Like RIMPAC 2014 and 2016, China dispatched a spy ship into the United States’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to monitor the world’s largest international maritime exercise.

And just like the past two exercises, Washington did not object to the Chinese ship’s presence — which is not the response received from Beijing when US and other navies conduct similar activities in China’s (claimed) EEZ. Instead, more often than not China admonishes the offending nation for violating its claimed territorial sovereignty and sometimes even harasses the military units themselves.

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Read On; https://edspace.american.edu/theworldmind/2017/10/13/the-role-of-the-law-of-the-sea-in-the-east-and-south-china-sea-arbitration/

While not unprecedented and not in violation of international law, the spy ship’s deployment into the United States’ EEZ reminds the world that China is a rising power that is willing to fully leverage its interpretation of maritime rights under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This underscores Beijing’s selectively choosing the parts of UNCLOS that it likes and ignoring or reinterpreting the parts that it does not like or finds inconvenient for its national interests. Beijing clearly understands its own maritime rights, but it does not necessarily tolerate and accept the same rights for others.

The Chinese argument on the (non)permissibility of military activities in the South China Sea is counter to the US position that coastal states have the right under UNCLOS to regulate economic activities in their own EEZ but do not have the right to regulate foreign military activities in it.

Beijing contends that military activities (such as intelligence surveillance reconnaissance flights, maritime survey operations, maritime collection operations and military exercises) on the high seas and in EEZs are unlawful based on the legislative spirit of UNCLOS and on UNCLOS’s requirement that the high seas be used only for peaceful purposes.

US legal scholars and diplomats have counter-argued that military activities have been a recognised lawful activity on the high seas and EEZs under customary international law and are preserved under Article 58 of UNCLOS. The international community by and large agrees with Washington — only 27 states concur with Beijing’s interpretation of UNCLOS, while the majority of states (over 100, including all permanent United Nations Security Council members other than China) hold Washington’s position.

Former president Fidel Ramos, 88, the Philippines’ envoy for talks with Beijing hopes to improve ties with Beijing that have soured over a territorial dispute in the South China Sea. (Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images)

That  said, there is another perspective worth mentioning for additional context. Just as China conveniently demands that other nations observe its domestic laws when it instructs ships in its EEZ to leave, China is simply following other nations’ domestic laws when it conducts surveillance in those countries’ EEZs. Granted, although China’s laws in this regard are illiberal while most other countries’ laws are liberal, the principle being observed arguably may be the same.

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The Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning steaming forward the South China Sea. —AFP

Nevertheless, as the People’s Liberation Army Navy continues to operate in distant waters and in proximity to other nations’ coastlines, Beijing may have no choice but to eventually address the inconsistency between its demands of other nations and its own actions. It can either adjust its standing approach or continue to assert its untenable authority to regulate military activities in its EEZ. The former is more likely, while the latter carries more risks (and eventually costs) in terms of the legal validity of its own maritime sovereignty claims, international credibility and world standing.

Regionally, continued ‘do as I say and not do as I do’ will exacerbate the growing concerns among its nervous neighbours about China’s ‘benevolent’ rise and will cast increasing scepticism on its sincerity and commitment to comply with the ASEAN Code of Conduct guidelines to handle maritime disputes in the South China Sea. Globally, this inconsistency will undercut Beijing’s carefully crafted and cultivated international image as a defender of global trade and will undermine its strategic goals of promoting its geopolitical influence abroad and displacing the Western-oriented world order with one without dominant US influence.

Beijing has begun incrementally and subtly adding nuance to its legal and diplomatic positions at various diplomatic, academic and media forums. Beijing now appears to not necessarily object to intelligence-gathering operations and military exercises in China’s EEZ per se; rather, they object to the scope, scale and frequency of these activities. They also seem to no longer view such activities as intrinsically unlawful under international law but rather as threatening to China’s peace and security as well as destabilising for the region.

Despite these efforts, at the end of the day, Beijing is conveniently disregarding UNCLOS and accepted international norms to support its own national interests and complement its strategic narratives. This is counterproductive, since Beijing needs the international community to believe that its commitments to uphold international law are sincere and credible — especially in the maritime trade realm on which its growing economy relies. Similarly, the world needs a rising China to be a responsible global leader respectful of the rule of law and compliant with global norms.

Tuan Pham is widely published in national security affairs. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US Government.

The world is pushing back in the South China Sea


July 4, 2018

The world is pushing back in the South China Sea

Tuan N Pham, Yokosuka

 

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2018/06/29/the-world-is-pushing-back-in-the-south-china-sea/

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In recent weeks, there have been several commentaries reporting a temporary new norm in the South China Sea (SCS) — realpolitik’s triumph over moralpolitik and the rapid decline of regional US soft power. But current developments suggest otherwise. Years of ill-advised US acquiescence and accommodation (strategic patience and wishful thinking) in the SCS appear to be over for now.

There indeed seems to be a new norm emerging in the SCS. But it is more reflective of the new muscular US National Security Strategy and US National Defense Strategy that call for an embrace of strategic great power competition with China than of a decline of US influence in the region.

Many countries are now firmly pushing back against Chinese unilateral expansionism in the SCS. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte reportedly declared that he was ready and willing to go to war with China over SCS resources. A prominent Taiwanese think tank has proposed leasing Taiwan-occupied Taiping Island to the US military. And at the 2018 Shangri-La Dialogue, the United States, India, Vietnam, France and the United Kingdom all spoke strongly against China’s assertive and destabilising actions in the SCS.

These words are being backed up by actions.

Washington disinvited Beijing to the 2018 Rim of the Pacific naval exercise on the grounds that Chinese actions in the SCS run counter to international norms and the pursuit of free and open seas. US freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) and presence operations in the SCS continue, and US defence officials are reportedly considering a more assertive program that could include longer patrols, more ships and closer surveillance of Chinese facilities.

London and Paris have joined Washington to challenge Beijing in the SCS. Both have conducted naval operations in the SCS to put pressure on China’s increased militarization of the disputed and contested waters.

Vietnam continues the modest expansion of its outposts in the Spratly Islands. With the latest construction at Ladd Reef, Hanoi has made small and incremental upgrades to 21 of its 49 outposts in recent years. The construction work also underscores a new facet of Vietnam’s military doctrine in the SCS — the employment of a maritime militia that will emulate China’s maritime militia, which China uses to enhance its presence and operations in the contested waters without provoking a military response from other countries.

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Layang Layang–Malaysia

Malaysia — like Vietnam and the Philippines — is embarking on a military buildup to better protect its maritime claims and interests in the SCS. Kuala Lumpur recently announced that it would upgrade its naval aircraft as well as purchase ship-based naval helicopters. The enhanced naval aviation capabilities are intended to support an ongoing comprehensive modernization of its surface fleet.

The aforementioned commentaries on the SCS also repeat some familiar Chinese perspectives on US FONOPs and US intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) operations that require some US perspectives for a more balanced understanding of the issues.

US FONOPs are an important expression of and are recognised by international law. The purpose and intent of US FONOPs are clearly laid out in US policy, and all operations are meticulously documented and published every year. On the whole, US FONOPs challenge excessive maritime claims in the SCS, not competing sovereignty claims; do not discriminate against particular states, but rather focus on the claims that individual states assert; are deliberate in nature, but are not deliberate provocations; and contest unilateral restrictions on freedom of navigation and overflight rather than accept rhetoric.

US ISR operations — which are conducted inside other countries’ exclusive economic zones (EEZs) — are lawful under customary international law and Article 58 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

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The Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning steaming forward the South China Sea.

The Chinese argument on the permissibility of military activities in EEZs is counter to the US position. The United States believes that while coastal states under UNCLOS have the right to regulate economic activities in their EEZs, they do not have the right to regulate foreign military activities in their EEZs.

Beijing contends that military activities — such as ISR flights, maritime survey operations and military exercises — on the high seas and in EEZs are unlawful according to UNCLOS, and that it is a requirement under UNCLOS that the high seas are used only for peaceful purposes, despite itself doing exactly the opposite.

Beijing’s interpretation of UNCLOS is a minority position held by 27 states, while the vast majority of states (over 100, including all permanent United Nations Security Council members other than China) do not hold this position.

The region and the world have come to the realisation that Beijing’s actions in the SCS are dangerously undermining the extant global order that China itself has benefited from. Other countries must now be more assertive to encourage and challenge China to become a more responsible global stakeholder that contributes positively to the international system. Otherwise, Beijing will be further emboldened to expand and accelerate its campaign to control the disputed and contested strategic waterway through which trillions of dollars of global trade flows each year.

Tuan N Pham is widely published in national security affairs and international relations. The views expressed therein are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US Government.

ASEAN’s Role in the US Indo-Pacific Strategy


June 28, 2018

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Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 425

ASEAN’s Role in the US Indo-Pacific Strategy

By Kavi Chongkittavorn

Ever since US President Donald Trump announced the Indo-Pacific strategy at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting in November, 2017 at Danang, Vietnam, the leaders from of the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), have been anxious trying to figure out what it really means and to understand the possible long-term regional implications.

Eight months have elapsed and the US has not yet come out with detailed strategic and operational plans, except for some outlines. The US State Department views the Indo-Pacific strategy in an all-encompassing way, which includes security, economic, and social aspects. The Defense Department’s version, however, puts more emphasis on strategic matters. Both share key commonalities of an ideal Indo-Pacific region that must be free from any coercion, open for free and competitive trade, abide by rules of law and universal principles. Emphasis is also placed by both on commercial governance as well as high-quality investment in infrastructure and connectivity.

 

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At the Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2018 in Singapore  Defense Secretary General James Mattis reiterated that ASEAN centrality remains vital to the success of the Indo-Pacific strategy.

In his speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2018 in Singapore, Defense Secretary General James Mattis highlighted four pivotal elements of this strategy. First, it has to do with the maritime commons, which requires capacity and capabilities building in naval and law enforcement. It is aimed at improving monitoring and projection of maritime borders and interests within the region. Second, it is about expanding interoperability and establishing a network of allies and partners working together to increase mutual trust between militaries and economies. Third, it aims at strengthening the rule of law, civil society and transparent governance, promoting sustainable economic development. Finally, it foresees an increasing role of private sector in promoting development and finance institutions to be “better, more responsive partners.” Transfer of knowledge and technology with end-to-end solutions would also be front and center to this approach without abandoning economic sovereignty of recipient nations.

The essence of US Indo-Pacific strategy has been aptly summarized by General Mattis, who called it a subset of the US broader security strategy: “Make no mistake: America is in the Indo-Pacific to stay. This is our priority theater,” he declared. Indeed, the Pacific Command, which oversees security stretching both the Indian and Pacific Oceans, has changed its name to the Indo-Pacific Command.

During the informal meeting with ASEAN Defense Ministers on the sidelines of the Shangri-la Dialogue, Gen Mattis praised the group’s consensus-making process, which aims to avoid confrontation. He reiterated that ASEAN centrality remains vital to the success of the Indo-Pacific strategy.

Over the past months, Australia, Japan, and India, which are democratic allies of the United States, have also put forward their visions of Indo-Pacific strategy. They comprise similar features to the US concept, emphasizing an international rules-based order and norms, transparency, governance, maritime security, and infrastructure. Furthermore, they also pinpointed ASEAN centrality as a driving force for forging closer cooperation in the region.

However, Japan and India also have broadened the Indo-Pacific’s geographic footprints to include not only the two oceans — Indian and Pacific — but also the two continents of Asia and Africa. Obviously, as major Asian economies, they would like to connect the Asian continent and business opportunities with Africa, which has enjoyed impressive growth over the past two decades.

As ASEAN has been accorded a higher profile by major powers, the 10 member-states are also under constant pressure to respond to their clarion calls and prove their mettle. Given the rapid shifts of the regional and international environment, ASEAN has to be more proactive and adopt forward-looking positions on key transnational issues such as the North Korean nuclear crisis, extremism, and cyber security. Most importantly, it must ensure that no one nation should be allowed to dominate the region. This appeal comes at the time when ASEAN is building up its regional security architecture, reliance on its existing security mechanism, and security partnerships.

For the time being, only three countries — Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam — have expressed their individual opinions about the perceived role of ASEAN in the overall Indo-Pacific scheme. Obviously, as the group’s biggest economy, Indonesia has been the leading voice on the Indo-Pacific concept. In 2013, former foreign minister Marty Natalegawa proposed that ASEAN and its dialogue partners committed to peace-building and non-use of force to further prevent conflicts in the region, but received lukewarm support. However, the government under President Joko Widodo has decided to revive the idea again after Trump’s announcement of Indo-Pacific with a new emphasis that rebranded Indonesia as a maritime power.

To ensure continuity, Jakarta is working closely with Thailand, the upcoming chair of ASEAN. Bangkok will coordinate all ASEAN positions and prepare a report for the members next year. At the 32nd ASEAN summit, the leaders discussed the Indo-Pacific concept but did not come up with any position. In the chairman’s statement, it simply said that ASEAN looked forward to further discussing the new concept.

Granted the lack of details from Washington, ASEAN senior officials quickly filled the gap. They have already discussed and exchanged notes on points of convergence that need to be included in the ASEAN Indo-Pacific version. These are some of elements: free and open, rules based, complementary, ASEAN-led mechanism, ASEAN centrality, connectivity, infrastructure, inclusiveness, and not involving a third party.

Meanwhile, the Washington-based ASEAN diplomats have been informed by the US State Department that the details of US Indo-Pacific would soon be available. President Donald Trump is scheduled to take part in the 13th East Asian Summit in early November in Singapore. He expects to outline the contour of the Indo-Pacific strategy himself.

Despite President Trump’s decisions to revoke several of the international commitments and cooperative frameworks of his predecessor Barack Obama, including the US-led Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), he has maintained existing programs and activities related to US-ASEAN bilateral cooperation. With continued strong bipartisan support, Trump’s Indo-Pacific strategy will be value-added to further strengthening the US interoperability and networks of security partners in the region.

All in all, it is incumbent on ASEAN to reach out to the United States, Japan, India, and Australia to ascertain that all proposed elements are synergized and most importantly, the emerging broader strategy would place ASEAN in the center.

Kavi Chongkittavorn is a Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center in Washington, DC, and Senior Fellow at the Institute of Security and International Studies, Chulalongkorn University. He can be contacted at Chongkik@eastwestcenter.org.

APB Series Founding Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye | APB Series Coordinator: Peter Valente

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

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.

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Fighting Piracy on the ASEAN Seas


March 16, 2018

Fighting Piracy on the ASEAN Seas

by Tai Wei Lim

https://www.asiasentinel.com/econ-business/fighting-piracy-asean-seas/

Almost half of the world’s pirate attacks happen in Southeast Asia. Among the most common locations for attacks is the Strait of Malacca, where tankers carry oil from the Gulf region to China, Japan, and South Korea, and via Singapore’s refineries.

As piracy becomes more prevalent, collaboration across the ASEAN region is more necessary than ever.

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Ever since oil was discovered in the Gulf area in the 20th century, the maritime route from the Gulf region to East Asia passing through the Strait of Malacca has been the most important passageway for East-West global trade. A recent increase in piracy incidents highlights the need for effective ways to ensure the security of oil shipping in the region.

Malacca Strait, Choke Point for Oil Shipping

The Persian Gulf region supplies about a third of the world’s oil and fulfils most of the major Northeast Asian countries’ (China, Japan, and South Korea, or CJK) oil needs. Oil makes up a large percentage of the Gulf region’s exports overseas and constitutes the crucial backbone of the Gulf economies.

Traveling between Sumatra (to the west of the Strait of Malacca) and the Gulf of Thailand/Malay Peninsula, oil tankers carry their precious cargo to refineries in Singapore for processing. Singapore’s oil refineries on Jurong Island, west of the main island, are some of the largest in the world.

Forty-one percent of the world’s pirate attacks between 1995 and 2003 occurred in Southeast Asia.

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Alternative routes exist, but they add a couple of days to the trip. The fact that the Strait of Malacca is such a convenient, thus popular, route also makes it a choke point for oil shipping.

Oil from the Gulf area destined for Northeast Asia is transported through places like the Gulf of Aden, Strait of Hormuz, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal, Andaman Sea, Gulf of Thailand, Strait of Malacca, and South China Sea before reaching its destination. Besides adverse natural conditions, tankers also run the risk of encountering manmade dangers like piracy.

Forty-one percent of the world’s pirate attacks between 1995 and 2003 occurred in Southeast Asia. Pirates operate using small boats and skiffs that are fast and can hide easily in littoral zones. They use small arms for speedy operations, which include kidnapping for ransom, stealing oil from ships, robbing crew members, stealing cargo, and even stealing entire ships and repainting them for sale. Although tankers are only one of the categories of ships targeted by pirates, the oil they transport accounts for very real strategic stakes.

Efforts to Secure Maritime Trade

Since WWII, the US has widely been credited as the security guarantor of Pacific maritime trade, with its 7th Fleet based in Hawaii, Guam, and Japan. The Americans were engaged in an alliance with Japan in the 1960s and kept the sea lines of communication (SLOCs) open for trade. The US was considered a benign superpower, welcomed by countries to keep regional and global trade going.

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More countries have developed an interest in Maritime Southeast Asia in recent years. The US and Japan have been lobbying for the opportunity to increase naval presence and to have direct patrols in the region. India has a naval fleet at the mouth of the Andaman Sea, just before it extends into the Strait of Malacca.

The Indian Navy is watching and extending its influence in the Strait of Malacca not only in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, but also on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which are geographically close to Southeast Asia. As for the Chinese, they have organized naval drills with their Malaysian partners in the Strait of Malacca.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has resolved to manage piracy in the region and is making important collective efforts to do so. When all the navies of Southeast Asia work together in tasks like patrolling, they constitute a formidable force that can deter piracy.

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The Malacca Straits Coordinated Patrol (MALSINDO) is reflective of such efforts to use joint resources to repel piracy. MALSINDO was started by the littoral states in the Strait of Malacca, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, in 2004. It is complemented by the “Eye in the Sky” (EiS) mechanism, which is one of the most sophisticated air-based patrol systems in the region.

ASEAN has resolved to manage piracy in the region and is making important collective efforts to do so. The circle of states and countries involved in anti-piracy activities is now expanding. Since naval personnel from Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore gathered in 2008 to start the Malacca Strait Patrols Information System, Thailand has also begun participating in air patrols.

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In addition to short-term mitigation measures, funding should also be allocated to training that leads to the long-term professionalization of maritime police units. For instance, the Malaysian government has contributed funds to the World Maritime University and the IMO International Maritime Law Institute (IMLI) to expand the infrastructure of these institutions. It has also dispatched officers to study at the schools.

Preventing a New Surge in Piracy

The latest statistics indicate that rates of piracy and armed robberies at sea went up again in 2017. According to the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) Information Sharing Centre, possible factors include complacency among crews and a decrease in surveillance by littoral countries, but the overall situation is much improved when compared to the 1990s.

Pirates, for their part, are also becoming more sophisticated in their operations. They have evolved from generic groups of criminals to vast webs of operatives with specialized skills. Some of these specialized roles include counterfeiters, informants embedded in shipping companies, ship brokers, robbers, and middlemen who assemble all the stakeholders (and, of course, the pirates themselves).

 

These pirate teams are small and can carry out surgical operations. After they transfer the stolen goods onto their own vessels, they ship the goods to other port cities, sometimes with fake documentation, to sell them.

Anti-piracy measures are one area of policy on which almost all nations in the region can agree. All of the countries benefit from the mitigation of strife, as well as increased maritime safety. Success in anti-piracy efforts can also lead to the region taking on more responsibility in global maritime security.

So far, each ASEAN country has been able to proceed with its anti-piracy contributions according to its own national needs and at a pace that it is comfortable with. That ASEAN is a collective that seeks consensus is one of its strengths. The problem of piracy in the Strait of Malacca is too large for any single littoral state to resolve. As piracy continually reinvents itself, it takes all the stakeholders working together to combat this problem in one of the world’s most congested spaces.

Tai Wei Lim is an adjunct research fellow at the East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore.

This was written for Asia Global Online, a publication of the Asia Global Institute, http://www.asiaglobalinstitute.hku.hk/en/ at Hong Kong University.

READ: http://piracy-studies.org/norm-subsidiarity-in-maritime-security-why-east-asian-states-corporate-in-counter-piracy/