The U.S.-Malaysia Security Connection

February 25, 2016

 Number 335 | February 24, 2016


 The U.S.-Malaysia Security Connection

By Marvin Ott and Derek Maseloff

President Obama’s invitation to ASEAN leaders to join him in California was the latest initiative in a strategic contest between the U.S. and China to shape the future of Southeast Asia. That contest has political and economic elements but it includes an important–even core–security dimension. Defense/security ties between the U.S. and Southeast Asian states run the gamut from minimal (Laos) to intimate (Singapore) to full treaty alliance (Philippines).

These relationships have also been remarkably dynamic as U.S.-Vietnamese ties wax and those with Thailand wane. Burma/Myanmar has moved from distant and hostile toward a potential, but still uncertain, strategic entente. In all this protean complexity Malaysia stands out as particularly intriguing.

Malaya–and then Malaysia–gained independence via amicable negotiations with its former colonial overlord, Great Britain. The U.S. was a friendly, but marginal factor in Malaysia’s security equation during the first two decades of independence. The advent of the Mahathir era (1981-2003) brought a new and paradoxical tone to U.S.-Malaysia relations.

Mahathir, animated by a idiosyncratic anti-colonial zeal, seemed to go out of his way to irritate Washington with invective that portrayed America as at once arrogant, a bully, and, if not anti-Muslim, something very close to it. Yet while flagellating U.S. diplomats and political leaders he allowed security relations (defense and intelligence) with Washington to grow and prosper. The same was true when it came to U.S. corporate (particularly technology) investments in Malaysia.

The force of Mahathir’s personality and the length of his tenure left a durable imprint on Malaysian perceptions of America which were reinforced by the post-9/11 invasions of two Muslim countries, Afghanistan and Iraq. The easy cordiality between Kuala Lumpur and Washington of the first two decades was replaced by a steady diet of public rancor. From a strategic perspective, Mahathir’s anti-American posturing came without serious cost because Malaysia faced no critical security threats for the three decades following the Vietnam War.

A different, almost mirror image, played out in Malaysia-China relations. During the early years of Malaysian independence China was seen as a mortal threat given Maoist support for the Malaysian communist insurgency of the 1950s and early 1960s and for Sukarno’s attempt to dismember Malaysia (1963-5). But by the 1980s Deng Xiaoping had set China on a course of normal state-to-state relations and rapid economic development. China, for Mahathir, had the additional virtue of being Asian and not America

The Malaysia that Mahathir bequeathed with his retirement, and that Najib Razak inherited upon becoming Prime Minister a few years later (2009), was overtly friendly toward China and equally overtly suspicious of the U.S. Malaysia took considerable pride in having been the first ASEAN government to normalize diplomatic relations with China in 1974. That agreement is particularly resonate because it was negotiated by the current Prime Minister’s father.

But by 2009 the strategic landscape in Southeast Asia was changing rapidly and profoundly. The dramatic growth in China’s maritime military power coupled with Beijing’s undisguised territorial ambitions in the South China Sea rendered Kuala Lumpur’s security orientation increasingly out of sync with reality. China’s determination to enforce the 9-Dash line as a sovereign boundary meant that Malaysia would–if China’s view prevailed–have to give up its own extensive maritime claims.

It was hard to have any doubt on this point when Chinese naval and paramilitary flotillas began making regular appearances at James Shoal in the extreme south of the South China Sea–where they removed Malaysian markers and challenged the right of offshore oil rigs there to operate without Beijing’s approval.

All this is within 50 miles of the Malaysian coast and well within Malaysia’s Exclusive Economic Zone . About a third of the Malaysian government’s annual revenue derives from the oil and gas sector–much of it within the EEZ. In July 2014 an oil consortium announced the discovery of a major natural gas field 90 miles off the coast of Sarawak.

The Najib government has responded with a classic hedging strategy. China is Malaysia’s largest trading partner and Kuala Lumpur has gone out of its way to celebrate a “special relationship” with Beijing. Malaysia has carefully avoided public criticism or confrontation regarding China’s activities in the South China Sea. There have been no Malaysian analogs to Indonesian seizures of Chinese fishing boats or the Philippines’ legal case against China before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea.

Kuala Lumpur has earned public praise from Xi Jinping for its “quiet diplomacy approach” and the Malaysian and Chinese militaries have engaged in a growing menu of joint exercises and consultations. But there is little doubt that Najib understands the implications of Chinese ambitions and methods. He also understands the critical importance of the U.S. as a counterweight to China.

Najib once quipped that U.S.-Malaysian defense cooperation was “an all too well-kept-secret.” No longer. During Barack Obama’s 2014 visit to Kuala Lumpur (the first by an American President since Lyndon Johnson) the two governments formally characterized their relationship as a “Comprehensive Partnership.”U.S. Navy ships visit Malaysia regularly and the two militaries maintain a demanding schedule of joint exercises–both bilateral and multilateral. They include jungle training in Malaysia with U.S. Special Forces and Malaysian participation in the largest annual U.S. multilateral exercise in Asia–Cobra Gold in Thailand.

Dozens of Malaysian Armed Forces personnel attend U.S. military educational institutions jointly funded by both governments. Credible reporting indicates that U.S. maritime surveillance aircraft are operating out of a Malaysian Air Force Base on Labuan Island on the southern edge of the South China Sea. Dozens of Malaysian armed forces personnel attend U.S. military educational institutions jointly funded by both governments.

The Malaysian Defense Minister has publicly expressed the hope that the U.S. will help train Malaysian Marines to be stationed at a new base in Sarawak. The two countries navies cooperate in counter-piracy operations in the Malacca Straits and the Gulf of Aden.

U.S. expertise and equipment have been enlisted to assist Malaysia in the long agonizing effort to discover what happened to the Malaysia Airlines flight lost over the southern Pacific. Early this month Malaysia announced a deal for 6 attack helicopters–the largest purchase of U.S. military equipment in 27 years. But perhaps the most graphic evidence of the new tone in the security relationship occurred 3 months ago when news footage showed the US. Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, standing on the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier underway in the South China Sea–and standing next to him with a broad smile on his face was Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s Minister of Defence.

About the Author

Marvin Ott is a Senior Scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and Adjunct Professor, Johns Hopkins University. He can be contacted at Derek Maseloff was a Research Assistant, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a student at Cornell University. He can be contacted at

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.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Alex Forster, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

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

For comments/responses on APB issues or article submissions, please contact

kpPZSifoT9algOBZ8wikJ1rmf39PDw==” target=”_blank” shape=”rect”>East-West Center | 1601 East-West Road | Honolulu, HI | 808.944.7111

East-West Center in Washington | 1819 L Street, NW, Suite 600 | Washington, DC | 202.293.3995

Malaysia: Playing a Dangerous Game with China

February 19, 2016

Malaysia: Playing a Dangerous Game with China

by Ambassador Dennis Ignatius

What is China up to with this base-Put a stop to this now

UMNO is playing a dangerous game, one that could seriously destabilize our nation, undermine our sovereignty and render us vulnerable to foreign manipulation and control.–Dennis Ignatius

It was reported recently that Chinese coast guard vessels have yet again intruded into Malaysian waters near Gugusam Beting Patinggi Ali (also known as Luconia Shoals), 84 nautical miles off the coast of Sarawak. Local deep-sea fishermen were reportedly avoiding the area after being chased off by Chinese vessels.

The Chief Minister of Sarawak was so concerned about these intrusions that he felt compelled to raise the matter with the Minister of Defence, Hishammuddin Hussein.

A recurring pattern of intrusions

This is not the first time that Chinese naval vessels have intruded into our territorial waters. In August last year, Shahidan Kassim, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department with responsibility for the coast guard–what does this UMNO character from Perlis know about maritime issues?– told the press that Chinese coast guard vessels have been intruding into our waters on an almost weekly basis over the previous two years. He added that Wisma Putra had, in response, fired off a series of protest notes to China.

There were numerous other incidents as well, including one in October last year, prompting concern by both the Royal Malaysian Navy and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency. Only the most naïve would believe that such intrusions are, therefore, anything but regular, persistent and clearly intentional, part of a wider strategy by China to aggressively enforce its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Najib’s National Security Advisor

Indeed, China has been spending billions developing its coast guard, creating a blue-water navy and building permanent naval and air stations in the Spratly and Paracel Islands from which to extend its reach and strengthen its maritime claims over much of the South China Sea.

Latest reports indicate that China has even installed surface-to-air missiles on some of these bases. The more powerful it becomes, the more aggressively it asserts its claims, prompting growing regional and international consternation.

Other countries seem to have woken up to the real dangers, and the growing potential for conflict, China’s actions present to the region. Malaysia’s leaders, however, appear to be hopelessly lost somewhere between fantasy and denial with regards to China’s intentions.

A craven response

Recall his handling of Lahad Datu?–Sheer Incompetence

Nothing epitomizes this more than the reaction of our Defence Minister in response to the latest Chinese intrusions. Instead of giving the matter the serious attention that it deserves, he vacillated and dithered, claiming to want more information about China’s intentions and then denying that any intrusions took place.

And instead of coordinating a more robust response, he naively offered to help arrange a meeting between the Chinese Ambassador and the Chief Minister! Since when do state governments deal with foreign powers over issues of national sovereignty and territorial integrity?

Both the Defence Minister and  Chinese Ambassador are now playing down the whole issue, insisting that the matter can “easily be sorted out.”Well, why then has it taken them so long to do so?

Surely all that is needed to settle the matter is for the Chinese Ambassador to apologise for the intrusions and issue a clear and unequivocal pledge that his country would respect our sovereignty and cease trespassing into our waters.

Is the Ambassador prepared to do that or is he going to duck the issue altogether by giving us yet another spiel about the “special relationship” between our two countries?

Our Defence Minister, on his part, is also being entirely disingenuous in asking his critics whether we should go to war with China over the issue. Of course, no one in his right mind would want to see the issue lead to open hostilities but that doesn’t mean that we have no other options.

Maritime claims are about establishing and maintaining a strong physical presence in the area and exercising the rights of ownership as much as anything else. This is what China is doing and we need an appropriate response.

China vociferously protests any infringement of its sovereignty, no reason why we can’t do the same. Chinese naval vessels aggressively patrol the waters it claims, no reason why we can’t use some of those expensive submarines, ships and planes we have paid billions to acquire to do the same. Other countries are taking proactive measures to counter China’s maritime claims; we should be doing the same.

It’s not about going to war; it’s about putting up a spirited defence of our territorial integrity through active diplomacy and a strong naval presence.

What is completely unacceptable, however, is the kind of craven response that we are now seeing in the face of such a sustained challenge to our territorial integrity.

Time to get real

Since Tun Razak’s inaugural visit to China in 1974, we have premised our relationship with China on the assumption that if we treat China with “mutual respect”, China will reciprocate and together we can build a peaceful and prosperous region.

On our part, we have dutifully paid our dues – becoming the first ASEAN country to establish diplomatic relations with China, giving China the benefit of the doubt over its support for the Malayan Communist Party and regularly paying obeisance with glowing speeches about the “special” relationship. As well, we put aside our doubts and opened our market, even in strategic areas, to Chinese investments.

All it appears to have done is to convince China that we are an easy mark. The closer we draw to China politically and economically, the more vulnerable we have become to Chinese pressure. The more we celebrate our “special” relationship, the more they take us for granted.

It’s time to get real and see China for what it is – a major partner in regional prosperity but a seriously destabilizing force as well – and structure our national policies in such a way as to maximize the former and minimize the latter.

Strengthen defence ties with our allies.

To this end, we need to work more closely with Vietnam and the Philippines, the two ASEAN countries most affected by China’s ambitions in the South China Sea, to forge a stronger consensus within ASEAN on the issue.

For too long we have deluded ourselves into thinking that we are safe from China’s territorial ambitions because of our “special relationship.” We are wrong and we need to face reality.

Secondly, we need to move quickly to strengthen our defence ties with like-minded ASEAN countries, and with the US, Australia, Japan and South Korea, all of whom have a vested interest in ensuring that maritime claims are settled peacefully through bilateral and multilateral negotiations.

We must go beyond mere expressions of concern at international meetings, as Prime Minister Najib is wont to do, and show some real resolve in facing up to the challenge.

President Obama is presently knocking on our doors with his “pivot to Asia” doctrine, so the timing couldn’t be better.

The China card – a dangerous game

Above all else, UMNO itself must be clear about where the national interests lie.When they look to a country like China to rescue them from the deadly fallout of the 1MDB scandal, they give China extraordinary influence in our national affairs.

And now, they appear to have taken this one step further with the dangerous precedent being set of the Chinese ambassador not only attending, as a special guest, the Defense Minister’s Chinese New Year open house in his constituency in Johor but, according to news reports, handing out financial assistance to Chinese schools in the minister’s district, something that would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

It certainly looks like the Chinese ambassador is being co-opted by the minister to advance his domestic political agenda. No doubt the Chinese ambassador must be happily humming to himself that old Louis Armstrong tune, “What a wonderful world.”

Is this the beginning of a new partnership between UMNO and China to help keep UMNO in power? Has China, like Singapore, come to the conclusion that its interests are best served by a weak, unpopular and scandal-plagued government in Putrajaya?

After all, if the Saudis can give Najib RM2.6 billion to help him win the last elections, as it is claimed, why should it be unthinkable for UMNO to accept China’s assistance to help secure the ethnic Chinese vote and undermine the opposition in the next elections?

Could this be the reason why our Defence Minister–not a competent at that– seems to be bending over backwards to excuse China’s frequent intrusions into our waters instead of standing up for our sovereignty and territorial integrity?

If so, UMNO is playing a dangerous game, one that could seriously destabilize our nation, undermine our sovereignty and render us vulnerable to foreign manipulation and control.

Dennis Ignatius is a 36-year veteran of the Malaysian Foreign Service and has served in London, Beijing and Washington besides serving as High Commissioner for Malaysia to Canada from 2001 to June 2008.

Days of Revolt: The Militarism of U.S. Diplomacy

December 16, 2015

Days of Revolt: The Militarism of U.S. Diplomacy

In this episode of teleSUR’s Days of Revolt, Chris Hedges and author Vijay Prashad trace the acceleration of U.S. militarism since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and discuss the consequences of U.S. domination over global affairs.

Vijay Prashad is the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College. He is the author of sixteen books, including The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (Verso, 2013), Arab Spring, Libyan Winter (AK, 2012), (co-edited with Paul Amar) Dispatches from the Arab Spring (2013), and No Free Left: The Futures of Indian Communism (Leftward Press, 2015). Vijay’s latest book is Letters to Palestine: Writers Respond to War and Occupation. Vijay is the chief editor at Leftward Press, and writes regularly for The Hindu, Frontline, Jadaliyya, Counterpunch, Himal and Bol.

CHRIS HEDGES: Hi, I’m Chris Hedges. Welcome to Days of Revolt. Today we’re going to discuss the propensity of the United States to center its foreign policy around military intervention. That’s not a new phenomenon. Something that we have seen certainly since the Spanish-American war of 1898. A series of disastrous military interventions in Iran and Guatemala, 1953 and 1954. But it’s accelerated with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the invasion of Panama in 1989. And joining me to discuss the nature of American military intervention and its consequences, not only for the world but for the United States itself, is Vijay Prashad, who is a professor of international studies at Trinity University as well as a columnist for the Indian magazine Frontline. He is the author of 17 books, including Arab Spring Libyan Winter, The Karma of Brown Folk, Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting, Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World, as well as The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South.

PRASHAD: Thanks a lot. Thank you.

HEDGES: So America is unique in a sense that unlike European empires, the British in India, we colonized ourself, internally, through Westward expansion. The campaigns of genocide against indigenous communities. The war against Mexico. And then after [02:34] that internal colonization, we moved. Cuba, the Philippines, which many people forget was a horrific war, up to one point 5 million Philippines, Filipinos, were killed in gruesome acts of torture, you know, scorched earth policies.And then with the rise of the Cold War, and proxy wars, we had a series of interventions. As I mentioned, the overthrow of Mossadegh, the elected, democratically elected, prime minister in Iran. [Arben’s] government. So it’s not a new phenomenon. But I think you argue that since the collapse of the Soviet Union it has come to dominate American foreign policy. And maybe you can first address that acceleration.

PRASHAD: Yes. There has indeed been an acceleration. And you’re quite correct to say, to use the, the, the example of Panama. In 1989, when the Soviet Union had not yet collapsed but was really in, on its last legs, the United States decided to conduct an operation in Panama at a scale which resembled the operation in Grenada in 1983, when the U.S. Marines essentially landed there, overthrew the government of Maurice Bishop, and then turned, you know, the country over to their proxies.But the scale of Panama, despite the fact that it resembled Grenada–again, big U.S. presence, went in there, snatched [inaud.].

HEDGES: We were overthrowing Noriega, right.

PRASHAD: Manuel Noriega. Snatched him.

HEDGES: Who we, who we kidnapped.

PRASHAD: We kidnapped him. Brought him to Florida. He was put in prison, where he sits. So at the surface level, Panama looks like Grenada. You know, the U.S. goes in, grabs the guy, overthrows him, et cetera.But there was something very interesting in the way in which the assault took place in Panama. The scale of the bombardment was incredibly much greater than the bombardment in Grenada. Second grammatical feature of this new invasion was the use of special forces to dive in there, actually rappel down from helicopters, grab Noriega in a very quick raid.But this second piece is very important, because it becomes, you know, part of, as I said, the kind of grammar of American regime change. Massive aerial bombardment, special forces go in, grab the bad guy, get him out of the country. And you really don’t care about what comes next, you know, it’s just left to rot. And Panama for a long while after, you know, sort of simmered in a chaotic state.Very soon after Panama, this grammar was perfected in Iraq, where you had–again, incredible level of bombardment. And the aftermath was not seen as relevant.

When you think about Iraq 1990-91, the test of why this was, you know, the collapse of the Soviet Union and its demise is important, is that inside the presidential palace Saddam was sitting with his senior advisors. One of his main ministers, the minister of culture, Hamdani, was sitting there. Hamdani and Saddam are talking to each other. This was all recorded by Saddam. Hamdani says where, where is the Soviet Union? Why aren’t they objecting? Because they knew intuitively, and I think by now, in hindsight we can show, that the collapse of the Soviet Union opened the floodgates of a kind of American unipolarity, where the full force of this incredible military machine that has been built up can be utilized. This is not limited force. This is not CIA dirty tricks, you know, which is what Kermit Roosevelt did in [inaud.] in 1953.

This is a different kind of barrage, against civilians, using mainly aerial bombardment. And that is why I say from [07:35] then on we’ve seen this grammar become normal.

HEDGES: Well, it once, some people say Saudi Arabia doesn’t have a foreign policy, it just has money. We don’t have a foreign policy, we just bomb. Isn’t that the transformation? It’s the kind of eclipsing of diplomacy, and you see it in the composition of embassies. I was 20 years overseas as a foreign correspondent. And I watched the composition of the embassies essentially change so that they were dominated by the CIA, by military intelligence.

PRASHAD: Well, when you look at the WikiLeaks cables in Yemen it becomes patently clear that when David Petraeus came to town, you know, Abdullah Saleh, Ali Abdullah Saleh, the head of the whole country, the president, would take David Petraeus much more seriously than the U.S. ambassador. It is quite correct that a corrosive influence came after the fall of the Soviet Union. And it, it’s a funny thing. Because you’d imagine that during the time of the Soviet Union, you’d have much more care for military-to-military contact. That was true to some extent. But they didn’t define the space.

HEDGES: Well, because it was dangerous. Because if you provoked the Soviet Union there were consequences. And so therefore you needed–whereas diplomats, you know, to handle situations like Tito’s Yugoslavia, or the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia or Hungary. Whereas now, you know, to what extent is it just the unleashing of the arms manufacturers, who essentially, you know, have now a kind of funnel through the military by which they can make, you know, almost unlimited profits. The bombing of Libya, where you’re dropping Tomahawk cruise missiles, I think they’re $1.4 million each. In a matter of days you’ve just spent half a billion dollars.

To what extent do you think that–because it’s not rational. I mean, I spent seven years in the Middle East. What we’re doing in the Middle East is, you know, creating one failed state after another, which give rise, you know, quite logically to groups like ISIS and others. Do you think it’s, it’s essentially being driven by these corporate arms manufacturers?

PRASHAD: I think it’s very complicated. One of the very serious problems for U.S. foreign policy that predates 1989 is an old assumption, well, I think, articulated by the late Samuel Huntington in a book that he did in the 1960s, where he made, I think, a fairly interesting argument that in countries that had been colonies or semi-colonies the colonial power, the British, the French, Portuguese, Spanish, you know, essentially created a society without reasonably good institutions. So that educational structures weren’t created. The state structure was not fully created for the benefit of the population.

HEDGES: Well, is that true in India? Because India–.

PRASHAD: India is an exception to some of this.

HEDGES: Okay. All right.

PRASHAD: You know, and India indeed has been an exception. But this is true, they would argue this is true in Pakistan. Because it was a new state, after all. You know, it had to create everything from scratch.

But what they argued, what Huntington argued, what others argued, was that the one institution that was based in modern principles was the military. And this was a theory that they called military modernization.

So therefore, the military has to be taken seriously. And you see that even till today where, when there’s a military coup in Egypt, the gov–the United States government, has–they don’t articulate it, because they don’t want to say it outright. But they’ll say if you actually allow democracy, then the Muslim Brotherhood will govern, and they are not a modern force. So if you want to modernize Egypt, well, the generals are not so bad. You know, they’re okay, fine, they are brutal here and there, but they’re not as bad as a force that is not committed to modernity.

So this military modernization plays a role. Second thing is plain old-fashioned racism, that these people simply don’t know how to be democratic. So therefore if they have a military or a dictator, these people know how to keep the divisions in place. You know, there is an understanding that in the global South the populations are too [fractious]. They don’t like each other enough. You know, Hindus and Muslims are at each other’s throats. The Shias and Sunnis are at each other’s throats. If you have a dessicated view of the population, you don’t give them any sense of confidence that you can actually create a society that is not driven by ancient identities.

PRASHAD: So let’s, let’s add another piece to it. Because I, I agree that there has been an eclipsing. So just as in the commerce side, in the economics policy side, you have a kind of religion of neoliberal policy, in the side of making policy about the world a new religion does develop. And I think this religion has also undermined the old hands in the State Department. That is why I think some of these ambassadors are [new] to complain, because they understood these societies are more complicated. You know, if you’re going to come and visit Egypt, you should meet, you know, somebody who’s not necessarily a Mubar–Mubarakite. You should talk to perhaps some of the liberals. You should talk to, you know, maybe some of the religious people. Have a broad view of society. That’s what they would have liked to have done. But they were sidelined.

And so this sidelining is parallel in the foreign policy side. Why it happens is a very fascinating question. But why this is happening, some of it has to do plainly with the understanding that we can shape the world now. We have the opportunity to do so. We were held back by the Soviet Union, that we–that because the Soviet Union existed, this alternative set of, of, you know, perhaps third-world-ism emerged. What Alan Dulles, you know, very derisively used to call neutralism, has infected the planet. We need to wash the planet of all these things. Get rid of our enemies, you know.

This messianic view doesn’t start with George W. Bush’s administration. You know, we like to now look back at it and say, you know, Bush was the one who rode roughshod and invaded Iraq. Actually, this goes back to his father. I mean, the new world order language that comes to us is from George H. W. Bush.

HEDGES: Right after the first Gulf War.

PRASHAD: Right after the first Gulf War. He said, we now can reshape the world.

HEDGES: Right.

PRASHAD: And they begin to hammer an agenda through the United Nations. They begin to sideline the General Assembly with a great deal of robust pressure on the various, you know, institutions of the United Nations, focusing everything into the Security Council.

You know, if you look back at it, if you look before 1989, yes of course the Security Council was important. But the General Assembly had–was able to assert itself. You know, that is why when Moynihan is sent there his task–by the way, Moynihan’s memoir of the years in the, in the UN, is called A Dangerous Place. Why was it a dangerous place–because the United States government couldn’t force a policy through. It was constrained by the General Assembly. By the time Bill Clinton comes in the ’90s, they pushed an agenda against the General Assembly, brought power to the Security Council, you know, invented this idea of humanitarian intervention. After Rwanda.

HEDGES: Samantha Power.

PRASHAD: Samantha Power comes even later than this, because Rwanda, when Susan Rice was at the African section of the State Department, Rwanda was to their mind a great error. But Rwanda allowed them, after Rwanda, it allowed them to push this theory that we can intervene and should indeed intervene to so-called help civilians.

And from 1985-2005 when they passed the responsibility to protect directive of the UN, the idea of humanitarian intervention had narrowed so deeply from being help civilians to what serves U.S. interests.

HEDGES: To what extent do you think the militarization of U.S. foreign policy, which I think we both agree, it was ultimately going to have disastrous consequences, already has within the regions such as the Middle East that are visited by this indiscriminate lethal power, but also internally. But to what extent was it driven by the fact that the military as an institution within the United States became unassailable?

PRASHAD: So, now, the ground was prepared long before 1989 for this particular piece. And it’s, it’s so deep that it would be very hard to pull the roots out. How did this work? You know, it is now an established process in economics to know that even countries run through business cycles. There is an up cycle and then a down cycle. And Keynesianism’s, you know, John Maynard Keynes, his perhaps contribution was to say that at the time when the business cycle starts to go down, you have to have counter-cyclical spending. That means the government has to ratchet up spending in order to prevent the decline to deepen and then go out of control. What he was thinking of of course was the great depression and the, the collapse in Europe. So you need to have counter-cyclical spending.

In most countries in the world, counter-cyclical spending is done on the social side. So you have expenditure for health, expenditure for education, expenditure for–. In the United States, social expenditure is kept suppressed. Counter-cyclical spending from the 1930s was done on the military side of the books. So you had massive military spending, which helped stabilize the waves of, you know, countries’ economic cycles. Secondly, very cleverly, and this came over the course of decades, almost every single congressional district in the United States–.

HEDGES: Yeah. Has–.

PRASHAD: Either has a base or it has military production. You know, I mean, I live in Northampton, Massachusetts, perhaps one of the most liberal cities in America, in many different ways. Socially liberal, politically liberal. Our city council passed a, a resolution for Syrian refugees. Nonetheless, we have a military firm there, [inaud.], which makes sighting systems for bombers. Every single congressional district is implicated, and the structure of spending from the government through a balancing out, you know, the waves of [inaud.] is done through military expenditure.

But it allowed you to have, you know, this massive apparatus grow up of military bases overseas. You have incredible power held in by the Soviets on the one side, held in also by the third world project. You know, these collapse around the same time. You have the collapse of the Soviet Union pretty much by ’86-’87. You have Gorbachev comes to power. He starts talking about perestroika, glasnost, it’s over. The third world goes into a serious debt crisis in 1983. So around the same time you see the collapse of these two major bulwarks against the wholesale use of American power.

And so from around 1990 till about 2005, or maybe till 2015, you had essentially fair game. You know, you don’t like Gaddafi, take him out. You don’t like somebody, take him out. You know, somebody’s a bad guy. We’re coming to get you. In world history, we have only seen barbarians talk about other people like that. You know, a barbarian leader would stand up and say, we’re gonna come and get you. I mean, it’s, it’s undignified of a world leader.

HEDGES: So what, what are the consequences of this? What do we–.

PRASHAD: Remember, I said from 1990-2015.

HEDGES: Right.

PRASHAD: Something changed in the 2000s. Of course, George Bush’s war in Iraq was a major dent to the idea of humanitarian intervention. For many reasons. One reason of course is it, just [parochially] in West Asia, it [unsheathed] Iran. You know, it gave Iran incredible freedom. And the history of the region since 2003 has been how to put Iran back in the box.

HEDGES: No, they won the war.

PRASHAD: They won the war. I mean, they hated the Taliban.

HEDGES: We fought it, they won it.

PRASHAD: Exactly. They hated the Taliban, they hated Saddam, we took them both out. So that’s a parochial problem in that region. More dramatically, Bush’s entry of, in 2003, dented ideologically the idea of humanitarian intervention. So the United States government pushed very hard in the UN to move this theory called responsibility to protect, which the UN adopted in 2005. And sort of cleaned up, burnished humanitarian intervention after Bush had essentially spat upon it. And this was provided to the world.

Now, at the same time you have the rise of these major countries. Brazil, India, South Africa, all oppose the 2003 Iraq war. Quite, you know, strongly. In fact, India had a right-wing government, nonetheless opposed the Iraq war. China has been gradually moving away from its Treaty of Westphalia understanding of interstate politics. You know, China’s view used to be you do your thing, we do our thing. Don’t tell us how to run our country we won’t tell you–they’re slowly walking away from that. And Russia under Putin has rebuilt their military. It had collapsed under Yeltsin, it had gone into freefall even, during the first Putin term. You know, with the war in Chechnya and Dagestan. He has rebuilt the military.

So when Libya took place in 2011, it was the first major use of the responsibility to protect doctrine of 2005. When that vote came before the Security Council, under immense pressure, Russia and China decided to abstain. India and Brazil also abstained. It happened that South Africa was also on the council then. These are the five BRICS countries. South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma, got a personal phone call from President Obama, who begged him to vote for it, and South Africa broke ranks.

Now, I remember interviewing the ambassadors right afterwards. And they said the same thing. They said that we gave the West, essentially, the power to do [inaud.] responsibility to protect mandate. To protect civilians in Libya, what did they do? Before you could blink your eyes they went for regime change.

HEDGES: Right.

PRASHAD: And so we will never give them again blanket mandate through the Security Council. That’s why Syria would never receive any R-to-P mandate. You know, under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, use of force. They will never get it. Why? Because they thought that Obama is not Bush. They didn’t see this–it’s amazing, Chris, you know, these are sophisticated countries, with Brazil particularly as an–and India, very sophisticated foreign ministries. And yet they were swayed by the personality difference, not seeing that there’s a structural problem here. They thought, we’ll give it to Obama, and Obama will make sure that this is merely responsibility to protect. Of course Sarkozy was already bombing, the French already–.

The point I’m making is that we have entered a different phase now where American unipolarity has come to an end. American unipolarity began in 1990 or 1989. It has come to an end between 2011 and 2015. When the Russians entered Syria–now, I’m not talking about whether it’s good or bad, or you know, I’m agnostic on that for a minute. When the Russians entered Syria militarily, what they said for the first time since the 1980s is, you cannot do this. They annulled regime change in Syria. Now it’s impossible.

HEDGES: And you know, for–when we, before we went on camera, you were talking about signs of morbidity. Just–which I think is right. I mean, what is–what did you mean by that?

PRASHAD: Ah. So, you know, there’s a person that I like to read a lot. His name is Giovanni Arrighi. And Arrighi wrote a tremendous series of books, but the last book was called Adam Smith in Beijing. He had this theory that empires go in waves. You go from, you know, the Italians to the, you know, to Amsterdam, to Britain, to America. And what he, he saw in looking at the evidence is as you go through these phases, the size of the imperial corp gets larger. Its imperial footprint gets bigger. But its time of imperial hegemony is less and less and less.

And there are a couple of reasons for this. Technology being one of them. But he said that there are two crises that take place in the history of these modern empires, capitalist empires. The two crises that he looks for. One is called a signal crisis, and the second is a terminal crisis. The signal crisis is detected when finance, which is obviously international and not national. But when finance ceases to see the core country, the main, hegemonic country, when it ceases to see that country as being a good investment for itself. And it flees. So we see that finance fled, say, you know, the states of, of, of Italy, and went to Amsterdam. Then finance fled Amsterdam, went to England. And in the ’20s went to America. You know, finance–now, he says, finance is fleeing America. It’s a little more complicated, it’s not fleeing to China, it’s fleeing globally. So he says that’s a signal crisis.

He says a terminal crisis is when the contradictions of the country can no longer be managed, and you go to other extremely irrational solutions because there is no rational solution. What is a rational solution to the problem of America? First you have to define what is the problem of America. The problem of America is that capital, American capital, international capital, has decided that they don’t want to hire Americans. What you want is you want highly-skilled Americans designing very sophisticated new things, which will be produced by suppressed labor elsewhere and sold to Americans who borrow money from the Chinese to buy them. There is no solution on the table, because the American political class hasn’t even defined the problem clearly to its own public.

You know, to say I’m going to make America great again, to say we’re going to put factories in America, who’s going to be doing the investment? Which capitalist is going to come back and invest so heavily that the American, you know, labor force is going to be revitalized? If you don’t articulate the problem clearly you will never articulate a solution. So you have instead signs of morbidity. Attack immigrants. Attack Muslims. Bomb somewhere. Believe that if we strongarm China they’ll revalue the currency, and that somehow is going to revitalize America. These are signs of morbidity.

Donald Trump, actually, is, is to my mind not a special problem. He is the most vulgar sign of morbidity. But in fact if you run from Trump all the way down, everybody is a sign of morbidity, because they are not capable of turning to the public and saying, friends, nobody wants to hire you. We have to think of new ways to raise capital. That means you’re going to have to go after the American 1 percent, 0.1 percent, that has been on tax strike for the last 45 years. They’ve refused to pay tax. So that needs a new political understanding. It’s not here now.

HEDGES: No, it isn’t. Thank you very much.

PRASHAD: Pleasure.

HEDGES: And thank you for watching Days of Revolt.

Obama Doubles-down on Maritime Capacity Building in Southeast Asia

December 16, 2015

Number 333 | December 15, 2015

Obama Doubles-down on Maritime Capacity Building in Southeast Asia

by Lyle J. Morris

A significant but under-appreciated component that has emerged from the U.S. “rebalance” to Asia has been maritime security capacity building efforts in Southeast Asia. Such efforts came into focus briefly when Secretary of State John Kerry announced the “Southeast Asia Maritime Law Enforcement Initiative” in December 2013, which committed $25 million in U.S. government funds to train, equip, and provide facilities to maritime law enforcement agencies of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. At the time, the initiative was lightly covered in the press and quickly forgotten.

It took November’s high-profile visit by President Barack Obama aboard the Philippine Navy flagship vessel Gregorio del Pilar in Manila and the subsequent announcement of an additional $250 million in U.S. aid to the region — to include the transfer of a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter and naval research vessel — for the issue to garner the attention it deserves in the media. With this recent announcement, the United States is positioning itself as an indispensable contributor to maritime capacity building and has become the largest and most important partner in coast guard capacity building in the region.

Xi and Obama

The U.S. aid package comes at a particularly opportune time for the region. Archipelagic states such as Indonesia and the Philippines increasingly view with alarm efforts by the Chinese Coast Guard to assert sovereignty over disputed territory in the South China Sea and seek to bolster their own maritime law enforcement fleets to counter the threat.  The United States is thus filling a major need for many countries during a time of uncertainty regarding Chinese actions in the region.

The $250 million aid package will provide training, infrastructure construction, and vessels and other assets to bureaucracies charged with maritime security in the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia. According to the White House Fact Sheet released in tandem with Obama’s visit to the Philippines, the capacity building efforts aim to help countries “respond to threats in waters off their coasts and to provide maritime security more broadly across the region.”  The Fact Sheet emphasizes the “software” component of capacity building to “strengthen institutions and enhance practical skills to develop sustainable and capable maritime forces.” Such an emphasis represents an important recognition that human capital needs to remain just as important as hardware within many of these countries.

The aid package builds upon the 2013 initiative but goes several steps further in enhancing capabilities. First, the United States will transfer two large capacity vessels to the Philippine Navy: a high-endurance U.S. Coast Guard Cutter, USCG Boutwell, and a naval marine surveillance and survey vessel, the R/V Melville. The two vessels will nearly double the number of operational high-endurance and large tonnage vessels in the Philippine Navy fleet, and significantly increase its capacity to patrol its exclusive economic zone. The transfer is a major gain for Philippine maritime security as a whole, especially since the Philippine Coast Guard lacks any high endurance cutters of its own. The remaining $79 million in funds is to be allocated for building training and logistical bases for the Philippine Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force, as well as to hold “increased and more complex exercises and training with U.S. government agencies and U.S. Pacific Command to increase interoperability and professionalization.”

Second, as part of a $40 million aid package to Vietnam over two years, the United States will lift the ban on sales of “maritime-related lethal capabilities” to Vietnam. This presumably would pave the way for the United States to sell arms for deployment on Vietnamese Coast Guard and maritime law enforcement vessels, for example. The move marks a significant thaw in relations and builds on the two sides’ landmark 2011 Memorandum of Understanding and 2015 “Joint Vision Statement” between the U.S. Department of Defense and Vietnamese Ministry of National Defense to enhance defense exchanges and capacity-building. During the signing of the 2015 “Statement,” Secretary of Defense Ash Carter also pledged $18 million to the Vietnamese Coast Guard to purchase U.S.-made Metal Shark patrol vessels.

Finally, a heavy emphasis was given to increasing personnel training; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance integration; and inter-agency coordination among all four recipient countries. Inter-agency coordination is a major issue among all maritime law enforcement agencies in the region, but it is particularly daunting for Indonesia, which is to receive $21 million over two years as part of the package. With 17,000 islands and over 54,000 kilometers of coastline, Indonesia has a vast maritime domain to defend and patrol, and has recently created a supra-bureaucracy called the Maritime Security Agency, or BAKAMLA, to integrate over a dozen maritime law enforcement actors. The consolidation process has proven difficult, however, with vested interests and structural inefficiencies forestalling progress. Thus, U.S. assistance that promotes inter-agency coordination will go a long way towards streamlining Indonesia’s maritime agency reforms.

Non-military maritime security and law enforcement capabilities are increasing in significance as countries in the region seek to bolster maritime domain awareness and protect vital marine resources from exploitation. They provide increased presence in contested waters and around maritime features in the South China Sea to counteract concerns over increasing assertiveness and quantitative advantages of China’s coast guard vessels in the region. China’s use of its coast guard as an instrument of statecraft designed to coerce rather than carry out law and regulations enforcement at sea has fundamentally altered security perceptions in the region. Countries are now compelled to develop their own coast guards, as opposed to navies, to counterbalance China, yet many lack the funds to so adequately.

By contributing to coast guard capacity building by donating, the United States has found an important and politically viable avenue to bolster maritime security to partners and allies in the region. The United States’ recent aid package signals a desire among U.S. policy-makers to widen its strategic involvement in the region but in a manner that is not overtly confrontational with China. The package will open the door for deeper engagement with coast guard fleets in Southeast Asia going forward.

About the Author

Lyle J. Morris is a project associate at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. He can be reached at

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.
APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Alex Forster, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

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

For comments/responses on APB issues or article submissions, please contact   East-West Center | 1601 East-West Road | Honolulu, HI | 808.944.7111East-West Center in Washington | 1819 L Street, NW, Suite 600 | Washington, DC | 202.293.3995

From Timor Leste into Murky UMNO Waters of Malaysia

December 1, 2015 (30 days to 2016)

From Timor Leste into Murky UMNO Waters of Malaysia

by Cmdr (rtd) S. Thayaparan

“In history, truth should be held sacred, at whatever cost … especially against the narrow and futile patriotism, which, instead of pressing forward in pursuit of truth, takes pride in walking backwards to cover the slightest nakedness of our forefathers.”

– Col Thomas Aspinwall


Henceforth my commentary on our failing state will be sparse. Others are doing a fine job of wading into the murky UMNO waters of Malaysia.

Since returning from my academic hiatus in Timor Leste or as my Indonesian friends refer to it as Tim Tim, I will be looking back on a life and professional career spent in the service of a country fast becoming foreign to me.

Everything old is new again. In diplomatic circles and among academics, the South China Sea, the efficacy of regional cooperation but especially the influence of China, dominates the discourse.

Depending on who you talk to, generally cynicism replaces what popular spin du jour the power brokers far more interested in political survival than regional stability are serving up. As one ambassador told me, “there is no country without a ruler”.

All this talk of an ASEAN community is merely propaganda for a neo-Cold War between hegemonic interests that small troubled countries find themselves caught between.

As the late S Rajaratnam (who was then serving as Singapore’s Foreign Minister) said at the formation of ASEAN – “a stable Southeast Asia, not a balkanised Southeast Asia. And those countries who are interested, genuinely interested, in the stability of Southeast Asia, the prosperity of Southeast Asia, and better economic and social conditions, will welcome small countries getting together to pool their collective resources and their collective wisdom to contribute to the peace of the world” – alluding to the powerful vested foreign interest that signified the Cold War.

The neo-Cold War dominated by American and Chinese interests, will eventually change the political and social landscape of Southeast Asia. Behind the political rhetoric and yes, the economic advantages brought upon by so-called regional cooperation, lays the dark truth that the constant struggle for individual autonomy and self-interest is in conflict with broader hegemonic stratagems.

ASEAN Community

ASEAN, or the ASEAN community, has to deal with a whole range of issues ranging from a black economy, human trafficking, political corruption and the very real threat of Islamic extremism. The feel-good economic numbers are not one part of the story; it is the least important part when it comes to maintaining regional stability and individual integrity.

Next area of global conflict

In the early 80s, I attended the Indonesian Naval Staff and Command College course (Seskol at Cipulir, Jakarta).

During a seminar about potential areas of conflict, I presented a seminar paper to the commandant of the Staff College and four senior officers from the Indonesian Navy. I posited that the next area of conflict would the South China Sea and gave detailed socio and political commentary about the realities of regional interests and conflicts.

The commandant, Vice Admiral Adang Safaat and two admirals chewed me up. They berated me on the fact that I did not acknowledge the efficacy of Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (Zopfan), another Cold War relic signed in Kuala Lumpur in 1971. Furthermore, they were horrified that I did not place emphasis on the bilateral joint military exercises amongst ASEAN countries.

The two colonels were strangely silent. After the presentation or humiliation as I saw it, the two colonels, Lt Col (Navy) Krisna Rubowo and a retired colonel of Chinese ethnicity who was an active participant of Indonesia’s war of independence (he facilitated the smuggling of arms from Singapore to the Freedom Movement in Indonesia), met me in private.

They told me in confidence that although they did not want to contradict their senior officers, they agreed with my summation. The South China Sea would be the next area of global conflict.

Before I go any further, I wish to speak of the enigma who is General Abdul Haris Nasution. The former Defence Minister and Security Minister of Indonesia is a Batak from Sumatra and a member of Generasi 45, who fought and played a key role in the Indonesian War of Independence.

General Nasution was also a key player and confidant of Sukarno who was one of the founding fathers of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and a close friend of Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito.  He had written books on guerilla warfare informed by actual experience and was on a personal level subjected to the worse of political infighting with the murder of his five-year daughter as collateral damage.

I will expand more on the nature of my friendship with the good General in subsequent pieces, but here was a man who was figuratively and literally scared by military and political life.

I needed a reality check. Was my paper the result of youthful anti-imperialism and seeing shadows where they were none? We were living in the nuclear age and those of us who served in the military felt the resulting anxiety most keenly. I needed the clear-sighted opinion of someone who was close to power but not enthused by it.

Systemic dysfunctions

General Nasution had the reputation of wanting to clean up corruption in the military and someone so inclined had very little use for pandering to conventional wisdom.

I took my seminar paper to General Nasution, who took them and told me he would review them. I got word to meet him a week later in his house. His house was not the palatial structures of most senior retired military personnel. It was small modest house; behind it, was General now President Suharto’s house when he was in the army.

Nasution (photo, in white shirt with author) agreed with my paper but with some caveats. Concerning Zofpan, he was skeptical as to how small nations, with small navies could “persuade” larger hegemons to maintain the integrity of Zofpan.

He was also skeptical on continued allegiances to so-called regional pledges of community building and neutrality when individual successive governments found it profitable to align their interests, with specific hegemons in lieu of maintaining regional solidarity.

The former Defence Minister was well aware of the political vagaries that were part of the reality of Southeast Asian countries. Indonesia’s own experience as (some would refer to as American proxyism) a pawn in American hegemonic interest in this part of the world, demonstrated the disconnect between regional harmony and state self-interest, that fueled the Cold War and now the neo-Cold War.

What I took away from my discussions with people from various military and civilian disciplines at that time was a deep pessimism of speaking with “one voice”. This problem arises not because of diversity or even self-interest. This problem arises because of the systemic dysfunctions that plague individual Southeast Asian countries.

If you listen carefully, we can hear the same sentiment in what Rajaratnam cautioned, “we must also accept the fact, if we are really serious about it, that regional existence means painful adjustments to those practices and thinking in our respective countries.“We must make these painful and difficult adjustments. If we are not going to do that, then regionalism remains a utopia.”

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy. Having spent some time in Dili, Timor Leste, the former Naval Commander is back home for good in the murky UMNO waters of BolehLand. I hope he will find to time to write about his experiences of living and working in a newly emerging country, which is seeking to be a member of ASEAN.

I  was in Dili when Tim, Tim was emerging from Indonesian colonialism– thanks to the farsighted President B. J. Habibie– for a MIER-Sosokawa Foundation forum on Preparing TL for entry into ASEAN some years ago (2007). I am today a supporter of Timor Leste’s entry into ASEAN. At that forum I presented a Paper titled Lessons from Cambodia in ASEAN, which was later issued by The Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace– [PDF]Cambodia’s Engagement with ASEAN: Lessons for Timor ……/Working%20Paper/CICP%20working%20paper%20…by D Merican – ‎2007. –Din Merican

Read more:

Addressing Strategic Domain Issues in U.S.-China Relations

September 27, 2015


Few dispute that the world’s most important bilateral relationship is in deep trouble. From the US perspective, China’s reckless behavior in the South China Sea, unrestrained cyber attacks against American targets, protectionist economic policies, and escalating political repression at home have demolished the belief that a globally integrated China would be a responsible and cooperative partner. Indeed, recent Chinese actions directly challenge vital American interests and core values.

Chinese leaders, for their part, view America’s strategic “pivot to Asia” as a thinly veiled step to tighten its geopolitical containment of China. Moreover, they have become obsessed with US dominance in international finance and technology and, most important, America’s ideological commitment to liberal democracy, which they regard as an existential threat to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The toxic mix of mutual mistrust and tit-for-tat behavior has brought Sino-American ties to their lowest point since the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. There is now widespread concern that the US and China may be headed for a new cold war. —

Addressing Strategic Domain Issues in U.S.-China Relations

 by Wang Dong, Roy Kamphausen, and Travis Tanner

Wang Dong is Deputy Executive Director of the Institute for China-U.S. People to People Exchange, Peking University; Roy Kamphausen is Senior Vice President for Research at the National Bureau of Asian Research; and Travis Tanner> is Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the 100K Strong Foundation.

On September 22, Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Seattle and began a state visit to the U.S. that will culminate in a summit meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Mr. Xi in the White House. Mr. Xi came at a critical moment, especially as recently there have been signs of emerging strategic rivalry in U.S.-China relations.

US President Barack Obama (L) chats with Chinese President Xi Jinping as they walk from the West Wing of the White House to a private dinner across the street at Blair House, in Washington, September 24, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

US President Barack Obama (L) chats with Chinese President Xi Jinping as they walk from the West Wing of the White House to a private dinner across the street at Blair House, in Washington, September 24, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

For a bilateral relationship that is becoming increasingly more complex and interdependent in the areas of cyber, maritime, nuclear, space, military to military relations, and people to people exchange–what can be defined as “strategic domain issues”–are among the most consequential ones. How to expand cooperation while managing differences in those strategic domains will, to a great extent, determine the strategic trajectory of U.S.-China relations.

In a major project run jointly by The National Bureau of Asian Research and the Institute for China-U.S. People to People Exchange at Peking University, leading Chinese and U.S. scholars are studying these strategic domain issues. Based on the joint study our team has done, we believe it is of crucial importance for the leaders of our two countries to face squarely strategic-domain issues, which are among the most sensitive and thorny issues in U.S.-China relations. Below we recommend initial steps toward bilateral progress in each of these strategic-domain areas.

China and the U.S. are highly interdependent in cyberspace, notwithstanding cyberespionage concerns. Our two countries have shared interests in countering cybercrimes and cyberterrorism. These areas can become the first steppingstones toward building mutual trust and expanding cooperation in the cyber domain. The two countries should also seek common ground on cyberattacks, Internet governance, and cyber infrastructure. Essential to this will be a return to a dialogue mechanism to reach agreement on how to protect key information infrastructure and establish a code of conduct in cyberspace.

Maritime security is the strategic domain that China and the U.S. have perhaps the greatest potential for cooperation and mutual benefits—though also great potential for conflict. Put simply, the South China Sea is not and should not be the whole picture of U.S.-China relations. The two sides should clarify their strategic intentions and avoid misunderstanding or misperception. Both sides have shared interests and responsibilities in ensuring freedom of navigation as well as maintaining regional peace and stability. We should put in place crisis prevention and management mechanisms and other confidence-building measures (CBMs). The U.S. and China should sign the air-to-air annex to the U.S.-China Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) On the Rules of Behavior for the Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters signed last November. The two coast guards should expand cooperation in law-enforcement missions, and the two navies in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Nuclear weapons are a critical dimension in U.S.-China strategic relations. On the basis of changing understandings of a credible Chinese second-strike capability, the two sides should begin a nuclear strategic stability dialogue. The two presidents should reaffirm their commitment to denuclearization, particularly as North Korea has restarted its nuclear facilities and is posed for a missile launch. They should impress upon Pyongyang that a nuclear North Korea will never be accepted by the international community, take measures to actively head off the looming crisis, and try to break the impasse by resuming the Six Party Talks.

Space is a strategic domain characterized by high risk of strategic competition with relatively fewer common interests. In order to control strategic risks, China and the U.S. should actively seek to expand cooperation. For instance, the two sides should consider establishing a periodic notification mechanism and regularly exchange information regarding space debris. The two sides should also consider promoting CBMs in the space domain, such as reciprocal commitment to not to disrupt or destroy the other side’s space assets.

A mature and stable U.S.-China military-to-military relationship is crucial for fostering a new model of relations between the two countries. The two militaries should consider bilateral or multilateral military cooperation in non-traditional security arenas. For instance, the two sides might begin with exchanges on peace-keeping operations. The two militaries should deepen their cooperation in maintaining regional security and stability, including in Afghanistan.

People-to-people exchange has become one of the solid pillars of U.S.-China relations. Using people-to-people exchange as a strategic mechanism will help to reverse negative trends and address the trust deficit in the bilateral relationship. The two sides should invest in more opportunities for student exchange and language learning, ensuring these future leaders are equipped with the skills to collaborate with each other.

When the two Presidents meet for a summit in Washington, D.C. on September 25, it is imperative that they engage in a real conversation on these strategic-domain issues. Fully addressing those areas head-on will help mitigate the signs of budding strategic rivalry between China and the U.S., chart the roadmap for the new type of great-power relationship between the two, and anchor U.S.-China relations on a more stable and durable basis in the years and decades to come.

President Xi’s 6-Point Proposals for China-US Relations

by Xunhua News

WASHINGTON, September 25 (Xinhua) — Visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday put forward a six-pronged proposal for next-stage development of China-U.S. relations.

Xi and ObamaXi made the suggestions in his talks with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House, which culminated his four-day first state visit to the United States.

– The two sides should maintain close exchanges and communication at all levels. Major bilateral mechanisms like the Strategic and Economic Dialogue and the High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange should be brought into full play.

– The two countries should expand and deepen practical cooperation in various fields, including economy, trade, military, anti-terrorism, law enforcement, energy, environment and infrastructure.

– China and the United States should promote people-to-people exchange and consolidate the social basis for bilateral relations.

– The two countries should respect their differences in history, culture, tradition and social system, as well as development path and development stage, and learn from each other.

– The two sides should deepen dialogue and cooperation in Asia-Pacific affairs.

– They should jointly deal with regional and global challenges, enrich the strategic connotations of their relations, and provide the international community with more public goods.

The Chinese and the U.S. sides agreed to continue the endeavor to build a new model of major-country relationship between the two countries.

Noting that the China-U.S. relationship is one of the most important bilateral ties in the world, Xi pledged to push it forward along the right track.

Since the establishment of diplomatic ties 36 years ago, China-U.S. relations have forged ahead and achieved historic developments despite ups and downs. Xi said since he and Obama reached consensus on building a new model of major-country relationship between their countries at the summit in Annenberg Estate in June, 2013, bilateral ties have kept making new progress, bringing abundant benefits to the people of the two nations and the world at large.

The President said China is ready to work with the United States to hold fast to principles of non-confrontation, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation, to constantly expand practical cooperation at bilateral, regional and global levels, to manage differences and sensitive issues in a constructive way, so as to push forward bilateral ties always along the right track.

Obama said the United States and China shared common interests on many issues and have made important progress in cooperation in many areas.

The U.S. side thanked China for its important role in such areas as Iran‘s nuclear issue, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and reconstruction in Afghanistan, Obama said, adding his country is willing to maintain close coordination with China in these respects.

The U.S. President called on the United States and China to also enhance cooperation in areas such as climate change, health care and in fight against smuggling of wild animals and plants.

Before visiting the U.S. capital, Xi concluded a busy two-and-a-half-day stay in the West Coast technology and aviation hub of Seattle, where he put forward a four-point proposal on developing a new model of major-country relationship between China and the United States.

Xi-Obama-12The Chinese President will be in New York from September 26 to 28 for a series of summits and meetings marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations.