By William Choong, Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow for Asia-Pacific Security
Under sunny skies, the USS Freedom – the US Navy’s newest littoral combat ship (LCS) – cut a sleek silhouette as it approached Changi Naval Base last week. The warship’s arrival marked the start of an eight-month deployment to southeast Asia. Under a Singapore-United States agreement, up to four of these ships will be put on rotational deployments through Singapore.
Speaking to reporters on the deck of the USS Freedom last Thursday, US Ambassador to Singapore David Adelman said the arrival of the ship marked a ‘new chapter’ for the US Navy in the Asia-Pacific.
Indeed, the deployment of the LCS – together with the move of 60% of the US Navy’s assets to the Pacific and the deployment of 2,500 US Marines in Australia – forms part of America’s much-heralded ‘pivot’ or ‘rebalance’ to Asia.
China has clearly turned its eyes to the sea in its new defence white paper, which for the first time officially suggests ‘safeguarding maritime rights and interests’ and ‘protecting overseas interests’. The fact that Beijing followed up these words with a naval excursion in March to the James Shoal (or Zengmu Reef), the southernmost point of its extensive claim to the South China Sea, has only increased the nervousness among its neighbours as to what its increasingly dominant presence in regional waters will mean.
But, IISS Senior Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security Christian Le Miere counsels in a new piece for the East-West Center’s Asia Pacific Bulletin, China’s ‘return to the sea’ may not be all negative.
Beijing’s renewed naval focus has prompted a reorganisation of its maritime agencies, ‘merging four of the five “dragons” that have been at the forefront of its ongoing sovereignty disputes in the South and East China Seas’. With a unified command, our senior fellow argues, there is a clearer sense of who to call to ensure disagreements do not escalate. Similarly, Beijing will not be able to disavow the actions of its agencies.
Furthermore, ‘it is possible that China’s increasing strength could be directed towards beneficial outcomes’. Given its desire to ensure the security of shipping, for example, Beijing could be encouraged to assist in policing international maritime thoroughfares. Since its return to the sea is inevitable, encouraging Beijing to subscribe to current international maritime laws may be the best way forward.
There is something about the number five in Sino-Indian relations, writes IISS Director for Geo-Economics and Strategy Sanjaya Baru, in a new piece looking back at the recent BRICS summit in South Africa. There, Asia’s two giants had a chance to improve their relations when the Chinese and Indian leaders met on the sidelines.
The two countries’ relationship has long been defined in terms of the five-element ‘Pancha Sheela’, involving mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty; mutual non-aggression; mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs; equality and mutual benefit; and peaceful co-existence.
‘Now China’s new leaders have enunciated a new Pancha Sheela’, writes Baru, ‘with President Xi Jinping offering a “five-point proposal” for Sino-Indian relations. The updated principles would maintain strategic communication and healthy bilateral relations; harness each other’s strengths and expand cooperation in infrastructure, investment, and other areas; deepen cultural ties and increase mutual understanding and friendship; expand coordination and collaboration in multilateral affairs to safeguard developing countries’ legitimate interests and address global challenges; and accommodate each other’s core concerns and reconcile bilateral disagreements amicably.’
Baru says India would be happy to embrace these principles, but the fifth point is tricky, because it leaves China’s ‘core concerns’ undefined. Traditionally, these were Tibet and Taiwan, but Chinese officials have recently referred to their claims on the South China Sea as a ‘core interest’ as well. And this has opened up a Pandora’s box.
Meanwhile, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has his own five principles for the Sino-Indian relationship.
By Giri Rajendran, Research Associate for Defence and Economics
In preparing the latest edition of the Military Balance, launched last week in London and this week in the United States, the IISS team behind the book decided to try an experiment. Since the United States and China are the world’s biggest spenders on defence, and China a distant second, we wanted to see when both countries’ defence spending might converge.
We based our projections on several hypothetical scenarios, including one in which the trend rates of defence-spending growth over the past decade in the US and China were to continue, and another in which Chinese defence-spending growth was constrained by an economic slowdown. (Looking at past examples, particularly the 1980s Latin American debt crisis, we assumed that China’s economy would start booming again by 2031.) The US budget sequester was another variable we had to factor in.
By Dr Pierre Noel, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Senior Fellow for Economic and Energy Security
Last week, the presidents of Iran and Pakistan inaugurated the final leg of a controversial pipeline enabling Iran to export gas to energy-hungry Pakistan. The US, which has long opposed the much-delayed project, is warning that if it ‘actually goes forward’ the pipeline could breach the sanctions regime against Iran’s nuclear programme and trigger US sanctions against Pakistan.
China’s partial funding of the pipeline complicates the geopolitical implications of the deal.
Lengthy power blackouts are a regular occurrence in Pakistan, causing street protests and undermining the economy. By December 2014, Iran and Pakistan hope to start delivering 21.5 million cubic metres of gas per day to Pakistan from Iran’s giant offshore South Pars field in the Persian Gulf. Islamabad plans to use Iranian gas to generate about 20% of its electricity.
By William Choong, Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow for Asia-Pacific Security
Recent months have seen national service and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) popping up as topics of discussion and debate among Singaporeans. Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Monday a new committee would conduct a comprehensive review of the support network around national service. Recently, Mr Hri Kumar Nair, a member of parliament for Bishan-Toa Payoh constituency, called for a defence tax on permanent residents and foreigners.
Last year, nearly 70% of Singaporeans polled in an Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) survey said that having a male child who had completed NS is an important characteristic of being ‘Singaporean’. And director Jack Neo’s Ah Boys To Men two-parter hit – movies about the trials and tribulations of a group of recruits – has broken new records at the box office, reflecting popular interest in national service.
By Christian Le Miere, Senior Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security
China’s recent announcement that it would base its first aircraft carrier in Qingdao, in the country’s north-east, surprised those who had watched a massive naval base being built from scratch on southern Hainan Island over the past decade and expected that showcase construction project to house the showcase vessel. Hainan’s Yulin base is a complex and modern facility replete with an underground submarine base. But there are other reasons for China to choose instead to base its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, with its North Sea Fleet at Qingdao.
By Dr Pierre Noël, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Senior Fellow for Economic and Energy Security
‘China is on track to produce enough crude oil outside its borders to rival OPEC members such as Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates,’ a report in the Financial Times suggested last week. The contention was based on the International Energy Agency’s tally of the impact of recent overseas investments by Chinese state-owned oil firms. These have spent $92 billion buying up rivals since 2009, $35bn of that last year. With these acquisitions, the IEA calculates, China will produce 3 million barrels a day of crude oil abroad in 2015, double its 2011 output of 1.5mbd.
True, the growth of Chinese oil and gas companies’ foreign investments is impressive; they are not only bidding for exploration and production licences in more countries and regions, offshore and onshore, they are also devoting large capital expenditures to buying already discovered reserves and even entire groups such as Canada’s Nexen.
However, it makes little sense to aggregate Chinese oil companies’ international production and interpret it as ‘China’s production abroad’ like this.
By Dr William Choong, Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow for Asia-Pacific Security
Members of the United Nations Security Council, including China, have strongly condemned North Korea’s nuclear test last week, and that rare unanimity could be useful for regional security. If China were to put pressure on North Korea (an historic development that looks possible) while the United Nations Security Council tightened the vice of sanctions, perhaps Pyongyang could be pressured to at least suspend further tests?
This, however, is probably not to be. North Korea has maintained its missile and nuclear programmes as a going concern for years, despite a growing raft of sanctions. In addition, sanctions have done little to change the decision-making of other worrisome countries such as Iran.
By Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga, Research Assistant for Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme
The United States needs to push North Korea straight to the top of its policy agenda, says academic Joel Wit (above), saying that Pyongyang might already possess 25 nuclear weapons and may have deployed a prototype road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
Speaking at the IISS several days before Pyongyang carried out its third nuclear test on 12 February, the former State Department official and Visiting Scholar at the US–Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) said he thought the passive policy of ‘strategic patience’ during the Obama administration’s first four years had failed.
As the administration entered its second term, he suggested, the White House should take a more proactive approach to North Korea – especially given President Barack Obama’s recommitment to Asia and his outspoken advocacy on nuclear issues.