ASEAN: India’s other neighbours

Phnom Penh: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with others Head of States  pose a group photo during a 10th ASEAN-India Summit  at Peace Place in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on Monday. PTI Photo by Kamal Singh

The tenth summit between India and ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is under way in Cambodia during the first half of this week – as part of the 21st ASEAN summit. And to coincide with the ASEAN-India meeting, IISS Director for Geo-economics and Strategy Sanjaya Baru has an article in the Hindu discussing  the concept of India’s ‘neighbourhood’. He starts with the recently redesigned website of India’s External Affairs Ministry (, which ‘has a link right on top of its home page, just below the photograph of the new Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid, to ‘India and Neighbours’.

‘Sadly,’ Baru continues, ‘the ‘neighbours’ listed are only her so-called ‘South Asian’ neighbours, the inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent. One cannot blame just those who have constructed this website for this myopic view of what constitutes India’s neighbourhood. The occupants of New Delhi’s Raisina Hill have for long seen only the Himalayas, the deserts and the Gangetic plains around them. When one thinks of the ocean as a barrier rather than a bridge one cannot come around to thinking of countries on the other side of the waters as ‘neighbours’.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has never been a victim of this common Delhi affliction. Why, only earlier this year he told the chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations, Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, that India and Thailand are ‘maritime neighbours’. That is a message that Dr Singh has proudly carried in recent years to Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Oman.

However, in repeating that message to his hosts at the ASEAN-India Summit on Monday, Dr Singh must remember that India’s eastern maritime neighbours expect a little more attention than they are getting.
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Where are South China Sea disputes heading?

By Christian Le Miere, Research Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security

When I spoke at Chatham House last week on the topic of the South China Sea (above from 3:28 mins), I attempted to outline military procurement developments in the region. Certainly, if one were to view just the purchases of arms around the sea, the obvious conclusion would be that littoral states and their allies were preparing for conflict. But perhaps more importantly, I also highlighted the symbolic aspect of the use of maritime paramilitaries. By sending unarmed vessels, countries such as China are not just reinforcing their claims to sovereignty, but avoiding any possible military escalation that would be beyond the control and goals of the politicians back home.

This factor makes it likely that conflict can be avoided, and avenues of diplomacy remain open. Certainly, Southeast Asian nations appear keen to pursue negotiation to reach an acceptable conclusion to the dispute, perhaps seeing the current situation as a window of opportunity before China becomes too powerful. Whether they succeed in reaching an agreement to lessen tension in time is the question that remains unanswered.

Korean president flies into new Dokdo dispute

Lee Myung-bak on the Dodko Islands. Photo Office of the President of the Republic of Korea

By Jens Wardenaer, Research Analyst and Editorial Assistant

After South Korea beat Japan in the Olympic football bronze-medal match last week, a Korean player was barred from the medal ceremony for brandishing a sign that promoted Korea’s claim to a set of disputed rocks in the Sea of Japan (or the East Sea). The athlete’s banner supported Korea’s ownership of the Dokdo islands (called Takeshima in Japan, which also claims them).

Only hours before, South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak had done something unprecedented for a Korean leader: he landed on the islets (above) and proclaimed that they were worth defending ‘with our lives’.

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Harsh words over the South China Sea

Sansha Island

By Christian Le Miere, Research Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security

The silly season is upon us, meaning that many media stories that aren’t about the London 2012 Olympics are tinged with flippancy. It’s tempting to chalk up a recent People’s Daily article to this tendency. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be what lay behind the piece, which in undiplomatic language suggested that the Chinese were ‘entirely entitled to shout at the United States, “Shut up”’.

The article was in fact a protest at a US Department of State statement the day before, and followed a busy month for observers of the South China Sea. That US statement criticised China’s creation in late July of a new prefecture-level city administration for all of the islands in the South China Sea. The city authority, based on Woody Island in the disputed Paracel Islands, is named Sansha and has all the trappings of any average Chinese city: a mayor, a municipal people’s congress and, somewhat more controversially, a military garrison.

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Get ready for the Shangri-La Dialogue 2012

With lots of interest in the United States’ military ‘pivot’ to Asia, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta flies into Singapore to speak at the 11th IISS Asia Security Summit (the Shangri-La Dialogue) this weekend. Another lively topic for discussion will be the ongoing tensions  in the South China Sea. Twenty-eight countries and 16 defence ministers will be in attendance at the prestigious summit, which runs 1–3 June.

For the second year, the IISS is running Shangri-La Voices, a blog devoted to the conference. In the run-up to the summit, we’ll be posting on Asian security, and reblogging the most important pieces on IISS Voices.

During the summit, from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon (Singapore time), there will be rolling reports, video clips and commentary from all of the sessions over on Shangri-La Voices.

More trouble brewing in Asian waters?

US navy ships in the South China Sea. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kenneth Abbate/Released

By Christian Le Miere, Research Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security

There surely can’t be anything aggressive about military exercises dubbed Naval Cooperation 2012, can there? And yet this month’s Sino-Russian exercises, involving a substantial fleet of Chinese vessels (five destroyers, five frigates, four Type 022 fast attack craft and two Song-class submarines), has highlighted the increasingly fractious relationships between naval powers in the region.

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Japan creates ripples in the East China Sea

Aerial shot of a disputed Senkaku-Diaoyu islet.  Photo: Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and TourismBy Christian Le Miere, Research Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security

Hokusei-kojima, Hokutou-kojima, Kita-kojima by Kuba-jima and Kita-kojima by Taisho-jima – these names have roiled the waters of the East China Sea again. They were the labels that Japan chose recently for four disputed islets during the seemingly uncontroversial procedure of defining its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

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