US pivot to Asia must come with reassurances

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jay C. Pugh/Released

US Ambassador to Singapore David Adelman addresses the crew of the USS Freedom

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.

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Juncker: why Asia should care about the euro

By Alexa van Sickle, Assistant Editor

Now is ‘a very good time’ for Asia to be open to greater partnership with Europe, according to Jean-Claude Juncker, prime minister of Luxembourg. Delivering the seventh IISS Fullerton Lecture in Singapore this week, Juncker pointed out that Asia was Europe’s largest external trade partner, ‘with flows of goods and services growing again after the global slowdown, and stocks of foreign direct investment … amounting to more than a trillion euros’.

Juncker said cooperation between the EU and Asia was growing, with an EU–South Korea free-trade agreement coming into effect a year ago, and negotiations with several Asian partners and ASEAN on similar deals. There were also plans to finalise agreements with Singapore and India.

‘I foresee the economic health of the euro area as closely intertwined with that of its global partners, of whom Asia represents the largest,’ he said.

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Negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Trade ministers from APEC-member economies attend a June 2012 summit in Kazan, Russia.

Trade ministers from APEC-member economies attend a June 2012 summit in Kazan, Russia.

The latest IISS Strategic Comment examines the negotiations behind a new free-trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific, which could become ‘the most far-reaching economic agreement since the World Trade Organization was established’. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), as it is known, could eventually unite at least 11 economies in two of the world’s most dynamic regions, East Asia and the Americas.

Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam together constitute nearly 30% of the world’s gross domestic product, and Japan – the world’s third-largest economy – may join in the future.

But opinions on the TPP are divided, as the article explains: ‘On the one hand, it could serve to strengthen strategic relationships among regional states, and to reassure Asian countries about Washington’s commitment to the region. However, it could also be interpreted as the economic complement to the US military’s ‘rebalancing’ to Asia and as an attempt to contain China.’

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Why Asia is arguing over its islands

U.S. Marines and Philippine Marines advance to the beach during an amphibious beach assault exercise for Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Philippines 2012. CARAT is a series of bilateral military exercises between the U.S. Navy and the armed forces of Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Aaron Glover/Released)

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

It still amazes me how much media interest there currently is in the various maritime disputes of Asia. Five years ago, to find information on these then-obscure disagreements over tiny pieces of land required diligence and patience. Now, and in particular since the much-vaunted U.S. pivot to Asia, every week seems to bring new stories about these islands.

It is therefore worth our taking a step back and asking how we got here. What have been the drivers for the maritime disputes over the past five years, do they share any similarities, and why, when these disputes have existed for decades, have they become so tense now? Read the rest of this entry »

Britain looks towards Asia

By Dr Tim Huxley, Executive Director, IISS-Asia

Britain is to end its policy of discouraging trade with Burma, the UK Foreign Security William Hague announced in the second IISS Fullerton Lecture in Singapore on 26 April. He said that in response to the ‘remarkable changes’ taking place in the country – which have included opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s election to a parliamentary seat – London would be promoting ‘responsible investment that will benefit local communities and respect the local environment’.

The move followed the European Union temporary removal of sanctions on Burma and was accompanied by a greater UK ambition to deepen ties with Asia, ‘the engine of the world’s growth today’. In a speech delivered with flair and enthusiasm, Hague said the British government wanted to be ‘a leading partner with Asian countries… on trade and commerce, in culture, education and development, and in foreign policy and security’.

In a lively Q&A session, in which he took queries via Twitter as well as from the audience in the room, the foreign secretary tackled topics ranging from territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and possible free-trade agreements between Asia and Europe to cyber security and controversial arms sales to Indonesia. He revealed that before his first official visit in 2011 no British foreign secretary had visited Australia for 17 years – ‘something we are putting right in spectacular terms’, he promised.

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Asia’s Syria Shame

Graffiti in Idlib. Photo: Freedom House via a Creative Commons Licence

While the Western world has been vocal in its objections to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal suppression of dissidents, most Asian governments have remained eerily silent on the matter. Writing in The Diplomat, IISS Adjunct Senior Fellow for Asian Security Affairs Dr Chung Min Lee argues that now is the time for Asian governments to put aside their policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of others. ‘If Asia’s rise is going to be about more than accelerated economic growth and vested commercial interests, it’s time that Asian governments spoke out forcefully against the brutal genocide in Syria and in support of the yearning for freedom and democracy worldwide,’ he argues.

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Charting the shift in defence spending

Much of the press coverage of yesterday’s launch of the Military Balance 2012 has focused on the continuing shift in relative military strength away from the West and towards Asia. Many reporters have understandably honed in on the fact that Asian defence spending is set to overtake Europe’s this year, for the first time in modern history. Here are some of  last year’s raw figures.

Figure: Comparative Defence Statistics (click for larger view)


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