Sunday, August 19, 2018

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: America’s Grand Strategy Toward Asia And Role Of S...

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: America’s Grand Strategy Toward Asia And Role Of S...: America’s Grand Strategy Toward Asia And Role Of South China Sea – Analysis Many policy makers and analysts agree that there is a sur...

America’s Grand Strategy Toward Asia And Role Of South China Sea – Analysis

America’s Grand Strategy Toward Asia And Role Of South China Sea – Analysis

Many policy makers and analysts agree that there is a surging soft and hard power struggle between China and the U.S. for dominance in the South China Sea –and Southeast Asia.   But as tension mounts, the U.S. seems to be in a quandary as to what to do. Some argue strongly that the U.S. should militarily confront China there –now.  Others argue just as strenuously that it would not be in the U.S. national interest to do so – not now anyway, and not over disputed flyspecks and resources in the South China Sea in which it has no direct stake.  But before making that critical policy decision, the U.S. should have a grand strategy for Asia and determine the role of the South China Sea in it.  But what are the U.S. goals in Asia and does it have a ‘grand strategy’ to achieve them?  

If so, what are they, and what is the role of the South China Sea’?

First some context.  The US-China struggle for control of the South China Sea is symptomatic of much deeper differences –in effect a  “clash of civilizations According to the originator of this theory, Samuel Huntington, human conflict has transitioned to a new phase in which formerly dominated, abused and exploited cultures and nations of the non-Western world have increasingly become significant players in the shaping of the international order. The Sinic culture led by China is prominent among them.  China President Xi Jinping has explicitly recognized this fundamental divergence of cultural identities and world views.  Indeed, he has encouraged a rejection of Western influence and implicitly of Western models.  According to Xi, ‘many aspects of China’s modernization process must have Chinese characteristics and the Chinese Communist Party must provide guidance on every aspect of human behavior’.  .

This possibly existential contest between it and the West –led by the U.S. –is being played out in the South China Sea.  The U.S. is clearly the superior military power—overall –and in the South China Sea. However, China is rapidly eroding the US military advantage there.  China also seems to be gaining the soft power advantage by virtue of its geographic position as a permanent part of Asia, and its burgeoning economic largesse. Indeed, according to Kurt Campbell and Rush Doshi, the U.S. , seems to be “needlessly confrontational without being sufficiently competitive” regarding China and the South China Sea

The broad U.S. policy alternatives seem to range from ‘share power’– as proposed by Xi  ‘confront’; or ‘engage but hedge’ and hope “China will become a liberal democracy, or at least accept a subordinate place in the American-led international order.” However, the latter is unlikely to happen. As Lee Kuan Yu once put it, China wants to be  “accepted as China, not as an honorary member of the West”. 

To share power in the region, the U.S. would have to accommodate to some degree China’s international interests and aspirations–when, on what issues, how, and how much would have to be negotiated with China. But the U.S. has no history or precedent of willingly sharing power and it is not likely to start in the Trump administration.  As prominent Australian analyst Hugh White says, “the US policy community has, with few exceptions, failed so far to understand the nature or the scale of the challenge it faces in negotiating [a] new relationship with China.  for confrontation, White argues, Washington has shown “no appetite for engaging in a confrontation with China” in its own backyard where it might take heavy losses and not win quickly or outright”.

None of these policy alternatives seems to be viable. Moreover, choosing one or a combination thereof would be premature and temporary– unless and until a grand strategy is determined. The U.S. is still searching for a ‘new’ one.  Meanwhile, by default, the existing grand strategy remains a continuation of historical components.

According to Michael Green, the former senior director for Asia policy at the US National Security Council, the driving forces of US Asia policy have always been a balance of faith, commerce, geography and self-defense.  

The fundamental central theme of US strategy towards Asia has been “_ _ opposition to any other power exercising exclusive hegemonic control over Asia _ _”. This has now been incorporated in the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” concept by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

And this is what the U.S. thinks China is attempting to achieve in the South China Sea–through revising the ‘international order’ there– and this is why the South China Sea is so ideationally important to the U.S.

Another reason for the importance of the South China Sea to the U.S. is the location and nature of its ‘defensive line’ in Asia. Such a defensive line has been a main component of US strategy in Asia throughout its history. 

A major current question for US South China Sea policy is where to draw its defensive line vis a vis China. Should it be closer to Asia, closer to Hawaii or stay more or less where it is – along the First Island Chain (Japan-Taiwan-the Philippines-East Malaysia – Indonesia) and then north to Vietnam. If it is to be closer to China, then the U.S. would have to confront China in the South China Sea.

But even before the U.S. determines its goals and grand strategy, sets the location of its defensive line and derives its policy and tactics there from, some argue that it first needs to define its current “essential US foreign policy issues in Asia” 

What are ‘essential foreign policy issues for the U.S.?  According to Stephen G. Brooks, these should include the assurance “_ _that none of the ‘core territory’ of its allies is ever lost to China _ _.”  To him, core territory does not include the resources and rocks in the South China Sea.  It must also ensure that “China cannot interrupt the flow of seaborne commerce over the long term” by retaining the option to undertake a distant blockade of China to force it to reverse course” or by denying China control of the South and East China Sea.    This is also part of the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” concept.

For Kurt Campbell and Rush Doshi, the fundament for a consistent, unified, successful grand strategy is “clarity of purpose” and the “deliberate identification of ends, ways, and means.” Most important in the construction of a ‘new’ grand strategy, the U.S. first needs to determine what it must have and what it merely prefers –particularly regarding the South China Sea. Indeed, as policy analysts Robert Manning and James Pryzstup argue, the U.S. needs to come to terms with the “great strategic question of our time: what Chinese role in the Asia-Pacific can it live with”? 

But so far the Trump administration seems to lack the focus and discipline to accomplish this.  So the US strategy and policy regarding its role in Asia and the South China Sea remains a ‘work in progress’.

*Mark J. Valencia, Adjunct Senior Scholar, National Institute for South China Sea Studies, Haikou, China


Monday, August 13, 2018

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: What Drives Indonesia's Pacific Island Strategy? J...

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: What Drives Indonesia's Pacific Island Strategy? J...: What Drives Indonesia's Pacific Island Strategy? Jakarta is courting Pacific Island states, hoping to change regional positions on t...

What Drives Indonesia's Pacific Island Strategy? Jakarta is courting Pacific Island states, hoping to change regional positions on the West Papua issue

What Drives Indonesia's Pacific Island Strategy? Jakarta is courting Pacific Island states, hoping to change regional positions on the West Papua issue

Indonesia has recently been lifting its presence in the Pacific, courting a number of Pacific Island countries in an attempt to quell the region’s sympathies for the independence movement in the Indonesian province of West Papua.

A particular recent focus has been on boosting relations with a number of Micronesian states as a way of gaining influence in the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF). In July, the President of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) visited Jakarta, holding talks with President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. Indonesia also has instigated plans to open a consulate in the FSM. Previously, Indonesian consular services in the region were run out of its Tokyo embassy. In February, an Indonesian cabinet minister was dispatched to Nauru for the tiny island’s 50th anniversary of independence, bringing with him a Papuan band. Both Nauru and Tuvalu have recently expressed support for Jakarta’s regional development programs in West Papua.

Beyond Micronesia, in April a delegation from the Melanesian state of Solomon Islands was invited to tour Indonesia’s West Papua and Papua provinces, which seems to have led to a review of Solomon Islands policy toward West Papua. Shifts in position toward the Indonesian province from Nauru, Tuvalu, and potentially Solomon Islands would be considered a significant victory for Jakarta, which previously accused these countries of “misusing” their platforms at the United Nations General Assembly to be critical of Indonesia’s policies in West Papua.

This increased Indonesian outreach comes during the ongoing deliberation over the application of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua to become a full member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), an issue that seems to have divided the organization. In late-July the Director-General of the MSG stated that discussions on the situation in West Papua don’t belong in the forum. However, last week Vanuatu appointed a special envoy to the restive province.

Vanuautu remains the most staunch supporter of the West Papuan independence movement, and it is a sentiment held strongly by both political elites and civil society within the country. Former Vanuatu Prime Minister Sato Kilman, who was a driving force behind Indonesia gaining observer status to the MSG, was forced to resign from office in 2013 partly due to a public suspicion that he was too close to Indonesia. The then-incoming prime minister swiftly cancelled a defense agreement with Indonesia, which had Jakarta providing equipment and assistance to the Vanuatu police.

In 2013, with Fiji suspended from the Pacific Island Forum (PIF), Fiji’s then-military dictator, Frank Bainimarama sought to set up the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) as a competitor to the PIF. At the following year’s forum then-Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) paid a three day visit to Fiji and delivered a keynote address to the PIDF, pledging $20 million over five years to climate change and natural disaster-proofing initiatives. Since then, Fiji’s opposition Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) has claimed Indonesia has given military support to Fiji in exchange for support for West Papua, and for Indonesia’s observer status in the MSG. The relationship between Fiji and Indonesia seems to be seen by Bainimarama has a potential bridge for Fiji into Asia, by-passing Australia, and for Indonesia, as a way to gain the support of one of the region’s more powerful actors.

The issue continues to create complexity within the Pacific’s Melanesian states. Recently Papua New Guinea Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, has advocated the issue of West Papuan independence be taken to the United Nations decolonization committee. However, the land border that PNG shares with Indonesia has constrained its ability to forcefully advocate for the West Papuan cause. And PNG’s own secessionist movement in Bougainville also requires Port Moresby to tread carefully for fear of reciprocal interference in its own affairs.

For Indonesia the unity of its state remains non-negotiable. Yet sentiment within the Melanesian states (and throughout the wider Pacific) poses a threat to this unity. It also creates a unique contest to Indonesian sovereignty, emanating from outside Indonesia’s immediate area and based on ethnic solidarity, and therefore marking it as a distinct challenge when compared to the ongoing disputes over the placement of borders with Malaysia. It is a challenge that cannot be addressed with traditional hard power tools.

Indonesia has what Huge White — writing in the latest issue of Australian Foreign Affairs magazine — has describe as a “curiously elusive strategic personality,” seemingly a desire to remain internationally aloof in order to avoid any entanglements. This makes it difficult to deduce just how Jakarta might proceed as its power develops. The country is projected to become the world’s fifth largest economy by 2040 (based on a continuation of current growth rates). Yet in the Lowy Institute’s new data map on Pacific aid, Indonesia is conspicuously absent, with the country having no official aid program, usually a key marker of power projection. The assistance Jakarta does currently provide is more ad hoc, seemingly based on at-the-moment political calculations, rather than a coherent policy structure.

For most of its existence Indonesia has remained focused on its internal complexities, yet the challenge to it sovereignty from the Pacific remains a constant irritant. Current moves to forge a wider engagement strategy with Pacific Islands states could be seen as both an attempt to subdue this irritant, and also a testing ground for Jakarta’s future power projection.  

The Diplomat By Grant Wyeth for The Diplomat

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: New Great Game: US Wants Russia To Help Contain Ch...

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: New Great Game: US Wants Russia To Help Contain Ch...: New Great Game: US Wants Russia To Help Contain China – Analysis President Donald Trump’s overtures to President Vladimir Putin, whil...

New Great Game: US Wants Russia To Help Contain China – Analysis

New Great Game: US Wants Russia To Help Contain China – Analysis

President Donald Trump’s overtures to President Vladimir Putin, while starting a tariff war with China, has the strategic community reminiscing about a time when it was all so different. During the Cold War, America had diplomatically aligned itself with China to counter the Soviet threat. Today, except that the US, Russia and China are now entangled on the grand chessboard, the forces underpinning the current environment and its actors are different from the Cold War period. The current power play is rooted in geo-economics where all the actors are interconnected, unlike during the Cold War, when ideological reasons characterised relations and the two superpowers did not share economic interests.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union expanded into Central Asia and was poised to reach the Indian Ocean. On the Pacific side, China had become a bulwark of communism, influencing East and South-East Asia. Thus, the Sino-Soviet combine became the major threatening force, affecting the global balance of power. Among western powers, the US at that time was the sole major military power, as Europe and Japan were still recuperating from World War II. Direct military confrontation in this situation was not an ideal choice for the US, or for that matter either side, owing to the destructive potential of nuclear weapons put on hair-trigger alert.

The opportune moment came in the form of Sino-Soviet rivalry, weakening that bloc and allowing the US to mount a diplomatic offensive. Henry Kissinger’s secret visit to China and the subsequent visit of President Nixon revived US-China diplomatic relations. These relations became stronger with Deng Xiaoping assuming the leadership of China and setting the country on a course towards economic modernisation. The China that stands today as an economic giant is essentially the outcome of this policy. Thus began the golden period of American unipolar moment with a politically and economically weaker Russia, and a China yet to become assertive.

The 2008 global financial crisis changed this setting and China’s confidence in its economic power began to feed its geopolitical interests, pronounced under ‘core interests’. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank had attracted partners from Asia and Europe, including America’s allies. Today, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has become the flagship initiative that symbolises China’s economic might. The road and communications infrastructure across Eurasia marked the first major attempt by a land power to make inroads into Central Asia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Simultaneously, China is building ports and naval bases overseas (Djibouti to start with), while deploying its warships in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Recalling the ‘Great Game’, British strategist Halford Mackinder underscored Russia’s potential to control Eurasia, from which it would reach the warm water ports of the Indian Ocean and start assembling a massive naval fleet. This would undermine the security and sovereignty of maritime nations such as Britain. Therefore, Britain’s colonisation of Asia and the US Cold War policy concentrated on controlling the rimland between Eurasia and Indian and Pacific Oceans. Mackinder, however, did not undermine China’s potential. Today, China has access to warm water ports in the Western Pacific, which it is trying to control unilaterally by commissioning warships on an industrial scale. Combine the road and rail infrastructure overland across Eurasia and naval ambitions in the Indo-Pacific, and it becomes evident that China is marching towards Eurasian hegemony, while denying the maritime nations the ability to control the rimland.

The threat is clear and the US administration under President Obama had decided to position 60 per cent of its military assets in the Indo-Pacific. US-India relations began to improve and military exercises such as RIMPAC and MALABAR began to assume greater salience. However, working with Russia for possible containment of China and simultaneously confronting it on unfair trade practices proved a greater challenge for Washington’s traditional policy elite. As a result, the Trump administration is engaging with Russia and North Korea diplomatically and raising tariffs on China’s exports to the US. The result of these efforts is dependent on the recognition of the current China threat rather than that of the Cold War imaginations within US strategic circles. Henry Kissinger’s advice to Trump to engage with Russia assumes significance in this context.

The question is will Russia comply? Russia sees major incentives to engage with China which includes trade, infrastructure and mutual assurances on spheres of influence. China’s BRI projects across Central Asia benefits Russia, given its geographic position. China is a major buyer of Russia’s oil, gas and defence equipment and both sides share the aversion to the western democratic, liberal world order. Russia and China are also acutely aware of the consequences and outcome of the Cold War Sino-Soviet split. However, the US believes that the strategic undercurrents of power and influence over Eurasia will render the same fate to the next iteration of Sino-Soviet relationship. Therefore, whether Russia remains a partner of China creating a new dynamic or confronts its influence across Eurasia, leading to a split again, will be the deciding factor in the global balance of power.

This article originally appeared in DNA By Observer Research Foundation

By Vidya Sagar Reddy Avuthu