Vietnam’s Legal Warfare Against China: Prospects and Challenges

Ahead of its much-anticipated chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) next year, and amid a months-long naval showdown in the South China Sea, Vietnam has hinted at the possibility of legal warfare against China. Vietnamese deputy foreign minister Le Hoai Trung openly warned in early November that diplomacy isn’t the only tool […]

Indonesia as “Global Maritime Fulcrum”: A Post-Mortem Analysis

Indonesian president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo first came into office in 2014 promising to turn the country into the “Global Maritime Fulcrum” (GMF)—a force between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Consisting of both domestic and foreign policy elements, many had hoped that the GMF would serve as Indonesia’s first actionable grand strategy in decades. Jokowi presented […]

Vietnam’s Need to Become a Proactive Middle Power

Vietnam’s Need to Become a Proactive Middle Power The most frequently-asked question from U.S. scholars and experts visiting Vietnam these days is, “What does Vietnam want from the United States when it comes to the South China Sea?” Given the rapid improvement of the U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership, especially in defense and security cooperation, this question […]

Duterte’s Pivot to Russia

While Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial China policy has understandably attracted considerable attention, few have taken his strategic pivot to Russia seriously enough. Instead, even some senior Filipino officials view burgeoning ties with Moscow as nothing but a reflection of Duterte’s personal fascination with Russia and his famed “bromance” with Vladimir Putin. But reaching out […]

Drivers and risks of China’s pressure on Vietnam

A concoction of regional and domestic factors is driving China’s increased pressure on Vietnam in the South China Sea, but this strategy entails serious risks for Beijing and, if overplayed, may backfire. While Hanoi’s options to respond are currently limited, they may gain potency as Beijing’s intimidation tactics galvanize support among ASEAN and the international […]

Should Vietnam Bring the South China Sea to the United Nations?

On September 12, Vietnam publicly denounced the provocative actions of Chinese vessels in Vietnamese waters for the seventh time since June, urging China to withdraw their ships. These statements have done little to deter China’s activities: the survey ship Haiyang Dizhi 8 continues to violate Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, while Chinese coastguard vessels such as […]

The ASEAN-U.S. Maritime Exercise and Maritime Security

Geography dictates two divergent perspectives for ASEAN countries. The first belongs to the “continental” group and the second to the archipelagic nations, especially Indonesia and the Philippines, which constitute nearly half of ASEAN’s population, GDP, and land area, and over 80 percent of its exclusive economic zones. A maritime outlook could be expected to dominate […]

Duterte’s Game in Beijing

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s early-August announcement that he will finally invoke the Philippines’ arbitral tribunal victory against Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea took everyone by surprise. After all, it represented a marked shift from his earlier decision to “set aside” the landmark ruling, which has been vehemently rejected by China as “null and […]

Vietnam’s Uphill Battle in the South China Sea: A Need for More International Actors

The standoff between China and Vietnam near Vanguard Bank has passed the two-month mark without showing any sign of a resolution. Since mid-June 2019, a Chinese survey ship and its coast guard escorts have been maneuvering in a threatening manner in the southern part of Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), a short distance from Block […]

The Indo-Pacific: What’s in a Name?

When discussing the Indo-Pacific, John Henry Saxe’s poem of the blind men and the elephant comes to mind. His blind men likened the elephant to a wall, a spear, a snake, a tree, a fan, or a rope, depending on which part each had touched.  In a similar manner, leaders in the region focus on […]

Preeminence or Partnership? The United States in the Indo-Pacific

The release of the Indo-Pacific Strategy Report by the U.S. Department of Defense last month has given further shape to the United States’ vision for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific. The document underscores the linkages between economics, governance, and security and stresses the importance of allies and partners. However, it also reveals the contradiction between […]

The Reed Bank Crisis: A Call for Upgrading the Philippine-U.S. Alliance

This year’s annual Bilateral Strategic Dialogue to coordinate the Philippine-U.S. alliance could not have come at a more opportune moment. First, it comes months after Philippine defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana called for a comprehensive review of the alliance in light of radical changes in the Indo-Pacific geopolitical environment. The Philippine defense chief, who formerly served […]

Duterte’s Pivot to Japan

One of the most underappreciated aspects of Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s foreign policy has been his facilitation of a golden age in bilateral relations with Japan. This strategic approach was on full display during the Filipino president’s latest visit to Tokyo, the third in less than three years, which revealed the deep strategic ties that […]

An Indian Ocean Agenda for Modi 2.0

Today’s globalized world increasingly depends on the Indian Ocean for trade connectivity. In 2018, Indian Ocean-connected nations had a combined nominal GDP of over $54 trillion and included 12 of the 16 members of the trillion-dollar club. By 2033, the Indian Ocean will connect 21 of the 25 global members of the projected trillion-dollar club. […]

Balikatan 2019 and the Crisis in Philippine-China Rapprochement

From April 1 to 12, units from the major branches of the U.S. and Philippine militaries conducted 28 major exercises that tested and enhanced their skills and abilities in joint combat and humanitarian operations. During the two-week Balikatan (“Shoulder-to-Shoulder”) exercises, Filipino, American, and a small number of Australian troops participated in counter-terrorism training, amphibious operations […]

Duterte’s Scarborough Shoal Moment

Three years into his quiescent China policy, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte is experiencing a rude awakening in the South China Sea. The ongoing Chinese siege of the Philippines’ largest land feature in the Spratlys, Thitu Island, represents Duterte’s greatest foreign policy crisis and, ironically, the very country he has courted assiduously is at the heart […]

A Landmark Ruling on the Chagos Islands

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in February issued a non-binding advisory opinion rejecting the United Kingdom’s claim of sovereignty over the Chagos Islands, which London calls the British Indian Ocean Territory, and ruling that they should be returned to Mauritius. The court, at the request of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), considered two […]

China’s Economic Cabbage Strategy

The blossoming Philippines-China relationship has opened a floodgate of Chinese investments, unnerving domestic players including the influential military establishment. In particular, China’s bid for a 300-hectares shipping yard in Subic Bay, the former site of one of the United States’ largest overseas naval bases, has unleashed a political firestorm, exposing the fragility of the ongoing rapprochement and the resilience of Beijing-skeptic sentiments in the Southeast Asian country.