Malaysia in the South China Sea: A Growing Mismatch Between Threat and Capabilities

The South China Sea is an important maritime area for Malaysia. Besides being connected to the world’s major east-west trade routes, Malaysia is one of the claimant states of the Spratly Islands. The Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN), however, is facing a growing mismatch between its naval capabilities and its interests in addressing maritime challenges in […]

The Quad’s Four Quandaries

The first standalone ministerial meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), hosted by Tokyo early this month, raised expectations about the role the four-member group will play in the fast-changing Indo-Pacific strategic landscape. India’s invitation for Australia to join the 2020 Malabar exercises next month transformed what began as U.S.-India maritime drills in 1992 into […]

The Challenges Facing Philippines–China Joint Development in the South China Sea

Territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea have been a major irritant in Philippines–China relations. When Rodrigo Duterte became president in 2016, a policy decision to underscore pragmatism in relations with China and opt for a moderated approach to dispute settlement in the South China Sea became clear. In November 2018, China and […]

Washington Tries Pulling Economic Levers in the South China Sea

This week, the U.S. government for the first time imposed economic penalties on Chinese businesses for their behavior in the South China Sea. The Commerce Department placed 24 Chinese companies on the Entity List. The list restricts exports of certain goods to companies and individuals that threaten U.S. national security or foreign policy priorities. According […]

Time to Forge India-Vietnam Defense Ties

China’s maritime encroachments in the South China Sea continue unabated amid Covid-19. China’s infringement upon the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of littoral states such as Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia, as well as its conducting of naval drills in disputed waters in July have reflected its intransigence in adhering to the United Nations Convention on the […]

Effort to Discredit U.S. Freedom of Navigation Report Falls Short

The China-based South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative recently published a commentary, which criticized the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) Freedom of Navigation (FON) Report for 2019.  This commentary was authored by Ching Chang, a research fellow at the Society for Strategic Studies in Taipei. It attempts to discredit the DOD FON Report, alleging […]

Australia-India Relations: Navigating Dichotomy

One consequence of the recent standoff between India and China in the Himalayas has been a re-examination of the role of the Quadrilateral Framework (hereafter, Quad) as an “effective instrument of dissuasion and moderation.” The foreign, security, and economic policies of Australia, as the southern bookend of the Quad, are receiving renewed attention in India. […]

How Significant is the New U.S. South China Sea Policy?

Yesterday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced an important shift in U.S. declaratory policy on the South China Sea. This morning, Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell elaborated further during remarks at CSIS’s annual South China Sea Conference. The press statement from Pompeo listed specific Chinese maritime claims the United States considers illegal. The statement […]

Australia in Malabar Would Strengthen the Indo-Pacific Narrative

The potential for a quadrilateral Exercise Malabar has risen fast in the post-Covid-19 order. This comes on the back of the upgrade of the India-Australia strategic partnership to a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” at the June 4 virtual summit between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Scott Morrison. Australian High Commissioner to India Barry O’Farrell ignited hopes […]

Opportunism and Opportunity: Responding to Beijing’s Push in the South China Sea

During my visit to Hainan last December, the mood among Chinese officials was largely somber. Despite the triumphant launch of the country’s first indigenously-built aircraft carrier, attended by no less than President Xi Jinping, there was a profound sense of foreboding. The Chinese leader warned of  the “grey rhinos” of domestic economic imbalances and “black […]

Vietnam’s Maritime Militia Is Not a Black Hole in the South China Sea

A series of recent reports from the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCSPI) at Peking University’s Institute of Ocean Research have arbitrarily labeled Vietnamese fishermen as “maritime militia” based on limited AIS data without further supporting evidence. But without a clear understanding of the Vietnamese maritime militia, such arguments are at best whataboutism […]

Sansha and the Expansion of China’s South China Sea Administration

On April 18, China’s State Council announced its decision to establish two new districts in Sansha City, a prefecture-level city (地级市) headquartered on Woody Island which governs the bulk of China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. Some observers may dismiss the creation of these districts as a symbolic but ultimately inconsequential demonstration of […]

Fishing While the Water is Muddy: China’s newly announced administrative districts in the South China Sea

On April 18, China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs unilaterally announced the establishment of two new administrative structures in the South China Sea: Xisha district, covering the Paracel Islands and Macclesfield Bank, and Nansha district, covering the Spartly Islands, both of which are also claimed by Vietnam. The new administrative districts are to be under the […]

Vietnam’s Note Verbale on the South China Sea

Malaysia’s recent submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf has triggered a note-verbale debate between claimants in the South China Sea. After China and the Philippines, Vietnam is the latest to join the debate with a note to protest not only Malaysia’s claims, but China’s as well. Vietnam’s note verbale, dated […]

The Day After VFA: Saving the Philippine-U.S. Alliance

Only weeks ago, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s shocking decision to unilaterally scrap the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) dominated conversations among Asia hands. In fact, the topic repeatedly popped up during my talks in the United States in late-February. However, with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic tightening its grip on nations across the world, conventional wisdom […]

The Indo-Pacific Enigma

The utility of the Indo-Pacific as a geo-strategic concept remains the subject of debate, particularly in the “Quad” countries; the United States, Australia, Japan, and India. A series of views published in the Australian National University’s East Asia Forum last month provides several perspectives in this continuing debate. The first questions U.S. strategy in extending […]

The Cauldron Boils Over: Vietnam vs. China

On April 4, Vietnam lodged an official protest with China, accusing it of sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat in the Paracel Islands. The spokesperson for China’s coastguard argued that the Vietnamese fishing boat sank after ramming into a China Coast Guard vessel. He also warned that China would move to enhance its control of fishing […]