How Significant is the New U.S. South China South 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 […]

Malaysia Should Embrace Compliance on Its Overlapping Continental Shelf Claim

Recently, international observers have been puzzled to see Malaysia undertaking oil and gas operations in the overlapping extended continental shelf area defined by its 2009 joint submission with Vietnam to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). As reported by AMTI, the West Capella, a drillship contracted by Malaysian national oil and […]

Duterte’s Decision to Scrap the VFA: Whimsical or Insidious?

Despite pleas from several senior Philippine senators to reconsider his plan to abrogate the Philippine-U.S. Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), President Rodrigo Duterte has reportedly decided to scrap the 20-year old treaty. According to his presidential spokesperson, Duterte has already ordered his executive secretary to instruct Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin to serve the notice of termination […]

Legacies, Lessons and Lobsters: Indonesia’s Maritime Policy in a Post-Susi World

One of the big changes in the second term of Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was the departure in October 2019 of the popular minister for maritime affairs and fisheries, Susi Pudjiastuti. Susi is best known for cracking down on illegal fishing with a high-profile policy of blowing-up and sinking foreign fishing vessels. But there […]

Realizing the Potential of Island Territories: A Perspective from Delhi

As countries in the Indo-Pacific continue to deepen maritime collaborations between friends, partners, and allies, the island territories in the region are well-positioned to offer tremendous support and strategic leverage to India and its partners. Island territories in particular facilitate a greater maritime presence, help generate a common picture for maritime domain awareness (MDA), and […]

Vietnam’s 2019 Defense White Paper: Preparing for a Fragile Future

Vietnam’s long-awaited defense white paper was finally released late last month. One of the most important official documents on defense and military strategy, it elaborates on the overall principles and guidelines for protecting the Vietnamese homeland for the next 10 years. Given the rapidly evolving security challenges Vietnam has been faced with in the last […]

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 […]