The latest edition of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, which brought together the world’s leading defense officials and security experts June 1 through 3, marked the formal inauguration of the “Indo-Pacific” era.
If the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy only serves as a facet of Sino-U.S. competition, the United States will have to overcome China’s advantages in geographic distance, economic wherewithal, and policy continuity. If it serves as a strategy to cultivate agreed-upon norms and principles applied to all parties, big or small, then it may enjoy greater support. Whichever case, seven key issues merit careful consideration while they can have the greatest impact.
Maritime security in the Indian Ocean requires much more than ships, weapons, and sailors. Assets at sea and in the air must be integrated with significant land-based infrastructure. China appreciates this fact. Apparently, the United States and India either do not, or they lack the will or means to match the Chinese.
As China continues to expand its military presence in disputed areas of the South China Sea, Vietnam has sought to balance Beijing’s activities through a combination of deft defense diplomacy and sensible military modernization. On the latter point, analysts have spilled much ink in recent years assessing the Vietnam People’s Army’s (VPA) procurement or indigenous development of specific weapon systems. Yet comparatively little has been written on the thought process behind acquisition of these new capabilities, and whether Vietnam has a military doctrine or concept of operations in place to effectively guide their employment in future South China Sea conflicts.
To ask Taipei to accept the political risks of taking a position on the U-shaped line—especially one more in line with the legal positions of other South China Sea claimants than with those of China—without access to any of the mechanisms to manage the disputes is unfair.
The U.S.-Japan alliance needs to take urgent measures to ensure that its deterrent posture and defensive capabilities in the East China Sea remain intact in the years ahead. Zack Cooper offers suggestions on China's likeliest strategies and how U.S. and Japanese policymakers should face them.
Sri Lanka's proposed code of conduct for the Indian Ocean presents problems at many levels, but perhaps the deepest problem is that it is about regional geopolitics rather than human security threats.
The Philippines and China recently agreed to pursue joint development agreements on hydrocarbon deposits in the South China Sea, but before those agreements can come to fruition there are a number of hurdles and historical precedents to overcome.
While the trends in the East China Sea have been concerning, Japan and China have been able to avoid a major incident in the area over the last five years. Yet, with Chinese capabilities improving and the margin of the Japan-U.S. alliance’s supremacy narrowing, the likelihood of an incident is growing.
Although the East China Sea is increasingly contested, Japan and the United States are likely to find a far more challenging strategic situation in the years ahead.
Indian president Ram Nath Kovind’s visit to Madagascar in March was a sign of the growing importance of strategic islands in the Indian Ocean region. The visit—the first ever by an Indian head of state—underlines both Madagascar’s strategic location in the southwest Indian Ocean and Delhi’s historical disregard toward island nations, a misstep that the foreign office has begun correcting only recently.
Over the last five years, many volumes have been written about the South China Sea. But perhaps the most potentially explosive situation in maritime Asia lies to the north, in the East China Sea.
On March 6, Australia and Timor-Leste signed a landmark treaty delimiting their maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea. Much of the media has presented the agreement as resolving the long-running disputes between Australia and Timor-Leste over maritime boundaries and resources. This is inaccurate, largely because the most difficult issue—the development of Greater Sunrise—remains ongoing.
Despite several meetings on joint development in the South China Sea, substantive talks between Philippine and Chinese officials have not taken place, and nearly two years later both parties are still in the exploratory stage.
Against the backdrop of decreased tensions following the 2016 arbitral tribunal award, the Taiwanese government has adjusted its South China Sea policy and tried to strike a cautious balance with fellow claimants.
An Indonesian government regulation passed with little fanfare in early 2018 may pave the way for a new air defense identification zone in Southeast Asia.
The reestablishment of the Quad in 2017 points to tectonic shifts in the geopolitics of Asia and in the foreign policies of the members of the original Quad.
China’s activities in the Indian Ocean have attracted a great deal of interest in recent years. There is no doubt that Chinese engagement is changing regional security dynamics in the current peacetime environment.
China’s leaders have mapped out an ambitious plan, the Maritime Silk Road Initiative, to establish three “blue economic passages” that will connect Beijing with economic hubs around the world. It is the maritime dimension of President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, which could include $1–4 trillion in new roads, railways, ports, and other infrastructure.
Ever since Iran hired Indian firms to develop a seaport in the Chabahar city in the 1990s, India has been central to the Chabahar project.
In China’s grand strategy, Gwadar is an important foothold that is part of its String of Pearls strategy for the Indo-Pacific.
Hambantota port was intended to transform a small fishing town into a major shipping hub. In pursuit of that dream, Sri Lanka relied on Chinese financing. But Sri Lanka could not repay those loans, and in 2017, it agreed to give China a controlling equity stake in the port and a 99-year lease for operating it.
Kyaukpyu is of considerable strategic and economic value for China as it seeks to speed development of Yunnan and its other inland provinces. That value is centered on the development of a deep-water port and the construction of accompanying road and rail links to supplement the pipelines already running to Kunming.
The visit of the Carl Vinson was part of a growing trend of foreign naval vessels that have visited Vietnamese ports in recent years.
Common misperceptions of China’s air defense identification zone shared by many Western scholars and policymakers have received insufficient attention in the media, and if left unclarified could worsen distrust between governments and escalate tensions in the East China Sea.
If the Quad’s time has finally come, what purpose would cooperation among these four countries serve in the contemporary strategic environment?
While the salience of conflict for the sake of gaining territory may be declining, the importance of status as a potential driver of conflict—especially in Asia—may be increasing.
if the United States seriously wants to stop Chinese expansion in the South China Sea, it will have to engage in some costly tit-for-tat actions.
Under Duterte’s watch, ASEAN has lost a crucial opportunity to hold China to account. More worryingly, it has undermined the regional body’s centrality in addressing one of the most vexing and potentially explosive flashpoints in the 21st century.
CSIS experts Zack Cooper and Bonnie Glaser join AMTI director Gregory Poling to discuss the South China Sea at the start of 2018, including whether the Trump administration has an effective strategy on the issue, what China hopes to achieve in the disputed waters, and recommendations for the year ahead.