Maritime Asia will be active and more pacific in the coming year. Maritime trade will continue apace with tens of millions of shipping containers and millions of barrels of petroleum products moving on Asian sea lanes. That feeding of the Asian and global economies will be taken for granted, but there are three categories to watch– geopolitical, navies and maritime activity.
Geopolitical: There will not be a breakthrough on the differing Chinese and Japanese positions regarding the East China Sea. In the South China Sea, expansion of facilities on the land features there will continue quietly. More flesh will be added to the bones of China’s “Maritime Silk Road”; and, consistent with the tone of the recent Xiangshan Forum, its companion piece will be China’s increasing call for an “Asia for Asians” regional security architecture to replace U.S. alliance relationships in Asia. China will continue to be pressed on clarifying the “Nine Dash Line.” This will be charged with the PRC- Philippine arbitration of South China Sea claims under UNCLOS.
Navies: Submarines will be the important if somewhat obscure topic of 2015. There will be significant interest in Australia’s plans to replace its Collins Class submarine, especially if it does so in cooperation with Japan, and the Chinese and Indian deterrent submarine programs will recast nuclear deterrence in Asia and change markedly the region’s naval environment. Submarine hunting investments are sure to follow.
Maritime Activity: The PLA Navy will engage in more bilateral naval activity with Asian partners to encourage its alternative security architecture and Silk Road ambition. South China Sea and East China Sea encounters will be more benign keeping with China’s more cooperative “win-win” strategy. Modest U.S. Navy – PLA Navy activity will take place and the newly elected Congress will question it more