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Indo-Pacific security links: Abe, RIMPAC, Ladakh, India's defence industry and more

By David Schaefer, an intern in the Lowy Institute's International Security Program.

The Lowy Institute International Security Program's work on Indo-Pacific security is supported by two grants from the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation.

Japanese collective self-defence: Abe's changes won't help

Clearly Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has deep personal and political motives for wanting to change Japan's strategic posture, 'escape from the postwar regime' and make Japan a normal country. But he has only been able to push this week's changes through because many Japanese who reject Abe's revisionist nationalism have lost faith in the post-war strategic posture. They can see that relying on the US has worked well for decades, but is failing now as strategic circumstances change.

The question is whether collective self-defence will work any better to keep Japan secure in these new circumstances? I don't think it will.

Japan's old posture isn't working anymore because of the shift in relative power between America and China. The stronger China becomes, the more Japan fears that China will use its strength to subordinate Japan, and the less confident the Japanese can be that America will always help them resist Chinese pressure. As the economic and military costs and risks to America of conflict with China go up, US willingness to support Japan's interests goes down, and it becomes less clear that Japan's and America's interests will always coincide. Japan therefore loses confidence in a strategic posture based on dependence on the US. We can see all this playing out in the Senkaku/Daioyu dispute, making it Japan's most acute strategic challenge since the Second World War.

Will collective self-defence fix this problem? The argument that it will is simple enough: Japan will strengthen both America's willingness and its capacity to support Japan against China if it does more to support the US against China. This is the classic burden-sharing idea that has been central to the way alliances around the world have been seen to work for the last century or so. It has certainly been central to the way Australia has approached alliance management with both Britain and the US. Indeed Japan's alliance has been unique in not imposing this kind of burden-sharing, so Abe's move simply brings Japan into line with other US allies. 

But collective self-defence will only reinforce US strategic guarantees to Japan and restore Japan's confidence in the alliance if it deals directly with the factors that have been eroding them.

On the military side, Japan's armed forces will make little difference to America's ability to win a war against China in the western Pacific. Very simply, even with Japanese support America could not achieve sea control against China's formidable sea denial forces, and even without Japan's support it can easily achieve sea denial against China's feeble sea control forces. So Japan's help would do nothing to break what is essentially a US-China maritime stalemate in which both sides can deny the waters around China to the other. And Japan can do nothing to help America control the very real risks of escalation which that stalemate produces. So Japan's commitment to collective self-defence will not reduce the costs and risks to America of confronting China.

Nor will Japanese burden-sharing make much difference to America's willingness to bear those costs and risks on Japan's behalf. America already has strong reasons to support Japan and preserve the alliance; it is after all the essential foundation of US primacy in Asia. The present crisis of confidence in the alliance arises precisely because the costs and risks of confronting China are now so great that they threaten to outweigh even this alliance in US strategic calculations.

And it is not clear that anything Japan could or will do under collective self-defence will tip the scales back the other way. Australians are familiar with the argument that big allies are more likely to come to a junior partner's aid if the junior partner has paid collective self-defence 'dues'. But this kind of moral entrapment seldom works. Tokyo would be unwise to assume that America will be so grateful for Japanese military support that they would feel obliged to come to fight China on Japan's behalf when America's own interests did not require them to do so. 

This suggests that collective self-defence as the junior partner in a US-Japan alliance will not solve Japan's strategic problems. Of course there may be a different model of collective self-defence in mind. Perhaps Tokyo intends that collective self-defence will allow it to join, and perhaps even to lead, a wider regional coalition or alliance to resist China's growing power. But that would not do much to make Japan more secure either.

In the end, Japan's best prospect for security in the Asian century is to build the forces it needs to defend itself without relying on others, and without threatening others. This is perfectly possible for Japan economically and militarily, but it would be a big step politically, and would require much better diplomacy than we have seen from Mr Abe so far. 

Photo by Flickr user JBLM PAO.

Indo-Pacific security links: Collective self-defence, South China Sea, Vietnam protests and more

The Indo-Pacific is a strategic system encompassing the Indian and Pacific oceans, reflecting the expanding interests and reach of China and India as well as the enduring role of the US. The Lowy Institute's International Security program presents a weekly selection of links illuminating the changing security picture in this increasingly connected super-region.

They were disorganised, chaotic, did not express a clear foreign policy viewpoint and began aggressively rather than morphing from peaceful expressions. Most important, in Binh Duong, the damage was far worse for non-Chinese operations, limiting any potential signal it might have sent to Chinese authorities. As a result, a number of analysts have point out that the violence in the southern industrial zones may have been more about labour dissatisfaction and economic inequality than the Paracels.

The Lowy Institute International Security Program's work on Indo-Pacific security is supported by two grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Beijing's new map: South China Sea rivals respond

Far from calming the troubled waters of the western Pacific, President Obama's latest visit to Asia seems to have instead encouraged China to more aggressively pursue its territorial claims. We may have entered a new stage of Chinese territorial assertiveness

Emphasising intimidation over calibrated accommodation, China has upgraded its 'small stick diplomacy' by pursuing a more assertive territorial strategy, combining expanded para-military patrols with accelerated reclamation activities and the dispatch of state of the art deep-water oil rigs into neighbouring states' exclusive economic zones (EEZs). 

After years of patient, high-level negotiations with Beijing, Vietnam is now grappling with an upsurge in its territorial disputes with China. After its decision to dispatch HYSY981 deep into Vietnam's EEZ, China has upped the ante by dispatching more oil rigs into contested waters and prohibiting state-owned companies from bidding for new projects in Vietnam. During his crucial visit to Hanoi, supposedly to de-escalate bilateral tensions, Yang Jiechie, a former foreign minister and among China's most-respected diplomats, ended up scolding his hosts for 'hyping' the maritime disputes.

Cognisant of Washington's unwillingness to provide categorical military support to the Philippines if a war were to erupt over contested features in the South China Sea, China has openly admitted to have been engaged in construction activities in the Spratly chain of islands, a clear violation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DoC), which discourages claimants from unilaterally altering the status quo. 

By artificially converting rudimentary features into islands, China aims to consolidate its legal claims by establishing effective sovereignty over the area while also building a network of airstrips and military garrisons to support any prospective Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea. In an explicit demonstration of its hardening territorial stance, China has also unveiled a new map which unabashedly reflects Beijing's maximalist interpretation of its territorial claims.

The new map is worrying on two levels. First, it signals China's treatment of its territorial claims in the area as a 'core interest', since most features in the South China Sea are depicted as integral elements of the country's territorial limits. Second, the map taps into an upsurge of popular nationalism in the country, with the Chinese authorities intent on 'promoting citizens' better understanding of...maintaining (China's) maritime rights and territorial integrity.' The strategic implication is clear: China will prove increasingly inflexible in openly compromising on its territorial disputes in the western Pacific.

The alarming deterioration in the maritime disputes has even encouraged the ever-cautious Singapore to speak out against China, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong calling for a rule-based resolution of the disputes, implicitly decrying China's 'might is right' approach to settling its maritime claims. 

Left with shrinking strategic options, the Philippines and Vietnam have embraced Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's vision of a more pro-active Japanese policy in the region. Since his return to power in late-2012, Abe has tirelessly sought to deepen Tokyo's strategic footprint in Southeast Asia, presenting his country as a counterweight to China and offering up to US$20 billion in economic incentives to the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Through the doctrine of 'Abenomics', he has also sought to end Japan's decades-long economic stagnation in order to support a more robust Japanese foreign policy.

Faced with significant domestic opposition to the proposed amendment of the Japanese pacifist constitution, the Abe administration has instead pushed for a 'reinterpretation' of Tokyo's defence obligations. The ultimate aim is to allow Japanese Self Defence Forces to play a direct role in securing sea lines of communication and aiding security allies if an armed conflict erupts in international waters, particularly in the South China Sea. The US and the Philippines have welcomed Abe's efforts to upgrade Japan's defence policy, with Philippine President Benigno Aquino enthusiastically endorsing a larger Japanese military role in Asia.

China's growing assertiveness has enhanced its position in the South China Sea, but at the expense of empowering a historical rival, Japan, which is pursuing a new leadership role in the region.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Indo-Pacific security links: RIMPAC, China's influence, Indian Ocean, India's nukes and more

The Indo-Pacific is a strategic system encompassing the Indian and Pacific oceans, reflecting the expanding interests and reach of China and India as well as the enduring role of the US. The Lowy Institute's International Security program presents a weekly selection of links illuminating the changing security picture in this increasingly connected super-region.

The Lowy Institute International Security Program's work on Indo-Pacific security is supported by two grants from the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation.

Indo-Pacific security links: South China Sea, China in South Asia, Indonesia, MH370 and more

The Indo-Pacific is a strategic system encompassing the Indian and Pacific oceans, reflecting the expanding interests and reach of China and India as well as the enduring role of the US. The Lowy Institute's International Security program presents a weekly selection of links illuminating the changing security picture in this increasingly connected super-region.

The Lowy Institute International Security program's work on Indo-Pacific security is supported by two grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Indo-Pacific security links: South China Sea, Modi, hotline with China, Japan rising and more

The Indo-Pacific is a strategic system encompassing the Indian and Pacific oceans, reflecting the expanding interests and reach of China and India as well as the enduring role of the US. The Lowy Institute's International Security program presents a weekly selection of links illuminating the changing security picture in this increasingly connected super-region.

The Lowy Institute International Security Program's work on Indo-Pacific security is supported by two grants from the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation.

India links: Election special, part 3

Modi speaks to these young men in a way nothing in their lives ever has. He speaks of an India where there is no unemployment, which some of them believe is already banished from Gujarat. He speaks of an India which is so intimidating that China and Pakistan will not dare cross it; and they believe that, if Modi can face down the media, he would terrify the People's Republic. He speaks of an India that does not feel the desire to visit America, because Americans will wish to come here. He sold these dreams, and they were bought.

Why India should make Indonesia a priority

The BJP has swept to power in India, winning enough seats in India's lower house of parliament to form government on its own if it wished. Although foreign policy won't be a pressing priority for the new government, such a decisive mandate will empower the BJP to pursue a foreign policy agenda untempered by the interests of coalition partners. India's relationship with Indonesia is one which Prime Minister-elect Modi should focus on deepening early in his tenure.

As I've written previously, this election campaign focused on domestic issues of economic growth, governance and corruption, and much is still unknown about Modi's foreign policy plans.

However, the BJP has signaled its intention to pursue a more ambitious foreign and security policy agenda, focusing on building webs of alliances to further India's national interests and increase engagement with multilateral organisations such as ASEAN. Focusing on building partnerships with Southeast Asia may present a valuable path to realise both Modi's domestic and international objectives.

In doing so, Indonesia stands out as a natural partner for India. New Delhi and Jakarta have a long post-independence history of engagement, initially brought about by cooperation in the Cold War-era Non-Aligned Movement. Deepening this engagement would reinforce the strategic evolution of India's Look East policy, not least through building partnerships in the Pacific to counter China's influence.

Importantly, increasing India's engagement with Indonesia would be a smart move for Mr Modi from a domestic political perspective. Championing ties with the world's largest Islamic nation would do much to bolster Modi's secular credentials and neutralise concerns over his perceived anti-Muslim leanings.

India's change in government also presents opportunities for Australia. Creative trilateral security arrangements between India, Indonesia and Australia would serve the strategic interests of all three states, particularly with regards to shared maritime security concerns. Australia has had its fair share of setbacks recently in relations with Indonesia, and the Abbott Government should embrace the opportunity to engage with Indonesia in this fresh multilateral context.

Indonesia is India's second-largest trading partner within ASEAN, increasing in trade volume from US$6.9 billion in 2007-08 to US$20.1 billion in 2012-13, with a target of US$45 billion by 2015. While this number pales in comparison to the $100 billion target set for China-India trade by 2015, the potential to grow the relationship remains strong.

Moreover, an agreement negotiated under the previous Congress-led government to hold annual summits between the two nations lays the groundwork to pursue an expanded strategic partnership. The agreement itself demonstrates the increasing importance of India-Indonesia strategic ties, and represents a level of Indian diplomatic energy otherwise afforded only to long-standing partners Russia and Japan. Shared maritime security concerns in the Indo-Pacific will create scope to build on the previous government's commitment to enhanced defence ties, and India's new government should particularly focus on doing so in the naval domain.

The introduction of fresh leadership in both New Delhi and Jakarta (following Indonesia's July presidential elections) will provide opportunities for both nations to reinvigorate strategic ties. In light of the domestic and international political incentives, Mr Modi would be wise to make this relationship a priority in the coming months.

Manmohan Singh's legacy (part 2): Foreign policy

This is the second of a two-part post on Manmohan Singh's legacy. Part 1 is here.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has sent farewell letters to a selection of world leaders ahead of leaving office this month. The recipients of these letters will probably be taking a much kinder view of Singh's time in office than the Indian public seems to have done

The election campaign saw the Prime Minister subject to a degree of criticism that The Economist, for one, thinks rather cruel. The former academic and steward of India's economic reforms in the 1990s was disparaged early in the campaign by the opposition BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. Among the BJP's charges was that Singh's handling of the economy was poor, resulting in slow growth and high inflation, a tricky economic combination to resolve.

But in a twist that comes straight from Machiavelli's playbook, Singh also received some harsh criticism from his own party. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance seemed to be trying to shield its candidate, Rahul Gandhi, from responsibility for the party's lackluster showing by heaping scorn on Singh. Though 'Rahul Gandhi was never in the government' is hardly an edifying slogan to round out the campaign, the charge that Singh has failed to communicate his government's achievements to the public throughout his time in office certainly has a grain of truth.

Adding to the sense that the UPA has descended into internal bickering (confirmed by the Congress Party's worst-ever showing in the national election) is the publication of a tell-all book called The Accidental Prime Minister by Singh's former media advisor Sanjay Baru, who paints a picture of a weak-willed prime minister following a political agenda set almost entirely by Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi. Baru claims he is a supporter of Singh and that his book is intended to burnish Singh's legacy. But among Baru's claims is that Singh 'weakened the office of the prime minister' to the point of bringing down the dignity of the office itself, a clear overstatement. The book's ambiguous tone (one commentator said Baru's claims have multiple 'readings,' which is a strange idea in the genre of political biography) has simply encouraged the Indian media to dissect just how far Singh's time in office has set India back. 

But when the dust of the election settles, Singh's record will no doubt be looked on more kindly in his homeland, and foreign policy is one area where Singh's decade in office been quite successful.

He has overseen stable relations with Pakistan, despite Pakistan's reluctance to address Islamist terrorism, most notably in the wake of the 2008 attacks on Mumbai. At his farewell press conference on 3 January, Singh confirmed that he had come close to a peace deal on the Kashmir dispute before the departure of Pervez Musharraf in 2008. During a decade in which Pakistan has had moments of worrying political instability, Singh showed steady nerves and an ability to keep communication channels open. The BJP, which called on Singh to consider military action against Pakistan after the Mumbai attacks, appeals to its base by talking tough on Pakistan. Yet the Kashmir near-deal shows that Singh's softer approach offered the best chance for building trust and promoting the long term security of the subcontinent as a whole. 

Back to those farewell letters: one of the key dispatches was to the former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, who immediately sent a hand-written reply praising Singh's role in deepening the bilateral relationship.

Sino-Indian relations have been in a phase of trust building, particularly in recent years, albeit with intermittent setbacks on the disputed border. On a visit to China last year Singh issued a joint statement on a strategic and cooperative partnership that included calls to resolve the border issue, pursue defence exchanges and cultivate enhanced economic ties. The Sino-Indian Border Defense Cooperation Agreement, also finalised during the visit, will in theory minimise the chances of conflict arising from unexpected movements in the contested areas. All this is framed by booming economic ties that have seen bilateral trade grow by a factor of 67 between 1998 and 2012. The BJP talks tough on China, but once again, Singh's diplomatic skill and flexibility has left India in a favourable position, and his example should be emulated by the BJP. 

Another move that showcases Singh's capacity as a negotiator and his commitment to signaling India's peaceful rise was the Civil Nuclear Agreement with the US, finalised in 2008.

The agreement brought India partially into the global regime to regulate nuclear technology by committing its civilian nuclear facilities to International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. India has always sought prestige as well as deterrence through its nuclear weapons program, and gaining its exceptional status under the agreement supports that end. To be sure, the deal has not rapidly or radically transformed the Indo-US bilateral relationship. The expected economic benefits have been slow to materialise, and there has been no dramatic shift in India's declared strategic policy. But as Yogesh Joshi argues, on both counts the deal has been the foundation for slow and steady gains, and the level of foreign policy cooperation between India and the US today is unprecedented. This has happened without compromising Indian trust building with Pakistan and China.

Though Singh does not seem like the kind of politician in a rush to write a memoir, he would have some important foreign policy lessons to share.  

Photo by Flickr user US Embassy New Delhi.

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