Last week, almost unnoticed amidst the coverage of Typhoon Haiyan, House Armed Services Committee leaders met quietly with the ambassadors of six Pacific nations — including the Philippines — an unprecedented gathering of top diplomats on Capitol Hill. HASC Seapower subcommittee chairman and occasional BreakingDefense contributor Randy Forbes (R-Va.) made clear in an interview that… Keep reading →
UPDATED: Navy Activates Hospital Ship USNS Mercy WASHINGTON: The US military’s relief effort for the typhoon-ravaged Philippines is ramping up, with four more V-22s on the way from Japan, the USS George Washington carrier group due any time, the amphibious ships Germantown and Ashland en route, and the intelligence community providing highly detailed geolocation data —… Keep reading →
PENTAGON: If there were ever any doubts about the strength of the American commitment to the Philippines, they can be laid to rest by the substantial and growing military rescue forces heading into that beleaguered island state. “The Philippines is a treaty ally and the United States stands by its friends and allies in time… Keep reading →
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WASHINGTON: From this city’s perspective, China looks like a rising giant, liable to dominate its smaller neighbors unless America stands firm. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will likely carry soothing words of reassurance on this very subject to Seoul and Tokyo when he travels there next week. From Beijing’s point of view, however, it is China… Keep reading →
WASHINGTON: Why has China, after a decade of “good neighbor” policies, engaged in high-profile high-seas standoffs with the Philippines and Japan? What is Beijing’s strategic purpose? The most dovish analysts say that China is simply trying, albeit clumsily, to reassert what it considers its rights — its historical rights to territories China once controlled before… Keep reading →
WASHINGTON: The January grounding of the minesweeper USS Guardian in a Philippine coral reef was caused in large part by a National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) map that was, quite simply, wrong by eight nautical miles, Breaking Defense has learned. “It really was just a terrible fluke that caused the error,” NGA spokeswoman Christine Phillips said… Keep reading →
“Obviously from our perspective in the United States, China seems to be the overriding concern because of economic and military issues,” Rep. Randy Forbes told me before the session started at the annual forum of the conservative Foreign Policy Initiative. [Click here for more from Rep. Forbes on looming cuts in US defense spending]. “This [event] gives us a great opportunity to look at that pivot not just through our eyes but also through the eyes of some of our allies and friends and strategic partners.”
So Forbes’ first question to the assembled diplomats was what the US should be thinking about besides China.
“You are absolutely right not to simply focus on China,” declared Australian Ambassador Kim Beazley. “We are now witnessing globally the simultaneous rise of a dozen major powers – the rapid rise of a dozen major powers — in a set of circumstances where issues between them are not resolved.
“In the Southeast Asian area in particular, there are almost no settled boundaries, almost none,” Beazley went on. “There is no arbiter, there is no guarantor [of a peaceful resolution]. That’s where the U.S. comes in.”
But historically, while the US has been intensely engaged with its long-time allies in Northeast Asia — Japan, South Korea, and (de facto) Taiwan — and even with China itself, said Beazley, “you dropped the ball in Southeast Asia after Vietnam.” That’s more than four decades of neglect to make up for.
By contrast, India, for example, has literally centuries of involvement and investment in Southeast Asia. “We have six million people of Indian origin who live in the Asia-Pacific region,” said Indian Ambassador Nirupama Rao, “three million such people in Burma/Myanmar alone” — 50 percent — “and two million in Malaysia.” What Rao did not say is that the actual size of the Hindu Indian minority in Muslim-dominated Malysia is in fact a bitterly controversial question in regional politics, one of the many sources of tension which Americans tend to overlook.
Even in terms of security narrowly defined, India worries much more about Pakistan-based “militants” like Lashkar-i-Taiba — which Amb. Rao was at pains to link with America’s prime enemies, the Taliban and al-Qaeda — than about China. Yes, Rao admitted, the two countries fought a border war in 1962, and China to this day issues passports and other official documents claiming the disputed territory as its own; on that matter, she acknowledged, “there is no common ground.” But over 50 years, she went on, “we have built a relationship in which we’ve been able to manage our differences in a very rational and grown-up way.”
“China is a neighbor of India’s,” said Rao. “We need a very peaceful and stable neighborhood.”
“We are not looking at isolating China,” the Indian Ambassador emphasized, in an implicit rebuke to American hawks who see New Delhi as a counterweight to Beijing, part of an effort to contain the Middle Kingdom. To the contrary, she said, “we see the need to develop more and more habits of cooperation with China. When it comes to a security architecture for the Asia-Pacific, we also believe it must be open and inclusive and rule-based.” In other words, India won’t be part of any US-led security arrangement that leaves China out.
That no-containment message was echoed even by the panel’s representative from the Philippines, whose US-provided flagship engaged in a tense standoff with Chinese vessels this summer over the disputed Scarborough Shoal. While the former U.S. colony has both increased defense spending and refocused its armed forces from internal security to international conflicts, it’s “not to contain any other power,” said Maria Austria, their deputy chief of mission. “We’d like to disabuse [everyone] of the idea that [we are] strengthening alliances to box out or contain any other power.”
The Philippines do want the U.S. to help ensure “the peaceful settlement of disputes… in the South China — in the West Philippine Sea,” Austria said, hastily switching to Manila’s preferred term for the disputed waters. But the Philippines have many other security concerns as well, she emphasized; nor are they limited to the Pacific. Most notably, Austria, said, “there are close to a 100 Filipino seafarers still in the hands of Somali pirates.”
So if America wants its Asia-Pacific partners’ continuing support, it needs to engage with them on their own terms and about all their interests, not with the narrow aim of recruiting them for a new Cold War against Beijing. That’s true even of longtime treaty allies like Australia, whose economy depends heavily on exports of iron, oil, and gas to China. It’s true of Singapore, which will allow the US Navy to operate regularly out of (but not be permanently based in) its harbors. It’s even more true of “non-aligned” India.
“We have had a history of some distancing [between the US and India]. In the last decade or so the relationship has improved,” said Amb. Rao. Today, “There are no limits to this relationship — but I see this as a gradually evolving process. In India, we have to do things our way.”
That caveat clearly holds true for other US partners as well.
Edited 11/29 1:35 pm Keep reading →
While the administration’s strategic “pivot” or “rebalancing” to the Pacific is framed by some as Cold War II, top military leaders have made clear in recent statements just how eager they are to avoid a clash with China. Just look at the picture (above) of the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, said Pacific Air Forces commander Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, speaking Tuesday at the Air Force Association‘s annual conference. Keep reading →