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Foreign policy Defense Regional Stability

Indonesia and the Next Defence White Paper

Australian national flag
Australian national flag during sunset close to Halmahera Island, Indonesia. Photo: Australian Department of Defence/flickr.

The Abbott government has promised to write a new Defence White Paper within 18 months, and one of the key challenges it will face is considering the place of Indonesia in Australian defence thinking. As the fear of a direct Indonesian threat retreats into the past, it is being replaced by a view of Indonesia as a potential ‘buffer’ separating Australia from the vagaries of the East Asian system. But when the new government considers Australia’s defence options in the next century, it’d do well to remember that Indonesia gets a vote in the role it plays in defending Australia.

Historically, Indonesia has comprised an important, though unclear, element in Australia’s strategic environment. When Australia looks at its neighbourhood in isolation, Indonesia’s proximity and strategic potential makes it appear as a liability. But if the lens is widened to encompass the entire Asia-Pacific strategic system, a strong Indonesia looks more like an asset. During the Cold War Australia’s security concerns about Indonesia revolved around threats associated with Konfrontasi, communism and state collapse, with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Sukarno regime menacing briefly in 1965. But as early as the 1970s, Defence was also conducting studies of possible regional contingencies which involved Indonesia as an ally in achieving regional security. So recognition of our mutual strategic interests coexisted with security concerns about Indonesia.

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Government Economy Regional Stability

Disgruntled Democracies

Yo Soy 132, courtesy of Micheal Fleshman /flickr

MEXICO CITY – In 2011 and 2012, tens of thousands of students demonstrated in Santiago, Chile, demanding greater access to higher education. Earlier this year, hundreds of thousands of Brazilians marched in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Belo Horizonte, calling for improved public-health services, better schools, and cheaper, more efficient public transport. And Colombians and Peruvians from all walks of life (especially peasants, farm owners, and mineworkers), as well as Mexican school teachers, now occupy the centers of Bogotá, Lima, and Mexico City, disrupting inhabitants’ daily lives and creating serious problems for the authorities.

These countries, once models of economic hope and democratic promise in Latin America, have become examples of democracies without legitimacy or credibility. Although they have made significant social progress in recent years, they have become centers of popular unrest. And their presidents, despite their undeniable competence, are watching their approval ratings plummet.

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International Relations Security Regional Stability

From San Francisco to the South China Sea

Chinese Navy ship arrives in Pearl Harbor, September 2006, courtesy of US Navy/Wikimedia Commons

OSAKA – Territorial and maritime disputes among China, Taiwan, and several Southeast Asian countries are roiling the South China Sea region, with little prospect of resolution anytime soon. But the current uneasy status quo may be tenable, so long as the parties embrace serious confidence-building measures through multilateral forums while maintaining effective deterrence vis-à-vis China and a commitment not to use offensive force.

Naturally, China is eager to exclude interference by extra-regional great powers, particularly the United States, preferring bilateral negotiations with weaker regional claimants that it can more easily dominate. Extra-regional powers, however, cite the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea – specifically, the freedom of navigation and the right of innocent passage – to justify their involvement.

Given that the South China Sea disputes stem from overlapping claims to “exclusive economic zones,” not open ocean, the UN convention is not entirely relevant. But another international agreement does provide some guidance for settling these disputes: the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which entered into force in 1952 and officially ended World War II in the Asia-Pacific region.

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International Relations Foreign policy Regional Stability

China’s Strategic Foothold in the Indian Ocean

Political Bureau member of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Mr. Liu Yunshan with President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the President’s House. Source: Flickr, Sudath Silva

Since the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in 2009, China has not only emerged as the main strategic actor in Sri Lanka, it has also replicated a familiar set of development and partnership strategies in the process. For instance, in 2012 Chinese companies completed the construction of a deep water port at Hambantola at an estimated cost of $450 million. More recently, the Sri Lankan Port authority announced a Chinese-backed $1.4 billion deal for the reclamation of 568 acres of land and construction of a new port near Colombo. Accordingly, China’s growing involvement in the Sri Lankan maritime sector is starting to bear all the hallmarks of its development of the Pakistani port of Qwadar. Currently managed by China Overseas Port Holdings, the port stands at the east entrance of the Straits of Hormuz and is set to be linked by road, rail and pipeline infrastructure to the resource-rich Chinese province of Xinjiang.

Like the Qwadar-Xinjiang Development Corridor project, China also views its growing interests in Sri Lanka as a geopolitical game changer. Chinese strategists have long feared that adversaries could close the Straits of Malacca in the event of conflict, thereby starving China of energy supplies and other strategic imports. In this respect, maritime facilities located on the island potentially allow Beijing to exert greater influence over the Straits. Yet, this has not gone unnoticed by South Asia’s traditional maritime and regional power India, which is also worried about the growing military partnership between China and Sri Lanka.

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Foreign policy Defense Regional Stability

Asia’s Game Without Frontiers

Chinese and Pakistan border guards at Khunjerab Pass, Karakoram Highway. Source: A. Maw / Wikimedia Commons

NEW DELHI – Nowadays, many people seem to be more relaxed than ever about nationality, with the Internet enabling them to forge close connections with distant cultures and people. But states remain extremely sensitive about their borders’ inviolability. After all, territory – including land, oceans, air space, rivers, and seabeds – is central to a country’s identity, and shapes its security and foreign policy.

States can respond to territorial disputes either by surrendering some aspects of sovereignty, thus weakening their power and influence, or by adopting a more robust national-defense strategy aimed at fending off current challenges and precluding future threats. Today, many Asian countries are choosing the latter option.

Consider the territorial disputes roiling the Indian Ocean and other East Asian regions, sparked by China’s repeated – and increasingly assertive – efforts to claim sovereignty over vast maritime areas. As China’s incursions reignite long-smoldering disagreements and threaten to destabilize the regional status quo, countries throughout Asia are reconsidering their strategic positions.