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Asia Unbound

CFR experts give their take on the cutting-edge issues emerging in Asia today.

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Showing posts for "Arms sales"

Review: ‘A Contest for Supremacy’ by Aaron Friedberg

by Joshua Kurlantzick
In ‘A Contest for Supremacy,’ Aaron Friedberg portrays the United States and China as almost fated to wind up in conflict, and suggests Beijing is already lapping Washington in preparing for such a fight (Aly Song/Courtesy Reuters). In ‘A Contest for Supremacy,’ Aaron Friedberg portrays the United States and China as almost fated to wind up in conflict, and suggests Beijing is already lapping Washington in preparing for such a fight (Aly Song/Courtesy Reuters).

In the spring of 2010, after years of relative quiet in the South China Sea —the strategic body of water separating southeastern China from Southeast Asia, and including regions disputed by at least five claimants including China, Vietnam and the Philippines, tensions suddenly seemed to explode. Beijing announced that the Sea was a “core interest,” putting it in the highest pantheon of Chinese policy issues, alongside Tibet and Taiwan, on which China brooks no interference; China also increasingly pushed its claim that it controlled the territorial waters of nearly the entire South China Sea. It had warned other countries not to explore for oil and gas in the Sea, and had warned Western multinationals as well. Chinese ships would cut the lines of other countries’ fishing vessels operating in the Sea, while nationalist Chinese publications warned that other countries claiming even tiny portions of the water would lead to war. Read more »

Is It Time for America to Harden Its Asian Alliances?

by Elizabeth C. Economy
Chinese fighter jets take part in an international fleet review to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army Navy in Qingdao, Shandong province on April 23, 2009.

Chinese fighter jets take part in an international fleet review to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army Navy in Qingdao, Shandong province on April 23, 2009. (Guang Niu/Courtesy of Reuters)

Anyone who needs convincing that China’s military trajectory is cause for alarm should take a look at “Asian Alliances in the 21st Century,” a new report co-authored by several well-known Asia security experts, including Dan Blumenthal, Randall Schriver, Mark Stokes, L.C. Russell Hsiao and Michael Mazza. The report details the rapid modernization of China’s military capabilities and claims that Beijing is interested neither in benign hegemonic rule nor in helping Washington address global challenges. Rather, China’s leaders are ultimately concerned only with maintaining their power and expanding their maritime reach.

The thrust of the report has merit. China’s assertiveness in the East and South China Seas, as well as its increasingly unattractive foreign policy rhetoric, gives significant reason for concern and little reason for optimism about China’s real interest in strengthening regional security cooperation in the near term.

There are no shades of gray in the report, however, and the lack of nuance can be disconcerting. Oddly enough, it may even lead the authors to be a bit too optimistic. In the “what do we do about it” section, for example, the report calls for a far more deeply integrated U.S.-led alliance system in Asia.  This proposal, however, raises a few additional issues that the report does not fully address. Read more »

What Will Vice President Biden Find in China?

by Elizabeth C. Economy

Then-U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden at the Great Wall of China at Badaling, north of Beijing, on August 10, 2001.

Next week Vice President Biden heads to China for a round of talks with the country’s current and future leaders. Certainly it is not the easiest time for the vice president to make such a trip. Few things have been as dispiriting as the terrible heat waves the United States has endured this summer, except perhaps the state of American politics. Our president seems lost, the Democrats marginalized and voiceless, and the Republicans an ugly house divided.

So, in the midst of this U.S. political and economic funk, what is the reception likely to be in Beijing? What is on the mind of Chinese observers and media analysts? Are they similarly bearish on the United States? Were all the predictions of a serious loss in U.S. international prestige on target?

Here is what I found: Read more »

New Delhi Buys a Plane, Not a Defense Relationship

by Evan A. Feigenbaum

Cadets march during celebrations to mark the combined graduation parade for the flight cadets of the Indian Air Force at Dundigal. (Courtesy Reuters/Krishnendu Halder).

Defense is widely viewed in U.S. strategic circles as a pivotal sector for future U.S.-India cooperation. And at more than $10 billion, India’s procurement of 126 new multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA) is among the world’s richest pending weapons purchases.  So by shortlisting two European competitors and passing on two U.S. bids, New Delhi has chosen a plane but, I fear, tapped the brakes on broadened security ties with Washington.

My good friend, Dan Twining, has an optimistic take on this over at Foreign  And since Dan and I are true believers in the U.S.-India partnership, I hope he’s right.  After all, the strategic rationale for closer U.S.-India ties transcends an airplane and very much remains.

But I fear the decision will dampen enthusiasm for India among powerful U.S. political and industrial lobbies.  And I fear it will raise questions for others about the scope of U.S.-India strategic cooperation.  Indeed, that’s true even in India.  Take Sanjaya Baru, my editor at the Business Standard and former media advisor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.  Sanjaya has made this argument from the Indian end:  “The decision to make India’s choice of fighter jet a technical one,” he argues in his biweekly column, “was political.” And, he muses, the story says something important about the future trajectory of U.S.-India security ties.

Common interests will, of course, sustain the relationship, but skeptical voices will become more prominent in both capitals and the pace of big-ticket bilateral initiatives could slow.  That would be a shame.

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Asia’s Unstable States Worry their Neighbors

by Joshua Kurlantzick

Chinese soldiers, invited by Mexico's Defense Ministry, take part in a military parade in culmination of bicentennial celebrations in Mexico City

In this week’s edition of Newsweek international, I have an article on the increasing military spending of many nations in Asia, which dates back to around 2005. In some regions, like Southeast Asia, spending is up nearly one hundred percent over the past five years. In significant part, this rise in military spending is due to Asian democracies’ fears of the region’s most unstable states, where military leaders are becoming ever more powerful.

(Photo: Eliana Aponte/courtesy Reuters)

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The Southeast Asian Arms Race

by Joshua Kurlantzick

Malaysia's first submarine, "KD Tunku Abdul Rahman", docks in Port Klang outside Kuala Lumpur

As I will explain in an upcoming Newsweek piece (I will post once it’s out), over the past five years Southeast Asia has been the center of an intense arms race, which has largely gone under the radar of most outside policy-makers. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the amount spent on weapons purchases in Southeast Asia nearly doubled between 2005 and 2009 alone, with Vietnam recently paying $2.4 billion for Russian submarines and jetfighters designed for attacking ships. Other recent buyers have included Malaysia, which recently spent nearly $1 billion on new submarines of its own, and Thailand, which has drawn up its own shopping list of submarines and more advanced jet fighters, while Indonesia and Singapore also have announced recent sizable arms purchases.

This arms race has proceeded despite the fact that most Southeast Asian nations have no obvious near enemies and, if they are involved in conflicts, they tend to be local insurgencies like the conflict in Papua, the southern Philippines, or southern Thailand – hardly battles that require the kind of sophisticated air, sea and missile weaponry that states are buying up. To be sure, there are lingering historical tensions between countries like Thailand and Cambodia or Thailand and Burma, which itself has bought a sizable amount of Chinese and Russian weaponry, but these are unlikely to explode into hot war. The real answer, then, is that countries like Vietnam and Malaysia are arming up to send a signal to a rising China that they will continue to protect their strategic interests and their claims to energy resources in areas like the South China Sea, the Mekong basin, and other regions. And though China has not deviated from its increasingly aggressive approach to Southeast Asia, these arms figures should give it pause.

Read more »

The U.S. and China Have at it Again; but it’s much ado about nothing

by Elizabeth C. Economy

Everyone is in a tizzy over the supposed downturn in U.S.-China relations. (See here, here, and here.) The rhetoric is heating up on both sides, and new issues of contention appear to pop up daily. Our disputes over Copenhagen, Google, Taiwan arms sales, the Dalai Lama and Iran are all front page headlines. Are we indeed headed for an open rift in the relationship that could imperil future cooperation on a range of important, pressing global matters? Read more »

The China Factor in Southeast Asia’s Arms Spree

by Joshua Kurlantzick

On the surface, Southeast Asia in 2010 appears relatively peaceful. The saber-rattling between Thailand and Cambodia over a disputed border temple appears to be dying down, and internal conflicts in Papua and southern Thailand, though hardly dormant, have at least seen the level of bloodshed decrease over the past year. Yet as highlighted in a long article Thursday in the Financial Times, many Southeast Asian nations have gone on arms-buying sprees. Vietnam last year bought new submarines and fighter jets from Russia, which has re-emerged as a major arms seller in the region. Thailand recently bought its own new stock of fighter jets, from Sweden. Burma’s junta plans to buy a new round of fighters and attack helicopters from Russia. Read more »