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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"

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.

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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 »