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Defense & Security
Shenzhen, Guangdong, China - Apr 27 2023: A China Coast Guard boat is cruising on the sea.

Philippines: Calming Tensions in the South China Sea

by International Crisis Group

“This article was originally published here by the International Crisis Group”Tensions between China and the Philippines are increasing the risk of armed conflict in the South China Sea. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2024 – Spring Update, Crisis Group looks at how the EU can support regional diplomacy to mitigate maritime disputes. Rising maritime tensions between China and the Philippines have highlighted the risk of armed conflict in the South China Sea and the dangers it would pose to global trade. Several countries are implicated in the set of complex sovereignty disputes in the sea, which stem from rival claims to various features and the maritime entitlements they generate, but recent incidents involving Beijing and Manila have triggered the greatest concern. The Philippines controls nine outposts in the Spratlys, a contested group of land and maritime features at the heart of the South China Sea. A submerged reef known as Second Thomas Shoal has become a dangerous flashpoint, with Chinese boats continually trying to block Manila’s efforts to resupply the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting ship housing a handful of soldiers that a former Philippine government purposely grounded in 1999 in a bid to assert sovereignty over the atoll. China, which also claims the shoal, first started interfering with these missions in 2014, but relations between the two countries in the maritime domain have never been as volatile as during the last seven months. Chinese boats have regularly rammed the Philippine supply vessels or doused them with water cannons, occasionally wounding the sailors on board. Manila has a Mutual Defence Treaty with Washington, making this burgeoning maritime dispute part of the geopolitical competition between the U.S and China. In effect, the South China Sea has become a zone where conflict risks are rife – and where Washington and Beijing could be drawn into direct confrontation. Considering these developments, the EU and its member states should: • Seek greater diplomatic engagement with both Beijing and Manila to keep tensions in check. They should also expand their diplomatic presence across South East Asia and, where relevant, establish reliable channels through which they could communicate with high-level authorities in China and other claimant states should disputes at sea escalate; • Work to promote respect for international law, particularly the law of the sea, as a source of neutral rules for dispute resolution and conflict prevention, for example by organising public events, roundtables and dialogues in Manila and elsewhere. While this measure may not bridge the divides between Manila and Beijing, it could at least help establish a level of mutual support and understanding among the other South China Sea claimant states; and • Strengthen coast guard cooperation with the Philippines, focusing on building capacity in areas such as environmental protection, safety and search-and-rescue procedures. Troubled Waters The sovereignty disputes that underpin the tensions between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea go back decades. But it was Beijing’s manoeuvres to take control of Mischief Reef (in the east of the Spratlys) from Manila in 1995 that altered the perceived balance of power between the two states and in the region, setting off the territorial dispute that has now taken a turn for the worse. China’s assertiveness in the sea has grown in the past few years, along with its military capabilities. The brewing territorial dispute made headlines in 2012 when Beijing in effect took control of Scarborough Shoal, an atoll 220km west of the Philippine mainland but within Manila’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), after a maritime altercation. The incident prompted then-President Benigno Aquino to file a case challenging China’s territorial claims under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). On 12 July 2016, the presiding arbitral tribunal ruled in favour of Manila, dismissing China’s claim to all the waters within its “nine-dash line”, which constitute almost the entire South China Sea. But it was a Pyrrhic victory. Beijing not only rejected the adjudication and the subsequent ruling, but it had also already undercut efforts to settle the dispute through legal channels by building and fortifying seven artificial islands in the Spratlys while the case was winding its way through the system. This move fundamentally changed the status quo, enabling Beijing to post permanent garrisons in the area for the first time. By many accounts, China has thus ensured itself control of the sea in any situation below the threshold of armed conflict. A short lull in the maritime dispute appeared to follow. After coming to power in 2016, Aquino’s successor, Rodrigo Duterte, pursued a pragmatic policy toward Beijing. Duterte downplayed the tribunal’s decision and cast sovereignty issues aside, hoping to benefit from Beijing’s economic largesse in exchange. Yet his ambitious gambit did not pay off. Tensions at sea continued in the form of regular standoffs between the country’s coast guard and Chinese vessels. Filipino fisherfolk struggled to reach their traditional fishing grounds, and Manila could not exploit the precious oil and gas reserves within its EEZ to which it is entitled under international law. In March 2021, Chinese ships massed around Whitsun Reef, an unoccupied feature in the sea, ringing alarm bells in Manila, where senior officials voiced public criticism of China’s behaviour for the first time in years. By the end of the Duterte administration, the Philippines had revived its ties with the U.S. and become more assertive still, filing several diplomatic protests with the Chinese government. Elected in 2022, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., Duterte’s successor, was initially disposed toward friendly relations with Beijing, but the relationship soured only a few months into his presidency. Although China remains the Philippines’ top trading partner, Marcos, Jr.’s meetings with President Xi Jinping did not achieve the desired results: Beijing neither agreed to make major new investments nor curtailed its “grey zone” tactics in the South China Sea, understood as coercive actions that remain below the threshold of armed conflict. These rebuffs have helped push Marcos, Jr. toward strengthening ties with Washington, and the Biden administration has, on several occasions, publicly committed that the countries’ Mutual Defence Treaty would be deemed triggered in the event of an armed attack on Philippine warships, aircraft or public vessels. In perhaps the most significant recent development, after a series of high-level visits by U.S. officials to Manila, the two countries agreed to scale up implementation of their Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which gives U.S. troops rotational expanded access to Philippine military bases, and which China perceives as a provocation, especially given these bases’ proximity not just to the South China Sea but also to Taiwan. Manila has also received defence and diplomatic support from a host of other countries, particularly Japan and Australia. Despite the dispute it has with Vietnam over parts of the South China Sea, it has engaged, more quietly, with Hanoi, and acquired maritime defence equipment from India, thus expanding its circle of partners. Joint naval exercises with various countries have included large-scale ones with the U.S. in April, which involved the deployment of missiles that can reach targets almost 1,600km away – something that was sure to draw Beijing’s attention – and took place just after Manila wound up its first-ever trilateral presidential summit with Washington and Tokyo. In the meantime, the Marcos, Jr. administration has pursued what it calls a “transparency initiative”, publicising information about maritime incidents by inviting journalists to join its coast guard ships or posting video recordings of events almost as they are happening. Dramatic footage of Chinese vessels blocking, ramming or attacking its resupply missions to Second Thomas Shoal with water cannons has generated widespread condemnation in the Philippines and abroad. Many consider these tactics to be bullying. For its part, and despite the 2016 ruling, Beijing asserts that Manila is intruding into its waters and maintains that it is demonstrating maximum restraint. China has also recently referred to a so-called gentleman’s agreement under former President Duterte that it says foresaw preserving a status quo in the South China Sea, with Manila ostensibly agreeing to supply only humanitarian goods and no construction materials to the BRP Sierra Madre; Manila denies that there was any such arrangement. Given the Philippines’ determination to continue resupplying its troops on the BRP Sierra Madre, Second Thomas Shoal will likely remain a flashpoint. Due to the constraints imposed at sea by the Chinese maritime militia and coast guard, Manila is starting to look into other means of provisioning its outpost, some of which are likely to irk Beijing even more, such as airdrops or closer U.S. naval escorts. In September 2023, a U.S. plane was in the shoal’s vicinity during a resupply mission, while a U.S. warship passed through waters nearby in December. But the shoal is not the only possible source of tension. Chinese vessels, both official and non-official, sail through many areas where Philippine fisherfolk traditionally work, while other features, such as Scarborough Shoal, are also points of friction. A large-scale encounter or accident at sea could be especially dangerous. Should a Filipino or Chinese national die during such a confrontation, it could stir nationalist sentiments in Manila and Beijing and heighten threat perceptions on both sides. In case of loss of life on the Philippine side, Manila would expect its U.S. ally to assist under the Mutual Defence Treaty, especially given the recent exchanges with Washington on that topic, although the U.S. has not said precisely how it would come to the Philippines’ aid. How such a dangerous situation would evolve depends in large part on Manila’s political decision to invoke the treaty and the choices Washington makes about how to fulfill its commitments. In principle, Beijing and Manila remain open to negotiations. But the bilateral consultative mechanism, a confidence-building measure designed in 2017 to manage maritime issues between the two countries, among other things, has generated no results of note. Meanwhile, efforts to create a Code of Conduct, which aims to reduce tensions at sea by setting up norms and rules between claimants and has been under discussion between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for over two decades, have stagnated. Why the Sea Matters The South China Sea is a vital waterway through which around one third of global shipping passes. Peace and stability in the sea are a prerequisite for safe trade and are demonstrably in the interest of the EU and its member states. At over 40 per cent, the share of the EU’s trade with the rest of the world transiting the sea is even higher than the global average. Instability in the area would deal a major blow to the European economy; even a slight disturbance of shipping routes could result in higher transport costs, shipping delays and acute product shortages. Should there be an escalation that pits China against the U.S. in a direct conflict, the consequences could be catastrophic and global. European positions toward South China Sea disputes have traditionally highlighted the importance of all parties respecting international law and the need for peaceful resolution, while being careful not to take sides. But over the last few years, China’s assertiveness and expanding military capabilities have driven a greater sense of urgency and something of a shift in European thinking. First, the EU and several of its member states have developed “Indo-Pacific” strategies, designed to guide and promote cooperation with countries throughout the region. Secondly, Brussels has increased its diplomatic support for the Philippine position following maritime altercations, offering supportive statements in December 2023 and March 2024. Brussels and several European capitals now back Manila in regularly underlining the importance of UNCLOS and maritime law in the South China Sea context. Meanwhile, Europe’s presence in the region is growing, if slowly and in part symbolically. In 2021, the EU appointed a special envoy for the Indo-Pacific for the first time, while European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen visited Manila in July 2023, the first trip to the Philippines by someone holding that office and an opportunity to express, at the highest level, the EU’s readiness to strengthen cooperation with the government in maritime security, among other areas. A German frigate entered the South China Sea in 2021, and French and Italian ships made port calls in Manila in 2023. In March 2024, the EU and the Philippines agreed to resume negotiations over a free trade agreement, while a month later France announced talks regarding a Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines. While EU interest in the region is rising, European stances on the South China Sea are complex, with member states harbouring different views on maritime disputes in the region and, more broadly, on big-power competition. Some, such as France – which is the only EU member state to have overseas territories in the region (and which has significant EEZ interests there) – see themselves as having stakes higher than others and are keen to participate in the region’s discussions on security. Others, such as Greece and Hungary, are less concerned with maritime flare-ups so far away and tend to ascribe greater importance to maintaining good relations with Beijing. What the EU and Its Member States Can Do As the EU and its most powerful member states are drawn deeper into the South China Sea, they should raise their diplomatic game in the region – both to ensure awareness of mounting tensions and to look for ways to manage corresponding risks. As a practical matter, Brussels could leverage its status as an ASEAN Strategic Partner to seek more participation in that bloc’s security mechanisms and regional forums; the EU and member states could seek higher levels of engagement with regional powers such as Japan, Australia, and South Korea on matters concerning the South China Sea; and Europe could post more diplomats to the region, including permanent defence attachés who speak the language of naval diplomacy. Of particular importance will be maintaining strong lines of communication with Beijing, where Europe is seen as still having some distance from the U.S.-China strategic rivalry, which works to its diplomatic advantage. While to some extent this communication will be traditional bilateral statecraft, it may also mean looking for new opportunities and new channels for dialogue. For example, some member states could also seek to follow the precedent set by France and China in establishing a coordination and deconfliction mechanism between their militaries. Brussels should also continue raising the South China Sea in its engagement with Beijing as it did during the EU-China summit in 2023. Maintaining these channels will become both more difficult and more important if and when the EU and member states expand their operational presence in the region – for example, if they decide to establish a calibrated maritime presence in the South China Sea, as proposed by the EU envoy to the Indo-Pacific. Such a move is still deemed unlikely for now. As for public diplomacy, Brussels and EU member states should consider practical ways to promote principles of the law of the sea in the region, making the case that broader regional support for and adherence to these principles would provide neutral ground for peacefully avoiding and resolving disputes. While it is hard to see this approach appealing to Beijing, which has rebuffed the UNCLOS tribunal’s decision, there could still be benefits in forging closer cooperation among other claimant states. Convenings in Manila and other regional capitals could cover topics related to the continuing disputes but also to cross-cutting themes of regional interest such as fisheries. With negotiations over a regional Code of Conduct stuck, like-minded countries in the region could use these occasions to at least develop common positions on discrete issues that might be addressed by the Code or that could foster regional confidence-building in the South China Sea. Finally, in the realm of capacity building, European governments should continue to strengthen coast guard cooperation with South China Sea claimant states, helping them develop tools and protocols that might be used where appropriate to avoid confrontation and conflict. Since Aquino’s administration, Manila has tried to boost its coast guard capabilities. Given that many of the other claimant states’ vessels in the South China Sea are coast guard ships, and find themselves embroiled in maritime confrontations, a common approach on rules of engagement could help avoid misunderstandings at sea. Building on the EU’s integrated coast guard system, the EU could host or sponsor joint workshops to develop operating principles for the region’s law enforcement vessels and exchange best practices with Philippine authorities. Brussels could also fund agencies such as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime to strengthen coast guard expertise on issues such as environmental protection, safety and search-and-rescue procedures. European member states could also participate in joint activities with the Philippine and other ASEAN coast guards to strengthen fisheries control and maritime border protection and deter piracy or smuggling.

Diplomacy
Putin and Kim

Ukraine recap: Putin love-in with Kim Jong-un contrasts with western disarray over peace plan

by Jonathan Este

Hotfoot from signing a security pact with North Korea on Wednesday, Vladimir Putin has popped up in Vietnam, another of the few remaining countries where the Russian president is still welcome (or doesn’t face arrest under the war crimes warrant issued by the International Criminal Court last year). Here he was congratulated by the president, To Lam, for his election victory earlier this year and for maintaining stability and continuity in Russia. Putin, meanwhile, made much of the Soviet Union’s historical support for the Vietnamese people’s struggle for independence and unity from the 1950s to the 1970s, referring, without a hint of irony, to Vietnam’s “heroic struggle against foreign invaders”. The visit has been billed as part of Putin’s strategy to promote a new “multipolar” world order, free from US control. But it should be noted that the pragmatic Vietnamese have already hosted Joe Biden and Xi Jinping over the past nine months. Hanoi’s “bamboo diplomacy” depends on the country being “actively neutral” – with one eye on China, Vietnam has also upgraded relations with the US, Australia and South Korea in recent times. So, while there will be plenty of expressions of goodwill from Vietnam’s leadership, they are less likely to commit to anything more concrete as things stand. North Korea knows little of such diplomatic niceties, though, and has fewer choices when it comes to its friends. Very little detail has emerged of the new pact with Russia, except that it would require each country to come to the aid of the other if attacked. But it’s likely that close to the top of the agenda would have been Russia’s military requirements. North Korea’s supplies of artillery and ammunition are thought to have been vital in helping Russia overcome the harsh sanctions imposed by the US as well as Beijing’s unwillingness to directly provide arms for the war in Ukraine. Kim, in turn, wants Russian know-how when it comes to sophisticated military tech as well as economic support when it comes to feeding his country’s starving population. But warm relations between the two countries is nothing new. Official pronouncements emphasised the “traditionally friendly and good” relations between Russia and North Korea “based on the glorious traditions of common history”. For Kim, writes Robert Barnes, a senior lecturer in history at York St John University, this is something of a family affair which harks back to the 1930s when the North Korean leader’s grandfather Kim Il-sung was a relatively unknown Korean communist leading a small guerrilla band fighting the Japanese in Manchuria. Kim spent much of the second world war in the Soviet Union, where he joined the Red Army and rose to the rank of major. After the conflict, he was handpicked by Stalin to lead the Korean Workers’ party and then North Korea when it was established in 1948. The Korean war which followed almost led to a nuclear confrontation between the Soviet Union and the west. Hopefully, concludes Barnes, nothing as dramatic will result from this latest iteration of the relationship between the two countries. But pariah states such as North Korea aren’t the only countries where Putin can command a degree of support, if the recent European parliamentary elections are any guide. As Natasha Lindstaedt notes here, the rise of the far right in EU member states such as Germany, France, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria is throwing up an increasingly powerful group that stands in opposition to EU support for Ukraine. It may seem counterintuitive that such an avowed anti-fascist as Putin is courting extreme right organisations such as Germany’s Alternative for Deutschland party (AfD) or Hungary’s Fidesz party. But Lindstaedt believes that leaders such as Hungary’s Viktor Orbán have shown little concern for the institutions of democracy – as shown by Hungary’s adoption of a similar foreign agents’ law which acts to curtail press freedom and the work of NGOs. She concudes: “Putin is seen by the far right as a strong and conservative leader that can defend himself against the liberal west, which is trying to undermine these values.” The west, meanwhile, remains divided over the manner and extent of its support for Ukraine. The good news for Kyiv is that the recent G7 meeting in Puglia, southern Italy, ended in an in-principle agreement to use the US$3 billion (£2.36 billion) interest from US$350 billion of Russian assets frozen in the western banking system to underwrite a US$50 billion loan to Ukraine. But Gregory Stiles and Hugo Dobson, experts in international relations at the University of Sheffield, sound a cautionary note suggesting that the details of how this will work are likely to take months to agree. Meanwhile, they write, five of the seven leaders – US president Joe Biden, France’s Emmanuel Macron, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, the UK’s Rishi Sunak and Japan’s Fumio Kishida – all face elections this year which none of them are guaranteed to survive. And, to take just one example, if Biden loses in November to Donald Trump, the likelihood of this deal proceeding becomes significantly reduced. Summit on peace Many of these leaders went on to Switzerland at the weekend for the Summit on Peace in Ukraine. Stefan Wolff, an expert in international security at the University of Birmingham, was following proceedings and concludes that it’s hard to judge the meeting an unqualified success. Out of 160 countries and international organisations invited, only 92 attended. Biden was a no-show and Canada’s premier, Justin Trudeau, was the only G7 leader to stay for both days of the conference. The main problem, writes Wolff, was that the only peace plan on the table was that proposed some time ago by Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky. This calls for the complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine, including Crimea, and the payment of reparations for rebuilding his country. Seven other peace plans, proposed by the likes of China (which also failed to send anyone), Brazil, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, a group of African states led by South Africa and the Vatican were not discussed. Most of these call for a ceasefire, which is anathema to Kyiv and its backers in the US and UK, as it would accept, for the time being at least, Russia’s territorial gains on the ground, including the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. Putin, meanwhile, was trolling hard from the sidelines, releasing his terms for a ceasefire deal, which are for Ukraine to accept Russian annexation of Crimea and not just the land his troops currently occupy, but all of the four regions he annexed in September 2022. Putin’s column As previously noted here, a season of relative success on the battlefield, has left Putin in a bullish mood. It emerged recently that (despite being seriously disadvantaged by the war in Ukraine and the harsh western sanctions which have ensued) the boss of Russian energy giant plans to build an 80-metre column in St Petersburg to commemorate Peter the Great’s triumph in the great northern war, after which Russia declared itself to be an empire for the first time. As George Gilbert, an expert in Russian history at University of Southampton notes, anything honouring Peter the Great is a sure-fire way of buttering up the Russian president, who sees himself as a latter-day incarnation of the man who built his home town of St Petersburg, glossing over the fact that Peter saw his capital as a way of making Russia more of a west-facing country. Gilbert gives us some historical context about the conflict, in which Russia lined up alongside much of what would become Poland and Germany as well as Britain, by virtue of its king, George I, also being the ruler of Hanover. The key battle, he writes, was at Poltava, which is in the middle of what is now Ukraine, which involved defeating a crack regiment of Cossack cavalry, which you’d have to imagine is very much grist to Putin’s mill. One suspects, though, that it’s Peter the Great’s imperial achievements that Putin wants to emulate most of all.

Energy & Economics
U.S. President Joe Biden participates in a bilateral meeting with General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping. Monday, November 14, 2022, at the Mulia Resort in Bali, Indonesia.

Retaining US influence in Africa requires bridge-building with China

by Jakkie Cilliers

In a complex new multipolar world, a country’s allies and friends will determine the global pecking order. Despite its large population, Africa is a small global player. Its combined economy is less than 3% of the world economy, and Africa’s political heterogeneity makes it difficult to stand united on contentious issues such as China’s claim over Taiwan or the war in Ukraine. Although most African countries aren’t part of global value chains, external economic challenges and tensions affect them deeply. Africa’s most violent period since independence was in the years before the Berlin Wall collapse in 1989. At the time, tensions between the United States (US) and former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) led to intense proxy wars in the Horn of Africa and Angola. Based on that experience, a new era of competition between the US and China doesn’t augur well for the continent. At its peak, the USSR’s economy was only half that of the US, whereas the US and China will be roughly equivalent in the next decade. China is already larger when using purchasing power parity. By 2050, the Chinese economy will be almost 30% bigger. China is the world’s factory, manufacturing cheaper and more than anyone else. It has flooded the world with affordable solar and wind products to fuel the green transition. China is the global trade destination for many and it builds much of Africa’s infrastructure. China and surrounding Asian countries are emerging as the most important source of economic growth globally. According to an in-depth study by The Economist in May 2022, ‘No other country comes near the breadth and depth of China’s engagement in Africa.’ In contrast, US trade and investment with Africa is declining. If the US wants to maintain its influence on the continent, it should find ways to collaborate rather than compete with China. The bill proposed in April by a bipartisan group of senators to renew the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) for another 16 years shows that influential US groups are willing to engage with Africa for the long haul. With its low levels of trade reciprocity, the AGOA trade model is well suited to Africa’s needs. The US should use AGOA as a carrot to boost Africa’s exports, not a stick for economic coercion to achieve political objectives. The rise of China in a crowded world means the future will be quite different to previous periods of competition and cohabitation. Many of Africa’s ruling elites cast longing eyes towards China’s autocratic development model as a means to reduce poverty. Democracy and the free market haven’t delivered development, they argue. There is a sense of restlessness in Africa, where the median age is only 19. The youth bulge is expanding with limited prospects for formal employment, a healthy life or meaningful education. To analyse the impact of various global futures on Africa’s development, the Institute for Security Studies’ African Futures and Innovation programme has examined recent and likely global power shifts. For the past century, the US has been the most powerful country in the world. It has successfully presented a narrative that equates global development, stability and progress with American interests and values. Many Africans look to the US, given its freedoms and opportunities – although positive views of the US are dropping in number. The image of a violent mob descending on the Capitol in January 2021 shattered the myth of American exceptionalism, exposing a country torn asunder by its political divisions. Rural America’s reaction to globalisation and the rise of domestic populism detracts from US soft power. At the same time, its declining ability to deter others is on display in the Middle East, which is on a knife edge. Instead of oil from Africa, the next commodities boom for the continent will come from minerals needed for the renewable energy transition. This is reflected in a recent United States Institute of Peace report exploring Africa’s role in diversifying US critical mineral supply chains and strengthening the rule of law, transparency and environmental and labour standards. The US faces an uphill struggle since China has already secured much of Africa's known supply of critical minerals. China’s dominant position regarding these resources reflects the extent to which it is in a different league to the former USSR. Instead of confronting China in Africa, the US must find ways to collaborate with it. Africa cannot again serve as an arena for proxy conflicts and competition, this time between the US and China. Plus, it is Russia, not China, that is now the spoiler in Africa. The extent to which Sahelian countries are experiencing a resurgence of military coups with regime protection provided by Russia’s Africa Corps (previously Wagner) augurs poorly for the continent’s future. The more significant challenge is that the West faces a much larger and more powerful cohort of detractors, perhaps most readily depicted as the G7 versus BRICS+. The impunity that the West has provided to Israel for its war in Gaza and further afield reinforces global south views that different standards apply to them compared to the developed north. Current indications point to China becoming more influential in Africa, with many countries turning eastward. Rather than a new unipolar or even bipolar order, the trend is towards a complex, multipolar global power configuration where one’s allies and friends will determine the international pecking order. Learning to rely on them will be a new experience for the US. This article was first published in Africa Tomorrow, the African Futures and Innovation blog. Exclusive rights to re-publish ISS Today articles have been given to Daily Maverick in South Africa and Premium Times in Nigeria. For media based outside South Africa and Nigeria that want to re-publish articles, or for queries about our re-publishing policy, email us.

Defense & Security
Hanoi Vietnam - Jan 30 2023: People go about daily life under Vietnamese flags in a narrow residential alleyway called Kham Thien Market in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Convergence in Vietnam, EU Interests a Harbinger of Indo-Pacific Order?

by Richard Ghiasy , Julie Yu-Wen Chen , Jagannath Panda

In March and April, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son’s nearly back-to-back visits to the U.S. and China highlighted Vietnam’s increasing penchant for delicate diplomacy with major powers amid the U.S.-China strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific and Vietnam’s territorial tussles with China especially in the South China Sea (SCS), which Vietnam calls the East Sea. Much of the (perceived) disorder in the Indo-Pacific hails from the SCS, and one of Vietnam’s principal challenges is fostering order on its maritime borders. Therefore, Vietnam—historically distrustful of major powers—has been diversifying its relations by seeking security and defense ties with Indo-Pacific partners like the European Union (EU), India, and Japan, as well as with Russia, a country that poses an “existential threat” to the transatlantic allies. At the same time, Southeast Asia is battling disunity within the region for resolving disputes in the SCS, for instance. The regional multilateralism embodied by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) seems to lack teeth even as China ‘controls’ some of its members using its financial and economic heft. So clearly, efforts beyond Vietnam’s “bamboo diplomacy” that deepen international solidarity are required. In a similar vein, Europe’s reluctant rapprochement with China in recent times amid the EU calling China a strategic challenge but continuing to look for economic engagement is reminiscent of Vietnam and much of Asia’s predicament vis-à-vis China. Moreover, like in Southeast Asia, not every member-country of the EU is embracing the Indo-Pacific construct, led by the U.S. Or even if a member does, like France or Germany, it does not spell the end of a productive relationship with China. Nonetheless, it is clear that the EU has started to take a greater interest in the growing geopolitical situation in the Indo-Pacific, even as the disunity over the extent of the Indo-Pacific priorities, including China, is as apparent. In such a scenario, is it possible for the EU and Vietnam, and by extension ASEAN, to have greater convergence, if not congruence, in their policies? Revisiting Vietnam’s Lack of an Indo-Pacific Tilt The Indo-Pacific, the maritime space and littoral between the western Indian and Pacific Oceans, has become the world’s most geopolitically critical region. In this region, much of the focus and debate among the EU’s more proactive members, such as France, the Netherlands, and Germany, is in response to Chinese unilateralism, trade dependency, and unchecked Sino-U.S. contestation. Several of these EU members have come to understand each other’s positions on the Indo-Pacific. Gradually, there is a realization that it is not just about what the EU and its members seek to accomplish in the region but just as much the perspectives and priorities of key Indo-Pacific resident actors—and their views on European strategies and contributions. Vietnam is one such country that is worthy of greater European strategic attention. Vietnam is known for its “bamboo diplomacy”—a reference to the bamboo plant’s strong roots, sturdy stems, and flexible branches—balancing ties with the two big powers, the U.S. and China. In the words of Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son, Vietnam’s foreign policy caters to “independence, self-reliance, peace, friendship and cooperation, and multilateralization and diversification of external relations and proactive international integration.” However, Hanoi has never officially and fully embraced the term “Indo-Pacific” nor the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific construct although it does recognize that some aspects of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific tenet advocated by the U.S. and its allies are compatible with its national interests. For instance, the order in the Asia-Pacific, a term that Hanoi prefers to use, should be rule-based. This speaks to one of Vietnam’s most important foreign policy priorities: finding peace and stability in the SCS disputes with China and other claimants. However, the order that Vietnam seeks is in more than just the security domain. The goal of development has been the highest priority since Doi Moi (renovation) in 1986. Economic growth is considered the backbone of national security and regime legitimacy. Hanoi’s development of foreign relations can be said to be grounded in its national development experience, with the stress on economic priority leading to national stability and international standing. Vietnam chooses to engage in the Indo-Pacific construct on its terms. Vietnam and EU Convergence On both economic and security fronts, Vietnam and the EU can find converged interests that align closer to each other. Even as Hanoi has not officially adopted the term “Indo-Pacific,” the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy, if implemented well, could address both Vietnam’s economic and security needs. Despite its security and military power limitations in the Indo-Pacific, the EU can still play a crucial role in effectively addressing these needs, which are vital for the EU’s strategic interests as well. The two already have a Framework Participation Agreement. Vietnam is also part of the EU’s Enhancing Security In and With Asia (ESIWA) project, which covers crisis management and cyber security. This also aligns with the EU’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, where Vietnam is considered a “solid” partner. Notably, both the EU and Vietnam face (potential) economic coercion from China. As China is now Vietnam’s largest trading partner, sudden trade restrictions hindering Vietnamese exports to China would dramatically hurt the Vietnamese economy. In this vein, Hanoi welcomed the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), hoping it would give opportunities to diversify its trading partners and thus mitigate the risks of economic coercion from China. On the other hand, the EU and its member-states are also trying to increase economic resilience by diversifying trading partners as they wrestle with economic overdependence on China. So, strategically, Brussels presents an excellent opportunity for Hanoi and vice versa. However, challenges remain. For example, all the EU member-states are still to ratify the Investment Protection Agreement signed along with the EVFTA. Even though this is usually a time-consuming procedure, the imperative to reap benefits as soon as possible has taken a setback amid a challenging geopolitical landscape. Nonetheless, the two sides are concerned about more than just traditional economic development; they are concerned about sustainable development and green transition. For instance, under the EU’s Global Gateway framework, the EU and Vietnam have signed the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP), which looks to provide a multi-projects credit facility worth €500 million. This is supposed to be the EU’s primary focus in Vietnam now. Yet, Hanoi’s cautious approach for fear of falling into any potential debt trap could stymie smooth cooperation. Projects involving vast sums of money, such as the JETP, are also practically challenging to push at the moment as officials are afraid to be the targets of the Communist Party of Vietnam’s anti-corruption campaigns. Vietnam would also be keen for ASEAN and the EU as blocs to reinvigorate multilateralism and shore up security cooperation, particularly in the SCS disputes. ASEAN states, in general, are looking to the EU as a non-threatening balancing power to reduce the impact of the China-U.S. strategic competition. Among the potential areas of cooperation between the EU and Vietnam within the ASEAN are regional climate action measures, food security, digitalization, and tech innovation. The two sides must also use their partnership to realize an ASEAN-EU FTA. EU as a Security Balancer? The EU and Vietnam also share their commitment to upholding the rules-based order—an essential component of security cooperation because of the region’s strategic importance. However, improving communication and understanding of maritime incidents more effectively is challenging. The SCS territorial conflict is simmering, particularly between China and the Philippines. In 2016, an arbitration tribunal constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) overwhelmingly ruled in favor of the Philippines, which China rejected. However, the ruling bolstered Vietnam’s claims, which were not openly welcomed by other ASEAN states besides the Philippines. In the absence of an agreement for a code of conduct (CoC) between China and ASEAN, which has been dragging on for years, China’s violations of international law in the SCS, including the latest against Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin, have increased. Against this scenario, Vietnam and the Philippines have signed maritime security deals. At the same time, Vietnam would be reluctant to do anything more drastic, such as support the Philippines in its attempt to draft a “separate” CoC for fear of Chinese retaliation. While Vietnam is less discussed in major global media than the Philippines on the issue, Hanoi is actively using diplomatic means to internationalize the problem, bringing in more players to address complex territorial disputes to safeguard its sovereignty and promote regional peace. In this context, winning the support of the EU and its member-states would be strategically important for Vietnam. The Vietnamese side can facilitate this by providing foreign entities, including the EU, with more transparent and timely information when incidents occur. Naturally, using a media strategy like the Philippines might sensationalize the issue, which might be different from what Hanoi prefers as it walks a tightrope to balance its complex relations with China. However, Hanoi can at least offer foreign diplomats transparent and detailed information in a timely fashion to help them verify and assess the situation on the ground. This will speed up the EU’s and other potential like-minded states’ response to sea incidents and foster ways forward for more multilaterally agreeable forms of modus vivendi in the South China Sea. Ultimately, such a modus should serve China too. EU No Longer a Bystander The EU’s recent stance on the SCS issue has been its respect for a rule-based order and freedom of navigation, strong opposition to unilateral actions, and supporting the ASEAN-led “effective, substantive and legally binding” CoC while mentioning China but not singling it out. This is a change from the EU’s pre-Indo-Pacific embrace when it was a more divided, neutral house. The EU’s heavy dependence on maritime trade through the SCS mandates that the EU can no longer stand as a bystander. However, ASEAN claimant states, particularly Vietnam, would perhaps expect a sharper or clearer position, which the EU has indeed been moving toward. For example, in March 2024, the EU released a statement expressing concerns about the incidents involving “repeated dangerous maneuvers” by the Chinese Coast Guard and Maritime Militia in the SCS. This tilts to the U.S. line, even as the U.S. has been more vocal in directly criticizing China on the SCS, by calling China’s claims “completely unlawful” even before the current events. One could argue that despite the U.S. and its allies having been vocal, this has yet to lead to a concrete resolution of the conflict. However, if the EU cannot send clear signals on the issue, the division among like-minded countries will be seen as weak and exploitable in China’s eyes. Importantly, this is true not just for the SCS disputes but also for China’s coercive activities in general. Therefore, given the convergent non-confrontational, inclusivity-, and economic interests-oriented attitudes of both Vietnam and the EU toward the Asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific region, both sides are primed to embrace the other’s strategic outlook and up their game in the face of a challenging China and efforts to foster order.

Diplomacy
Rome, Italy - March 22, 2019: Xi Jinping, China's president, speaks as he attends an Italy-China business forum with Sergio Mattarella, Italy's president, at the Quirinale Palace in Rome.

Xi Jinping's "Civilization State" and Anti-Americanism in Europe

by Ihsan Yilmaz , Nicholas Morieson

It is not surprising that China’s Xi Jinping should visit France, Europe’s second largest economy and one of the dominant nations within the European Union. But why should he visit comparatively small and economically less important nations such as Hungary or Serbia? The answer lies not merely in the economic opportunities such a visit may bring to all parties, but in the increasingly anti-American themed politics of the three nations, and their governments’ belief that the future of international politics is a multi-polar order dominated by “civilization states.” These two factors make China, which promises to free the world from American political, economic, and cultural dominance and establish a new multipolar order, an attractive partner for France, Serbia, and Hungary. Equally, it makes them attractive to China, which seeks to divide Europe and the United States, and build greater economic and political ties with European nations desirous of a “new” Europe free of American dominance. Xi portrays China as not merely a nation-state, but a continuation of Ancient Chinese culture merged with Marxism. Xi is adamant that China must draw on its civilizational heritage, and reject the values of Western civilization, which are not – he argues – universal, but indeed particular to the West and thus unsuitable for China. Xi’s remark that China “will work with France to deepen China-Europe mutually beneficial cooperation,” and that the two are “major forces in building a multipolar world, two big markets that promote globalization, and two great civilizations that advocate cultural diversity,” underlines this civilizational perspective on global politics. Civilizationism, as a construct, is thus a tool of liberation through which Xi will free China of non-indigenous values and ideas, and through which it will overcome the United States and make the Chinese nation Asia’s dominant power. The leaders of both China and France, despite their differences, are drawn together due to shared antipathy towards the United States, and their shared civilizational perspective on global affairs, a perspective intrinsically connected with their anti-American politics. Naturally, China and France do not share the same opinion of the United States. China views America as a rival; France views America, perhaps, as a perfidious ally forcing “Anglo-Saxon” culture upon an unwilling French people. Experts have noted the importance Emmanuel Macron places on rejuvenating what he calls European Civilization. Indeed, where right-wing populist Marine Le Pen calls for the protection of France’s Judeo-Christian yet secular civilization, Macron is moving beyond the nation-state paradigm and speaking of centralising power within the European Union in order to protect otherwise moribund European civilization. Macron is very concerned about the future of European civilization, and believes that it represents the best of humanity and must therefore protect its “humanist” values. For Macron, European civilization has many enemies. But perhaps the key enemy is the United States, which is an enemy precisely because it is an anti-civilizational power that defends the nation-state paradigm, insists that its values are universal, and desires a relatively weak Europe. Macron argued that Europeans should take inspiration from the “civilisational projects of Russia and Hungary” and what Macron called their “inspiring cultural, civilisational vitality.” He says European civilization is “humanist,” and that to survive it must reject the “Anglo-American model” which permits the private sector to gain enormous power over human life. This position, of course, also rejects the Chinese model, in which the government is given total control over human life. Hungary and Serbia Victor Orbán is drawn to Xi in much the same way as Macron: both believe the rise of civilization states, such as China, as ineluctable, and both believe that China’s rise provides an opportunity for their respective states – if not civilizations – to free themselves from Anglo-American norms. Although Orbán possesses a civilizational rejuvenation project, it is of an entirely different nature to Macron’s “humanist” plan for Europe. Orbán calls for the re-Christianization of Europe, and for the strengthening of the nation-state and its borders, and he speaks not so much of European civilization but of Judeo-Christian civilization. Orban says, “the US ought to permit illiberal states – such as Hungary – to determine their own futures rather than impose ‘universal values’ upon them in an effort to prevent war.” China’s rise comes at the expense of Orbán’s liberal democratic foes (i.e. Washington and Brussels), decreasing their ability to pressure Hungary to return to liberal democratic norms. Equally, because China is ruled by an authoritarian populist who has a civilizational perspective on international relations, the rise of China legitimises Orbán’s own authoritarianism and his civilizational rejuvenation project. It should come as no surprise that the date Xi chose to visit Serbia coincided with the 25th anniversary of the American-led NATO bombings of Belgrade’s Chinese embassy. The two nations have become increasingly close since the 2012 election victory of the governing populist Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), which sees China as both a source of economic growth and technological development, and also as a partner that is less likely to criticise Serbia’s refusal to sanction Russia, and its often socially conservative politics. Thus, President Aleksandar Vučić received Xi in Belgrade in a ceremony during which he promised the Chinese leader that he would receive in Serbia a degree of “reverence and love” not “found anywhere else.” He further promised that his government would only increase cooperation with Beijing, saying “the sky is the limit.” Xi authored an article in Serbia’s Politika news outlet noting that China and Serbia have similar positions on many important international and regional issues. In the piece, Xi is indirectly calling for Serbia to assist China in challenging US and Western dominance in the international sphere. Experts noted that “Serbia’s hosting of Xi is connected to broader efforts — notably by Moscow and Beijing — to challenge U.S. influence and potentially reshape the international order.” Conclusion Xi’s tour of France, Hungary, and Serbia demonstrates the growing influence of China in Europe. But it also tells us much about how some Europeans are responding to China’s rise as a self-styled civilizational power. This rise has inspired some European leaders to challenge US dominance in international politics and embrace the core values of “European civilization.” Many of Europe’s states thus may seek to emulate China, or help it rise and attempt to politically and economically benefit from it. Moreover, China’s rise seems to demonstrate how by rejecting normative Anglo-American (or more broadly Western) values, and embracing the traditional values and culture of one’s own civilization, these states can overcome American imperialism and cultural hegemony. Whether rejecting Western Anglo-American norms and embracing their own civilizational values can give these entire nations a shared purpose, and inspire reindustrialization, remains an unanswered question. Ihsan Yilmaz is a research professor of political science and international relations at Deakin University’s ADI (Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation). Previously, he worked at the Universities of Oxford and London.  Nicholas Morieson holds a Ph.D. in politics from the Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, and a Masters in International Relations from Monash University. He is the author of Religion and the Populist Radical Right: Christian Secularism and Populism in Western Europe, and a Research Fellow at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation.

Diplomacy
Vladimir Putin: Answers to questions from journalists following a visit to China

Vladimir Putin: Answers to questions from journalists following a visit to China

by Vladimir Putin

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском Vladimir Putin replied to questions from Russian media representatives on the outcomes of his two-day state visit to the People’s Republic of China. Question: It would not be an exaggeration to say that the whole world watched your visit here, as evidenced by a spate of news reports and publications. It is clear that the future of the rapidly changing world largely depends on the positions of Russia and China. Following your talks in China, we would like to know whether Moscow and Beijing have a shared understanding of how the future system of international security and politics should evolve. Vladimir Putin: First of all, I would like to thank President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping and the leadership of China for this invitation and for creating a very favourable and warm atmosphere for our joint work. On the whole, the talks were very meaningful and very substantive. This was an official state visit, but it was also very much a working trip. From morning until evening, we spent virtually the entire day with the President of China and his colleagues. We raised multiple issues for discussion. You said that the future depends on Russia and China, but this is only partly true. The future of humankind depends on the whole of humanity. Certainly, Russia and China are important components of modern civilisation. We have our own views on how we should develop. Certainly, our advancement will influence the advancement of all partners on the planet. We believe that development should be constructive and peaceful, no doubt about it. Apart from our interests, it should heed the interests of all parties to international interaction. Of course, it is necessary to strengthen the emerging multipolar world. There is absolutely no doubt that a new world is taking shape before our eyes and becoming multipolar. I believe all the people are aware of this. It is important that those who are trying to maintain their monopoly on making decisions on all issues globally should realise this (I believe that they do realise it perfectly well). Understanding this, they should do everything possible to facilitate this natural process. I repeat, this process should be peaceful and conflict-free, with the opinions of all parties to the international process fully considered. All of us should seek compromises while making the difficult decisions that lie ahead. We are committed to this approach and to precisely this kind of work. I have discussed this repeatedly, and the President of China has also emphasised this: our interaction, cooperation and strategic partnership with China, Russia-China partnership, is not directed against anyone. Our aim is solely to create better conditions for the development of our countries to improve the well-being of the peoples of China and the Russian Federation. Question: How did your informal meeting with Xi Jinping go? Your aide said it took place in a super-narrow format but was attended by Defence Minister Andrei Belousov and Security Council Secretary Sergei Shoigu. Did you discuss Ukraine? What would you personally consider convincing evidence of Ukraine’s readiness for talks? Earlier both you and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeatedly said that the Western partners could no longer be trusted. Vladimir Putin: Yes, this meeting took place in the narrow format. We really discussed many issues that are important for bilateral relations. We discussed the issue of settling the Ukrainian crisis. The President of the PRC told me the main theses of what he discussed during his recent visit to Europe. He set forth his position linked with Chinese peace initiatives. We have said more than once that we believe that China is sincerely striving to settle this problem. It offers different options and is very flexible. I believe it is sincerely striving to resolve this problem. We discussed this at some length. As for our counter partners, let’s say in this case these are Ukrainian leaders and their European and overseas bosses. Well, we have spoken about this many times. When our troops stood near Kiev, our Western partners told us: it is impossible to sign documents when the other side puts a gun to your temple. “What should be done?” we asked. “It is necessary to withdraw troops from Kiev.” We did this. On the following day, they threw all our agreements into the dustbin and said: “Now we will fight to the end.” Their Western curators occupied the position that is now known to the whole world – to defeat Russia on the battlefield, to inflict a strategic defeat on it. It wasn’t us who behaved in this way. These were our partners. Ukrainian officials confirmed this, in particular, the head of the Ukrainian delegation at the talks in Minsk and later in Istanbul, said this. The then Prime Minister [of Great Britain] Mr Johnson came to Kiev and advised Ukraine to continue hostilities. Mr Arakhamia, the head of the Ukrainian delegation, who now leads the ruling parliamentary party in Ukrainian parliament, said that otherwise all hostilities would have been ended a year and a half ago. He said this in public, I believe, at his meeting with journalists. Nobody actually had doubts about this. So, let’s sum up this part of my answer to your question – we were cheated again. Now we need to understand whom and how we should deal with, whom we should trust and to what extent. Of course, we are analysing now everything that is taking place in this regard. Of course, we are looking at what is happening around the universally announced meeting in Switzerland, in Geneva. I believe this is the venue of the meeting. We are certainly not going to discuss any formulas about which we know absolutely nothing. But as distinct from Ukraine, we have never rejected talks. It is they who have quit the negotiating process. They announced that they are going to inflict a strategic defeat on us. It is they who said they were “going to fight to the end,” actually not to the end but to the last Ukrainian. They did everything with their own hands. We have a foundation for the negotiating process – what we agreed on in Istanbul and a signature of the head of the Ukrainian delegation under an excerpt from this large document. He initialed it. We have this document with his signature on it. What are these other additional terms about which we have never heard and know nothing? The goal of this event is clear. They want to gather as many countries as possible, declare that everything has been agreed upon with everyone and then present it to Russia as a resolved issue, as an ultimatum. This will never happen. Question: Keeping with the theme of Ukraine… Yesterday, Vladimir Zelensky visited Kharkov and held a general headquarters meeting there. At the same time, we are involved in heavy fighting near Kharkov and our troops seem to be gaining success. Vladimir Putin: The word “seem” is wrong. They are gaining success. Each day, they advance in strict conformity with the plan. Question: What is the plan all about? Are we going to seize Kharkov? Or does our objective consist in creating a sanitary zone, as you said earlier? Thank you. Vladimir Putin: I do not know what the head of the Ukrainian state was saying. The only thing I know is that in the final analysis, they are to blame for what is happening. The origin of the current Kiev authorities is the coup d’etat [that occurred in 2014]. This is the source of the present-day authority in Ukraine. This is my first point. Second, [Kiev’s] Western sponsors allowed the coup to happen by facilitating and orchestrating it. They created the conditions for a smoldering conflict to grow into an armed conflict. They are to blame for this. They are attempting to lay the blame on someone else and make Russia responsible for the current tragic developments. But this is the result of their own policies. As far as the developments in the Kharkov sector are concerned, they are also to blame for these, because they shelled and, regrettably, continue to shell residential areas in border territories [of Russia], including Belgorod. Civilians are dying there, it’s clear for everyone. They fire missiles right at the city centre, at residential areas. I said publicly that if this continues, we will be forced to create a security zone, a sanitary zone. And this is what we are doing today. As for [the seizure of] Kharkov, there are no such plans for now. Question: It has recently been reported that Chinese banks stopped accepting payment transfers from Russian banks. Did you discuss this issue with the Chinese leader? If so, have you reached an agreement? Have you coordinated a potential scheme of settlements that would be immune from Western sanctions? Thank you. Vladimir Putin: Sanctions imposed on third countries engaged in economic activities are doubly or triply illegitimate because sanctions are absolutely illegitimate when adopted without the approval of the UN Security Council. This goes beyond common sense when it comes to third countries. Incidentally, the Americans or Europeans are even using such sanctions against their own allies. Europeans are not using them against the Americans, but the Americans apply such sanctions against European economic operators and often follow them through not only with regard to Russia but also against other countries in other situation. It is a common practice, and Europeans bear with this, proving yet again their vassal dependence on the sovereign over the sea. Well, whatever! As for such decisions, they certainly do direct damage to the global economy, not just to the countries they are adopted against or their economic operators, but also to the global economy as a whole, including energy and other spheres of economic operation, and primarily the issues of settlements that are discussed by the economic operators. Solutions are possible, and there are such solutions. Of course, they should be supported at the level of governments, and I hope that this is how it will be. The reasons behind the behaviour of large financial institutions are understandable: nobody wants to sustain losses because of US actions, even if they are illegal. However, I would like to repeat what I said before: it is silly and a huge mistake of the American political elites because they are inflicting big harm on themselves by undermining trust in the US dollar. They are gradually undermining the status of the dollar as a global settlement and reserve currency, even though they are deriving huge profits from this now. First, they adopted the Bretton Woods system. Then they abandoned the gold standard of the dollar and [formalised a floating exchange rate system under] the Jamaica Agreement. What is it based on? It fully depends on the money printing press, or putting it more gallantly, on the might and quality of the American economy. Yes, this is exactly how things stand. All countries in the world trust the American economy, its might and stability, which is why they accept the dollars. This gives a huge and seemingly inexplicable advantage to the American economy and financial system. However, it can be presented in figures. According to our economists, it amounts to over 10 trillion dollars that have not been earned but are a gift from heaven that comes from the use of the dollar as a global reserve currency. Overall, the obligations of the US financial system to the rest of the world have been estimated at $53.4 trillion. However, by undermining trust in the dollar for political reasons, the US authorities are weakening the main and the most powerful and important instrument of their might – the dollar itself. They are doing irreparable damage to themselves. Using one of popular sayings, they are quarrelling with their own bread and butter. This is thoughtless, but they seem unable to stop doing it. The disadvantage of this for us is that we have to look for other solutions. However, there are also advantages, because it is unacceptable when one side is using financial and economic instruments to force its will on the rest of the world, including on the political stage. I assure you that all countries are aware of this; you only have to look at how fast their dollar-denominated reserves are diminishing. The world is responding. I believe that the [de-dollarisation] process is inevitable. We have started doing this, and it is a correct process. It entails certain shortcomings and problems, but it is correct in general, when we speak about making settlements in national currencies or creating other settlement instruments jointly with other countries. The process is underway; it has begun, and it cannot be stopped. Question: Mr President, let me return to the subject of Ukraine and certain Western initiatives. You have mentioned yesterday’s lengthy discussion with Xi Jinping on this issue. Could you please tell us whether you touched upon Macron’s initiative to declare an “Olympic truce”? Do you believe an Olympic truce is possible now? Or is this another attempt by the West to lure Russia into a trap, especially amid its military successes? Thank you. Vladimir Putin: Yes, President Xi Jinping mentioned this, and we did discuss this issue briefly. What I think is, first, the principles of Olympism, including the Olympic truce concept, are very sound principles. There is a reason the international community has spent centuries working them out. True, few countries ever invoked this particular principle, with the exception of Ancient Greece, but in general, the idea itself is good and constructive. The issue lies elsewhere. It has to do with the current international sports officials themselves violating the principles of the Olympic Charter. They are politicising sport, which is absolutely unacceptable, because the purpose of sport is to serve as a platform for communication between people and for negotiating compromises on other issues, including political ones. They are violating their own rules, now with regard to Russia, by excluding our athletes from the Olympic Games, not allowing them to display their flag, anthem, or national colours. They are violating the rules with regard to us, but they want us to comply with the rules that they dictate to us. Has anyone given this a thought? Is this in line with the elementary norms of justice? No. They are violating the rules but they demand that we comply with them. Well, friends, this is not getting us anywhere. No one has ever reached agreement like this. Before demanding anything or expecting others to do something, one needs to follow these rules. Overall though, sports are certainly progressing, and this progress will continue. I don’t know how the Olympic movement will fare now, with such officials. If they put money first, if money is the only thing that motivates or drives them, if sport becomes a commercial enterprise solely aimed at making a profit, I cannot see a bright future for the Olympic movement. Look, sport has actually transformed into a for-profit corporation. What is their top priority? To raise money from sponsors and to have large information companies pay for broadcasting. This is just a big business profiting from sporting events. But the principle of Olympism is something else – it is about humanitarian values. Question: This week, the US imposed duties on a number of Chinese goods – chips, semi-conductors, metals and solar batteries. Most important, it raised the duty on Chinese electric cars, I believe, four times, up to 100 percent. Can these moves be considered sanctions against China? Is Russia-China cooperation helping counter such attacks? Vladimir Putin: Of course, on the surface, they look like sanctions but these are already elements of an economic war to a certain extent. This is not the first time they have been used. Incidentally, I can assure you that politics, the character of Russia-China relations and the situation in Ukraine have nothing to do with this. These are just elements of unfair competition. We were making an MS-21 aircraft. We agreed on purchasing certain components that we had to put into its wings. These components have nothing to do with military production. They simply denied them to us by including them into a sanctions list. Indicatively, this list was linked with military production whereas the components we wanted had nothing to do with it whatsoever. Yes, we lost time and this production was pushed back by about a year and a half. But eventually, we made these components, these aircraft wing carbon fibre tows. We made them and they are even better than the American ones in quality and durability. The result will be the same in this case. I have just explained at the meeting with students why such restrictions were introduced against the Chinese auto industry, against electric cars. Just because they have become better and cheaper than European or American ones. That’s it. They are simply killing competitors, in this case, the Chinese rival and do not let it into their market. This is a prohibitive duty. The same is taking place in Europe, of course. As soon as some country, a global development centre, as we often put it, is developing and becoming more competitive, they stop it and put it down, they try to make it happen. Can Russia-China cooperation counter this in some way? To prevent this from happening, they are creating problems in financial items because we could purchase more. But we are restricted in purchasing these products because of money transfer problems. Is it possible to do something about this? Yes, it is. We will develop joint productions. This requires time, just as it was with aircraft components when we had to delay their production by half a year. This is the same case. We will go for joint production. This is the most erroneous and stupid way of building an international economic system. The correct idea is that the market decides everything and they were drumming it into our heads for decades, if I may put it this way – pardon the fancy language. But the market will still push them down. Do you understand what the point is? They are creating this problem for themselves with their own hands. What will this lead to? They have introduced sanctions against various goods. What will it lead to? Inflation in the US. This is what they will get. Because they will try to make these products themselves, at their own sites, paying wages to their own workers, paying for their expensive metal and their expensive energy. This is the result – the German economy in Europe is already operating nearly in the red while the French economy is teetering on the brink of recession. If the German economy starts coughing and feels bad, the entire European economy will not feel quite well, putting it mildly. This is the result of such decisions. These are not market decisions. They are completely stupid and have no prospects whatsoever. Question: Please, tell us at what conditions you would attend a peace conference on Ukraine in Switzerland if you should receive such an invitation. Thank you. Vladimir Putin: Well, politics does not know the subjunctive mood: “if only.” We will not continue. You know what would have happened there in other cases. But there are no “ifs.” They do not invite us. Moreover, they say they cannot imagine us being there. So what will we be [talking] about? “If you do this” looks like we are trying to get invited. “But if you do this, and if this is the case, then we would make these decisions.” Well, if they cannot imagine us being there, so much the better. This is first. The second, very important thing, is that we are not going to discuss right away what we do not know. As I said, we had been holding painstaking talks for a long time, almost a month and a half; first in Minsk, then in Istanbul, and reached certain compromises. The Ukrainian side signed an abstract of these documents. The package alone is so thick, but the summary with the fundamental issues outlined there were initialed by the Ukrainian side. So, we worked on it. Now there are some formulas but what are they based on? Based on some wishes and not on the real situation. Well, it is impossible to discuss. However, we are ready for discussion. We never refused. I have just said that, and this is not a joke, I did not make it up. As soon as the troops withdrew, the Westerners immediately told Ukraine: “Do not sign anything. Fight.” They snapped a salute and are following out. While we were immediately told, “Now we will fight to the last man.” This is what we were told. There will be no more talks. Now they see that they cannot succeed. Perhaps they will be able to fight to the last man but they cannot inflict a strategic defeat on Russia, and they can see that. Now they are beginning to squeak . “Let us urgently convene a conference.” – “Sure.” – “Will Russia participate?” “We are ready to participate in peace talks.” “But we will not invite you.” Here you are, Good Lord, there we go. And Russia is being accused of being reluctant to take part. But we have not been invited. You are asking: on what conditions? Why should I be proposing terms and asking to let me come where we are not wanted? And what is it that they want to do? Gather as many countries as possible, convince everyone that the terms proposed by the Ukrainian side are the best offer, and then present this to us as an ultimatum, saying, “You see, the whole world thinks so. Thus you must agree.” Is this a way to conduct substantive and serious talks? Of course, not. This is an attempt to impose. There was an attempt to inflict a strategic defeat, but it failed. The attempt to impose will end the same way. Remark: But still, as I see it, your condition is that the agreements reached must be in force. Vladimir Putin: Of course. This is the basic condition. They initialed it, but the document was not fully signed. It includes very serious issues related to ensuring Ukraine’s security. They are worded in such a way that requires subsequent consideration. But overall, this is the basis. They have been initialed by the Ukrainian side. I think, not least, probably, if not under the diktat, then with the consent of their Western sponsors. But everything is rigorously worded there regarding their interests. There is also something that has been taken into account concerning Russia’s security interests. There are a lot of questions there, which I do not want to go into right now. I remember if not all of them but all the main provisions. We are ready to discuss this. But then they dumped it because they wanted to gain an advantage on the battlefield and achieve a strategic position, which did not work out; so now they are handing out their terms. Have they gone nuts? Why on earth? Of course, we will proceed from the realities on the ground. This goes without saying. Question: My question isabout China and supplies of our hydrocarbons to it. Has an agreement in principle been reached on the Power of Siberia 2 project? When will construction start: this year or next year? Have there been any talks about a possible increase in supplies? Vladimir Putin: Yes. I am not ready to speak about technical details now, but both sides have confirmed their interest in implementing these projects. Since the Chinese economy is growing, it requires, accordingly, more energy resources needed to maintain this growth. Nothing is more reliable (I think this is clear) than supplies from Russia. We have a huge common border, and no one will interfere here: neither sanctions against the tanker fleet, nor even sanctions against financial institutions. We will buy and sell everything in national currencies. Therefore, the interest on both sides has been reaffirmed. On the one hand, there is interest in receiving additional volumes, on the other hand, there is interest in selling on the Chinese market. This is always a complicated process, involving the question of prices, the question of who will earn and how much. However, strategically we are absolutely interested, both the countries, in implementing these projects, and we will move forward with them. Gazprom and our oil companies will certainly come to terms. There are different routes. One of them runs via Mongolia, and both gas and oil pipelines can be laid in the same corridor. Specialists will have to decide how best to proceed. It is possible to use the Northern Sea Route. We can buy extra tankers and set up supplies via the Northern Sea Route, which is almost the same as the pipeline. All these alternatives are possible. They are all acceptable and economically expedient. It is necessary to choose the best ones. I am confident that this work will be completed as well. Question: My question is also about Ukraine, if I may. Vladimir Zelensky’s term of office is about to end, it expires on May 20. Will Russia no longer consider him a legitimate president after that date? And would it matter to you, will you be ready to talk to him afterwards? Vladimir Putin: We used to talk with him; we were in constant contact with him before the conflict entered the extreme phase of armed struggle. As for legitimacy, this question must first of all be resolved by the political and legal systems of Ukraine itself. There are all sorts of options in their Constitution. This is a question of assessment. This assessment, of course, should be primarily made by the Constitutional Court and in general, by the political system of Ukraine. But for us, of course, it matters, because if it comes to signing some documents, we certainly will have to sign documents in such a crucial area with the legitimate authorities, this is an obvious fact. But, I reiterate, this question must be answered by the political and legal (juridical) systems of Ukraine itself. Thank you very much. Question: Did you discuss with President Xi Jinping the fact that China had been invited to this international conference? Vladimir Putin: We discussed this issue as part of the package. Thank you very much for your attention. Question: Mr Putin, what about the French army in Ukraine? Vladimir Putin: I am not the president of France. Why are you asking me this? I am not the one to make this decision. Question: Mr Macron has repeatedly conveyed that he was ready to send troops there. If regular French troops move to Ukraine, will it mean a direct conflict, a war with the French? Vladimir Putin: First, you should have him answer your question about the French troops in Ukraine. Once you get the answer, we will start considering the consequences of this step. Question: Mr Putin, may I ask about the figure of [Defence Minister Andrei] Belousov? Excuse me, please, this is my last question. Why was Belousov appointed the Defence Minister? We are now at a critical juncture of the special military operation. Vladimir Putin: I covered that already. Mr Peskov covered that, too, because I asked him to do so. I will go over it again. This year, the level of defence spending for the Defence Ministry alone amounted to 6.7 percent of GDP. If you combine that with the amounts spent on law enforcement and security agencies, the total amount will slightly exceed 8 percent. The Defence Ministry accounts for the bulk of the spending meaning that the amount of spending of law enforcement and security agencies depends on how much the Defence Ministry spends. The Defence Ministry is the first to make purchases followed by law enforcement and security agencies. Their choices depend on the Defence Ministry’s choices. In addition, the Defence Ministry is charged with building the national defence system which is does with the enlistment of other security agencies. Their spending depends on that, too. So, with the Defence Ministry spending 6.7 percent, and the total defence and security spending coming at slightly over 8 percent, this amount of spending is not critical. Defence spending in the Soviet Union in 1985–1986 stood at 13 percent. Taking into account the state of the economy, macroeconomic indicators, and budget revenue forecasts, combined defence and security spending at slightly 8 percent is not critical and is absolutely safe. Experts are even saying it could be larger since the budget is robust enough to handle that. But this level of spending is what we currently have. As you are aware, Mr Belousov served as the Minister of Economy. He is considered a good economist, one of the best in the country. He was my aide on economic matters. He also served as the First Deputy Prime Minister. In this sense, he is, without a doubt, able to coordinate the Defence Ministry’s work with other ministries and agencies, as well as the regions. This is important as well. I am talking not only about the border regions, but other regions as well, because they, too, to a certain extent, are economic agents. This is my first point. My second point covers his mission. He must open the Defence Ministry to constructive interaction with the research centres and economic agents in the broad sense of the word, the manufacturers of the military-technical products and components that are needed for the production of military equipment. His job is to open the Defence Ministry to innovation. Indeed, Mr Shoigu has taken the initial steps towards this end. However, I believe that given his job functions in the recent past, the former Deputy Prime Minister will find it easier to accomplish this. These were the motives behind appointing him to this position. You all saw Mr Shoigu – it was widely covered – often visit and tour enterprises. He is fully aware of what is going on. He knows what the Armed Forces need in the medium and short term, and knows our industrial capabilities. To a certain extent, he was involved in the contacts with our foreign defence cooperation partners, because the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation was under the Defence Ministry, and he oversaw it. Considering this, he will have an enormous layer of work to deal with. It is all combined now. If you paid attention, I supported the idea of appointing Mr Manturov First Deputy Prime Minister precisely because we plan to focus the administrative resources on achieving the main objective facing the country today which is gaining the special military operation results that we need. Thank you very much.

Diplomacy
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The strategic adjustments of china, india,and the us in the indo-pacific geopolitical context

by Nguyen Tuan Binh , Tran Xuan Hiep , Nguyen Dinh Co

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском Abstract: Since the beginning of the XXI century, the Indo-Pacific region has become the “focus” of strategic competition between the world‟s great powers. This area included many “choke points” on sea routes that are strategically important for the development of international trade, playing an important role in transporting oil, gas, and goods around the world from the Middle East to Australia and East Asia. The article analysed the geostrategic position of the Indo-Pacific region and the strategic adjustments in foreign affairs of some major powers in this region, specifically the US, China, and India. To achieve this goal, the authors used research methods in international relations to analyse the main issues of the study. In addition to reviewing previous scholarly research and reviews, the authors used a comparative approach to assess the interactions between theory and data. The authors believed that these data are important for accurately assessing the strategic importance of the Indo-Pacific region, and this area was an important trigger for the US, China, and India to make adjustments to its foreign policy. If the US proposed a strategy called “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” (FOIP), India‟s strategy was called the Indo-Pacific Initiative. China‟s Indo-Pacific strategy was clearly expressed through the “String of Pearls” strategy and the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI). As a result, in the geopolitical context of the Indo-Pacific region, the competition between major powers (the US, China, India...) is also becoming fiercer and more complex. It has a significant impact on other countries in the region. INTRODUCTION Nowadays, the conception of geopolitics has not received a consensus among generations of scholars, and it tends to increase complexity in the international context after the Cold War and create different schools in the study of political science and international relations. This diversity reflects the interplay between the development of theory and the development of international political status and shows the diverse nature of international politics and international political studies. Hans J. Morgenthau, a typical realist theorist (1948), said, “International politics, like every other kind of politics, is a power struggle. Whatever the ultimate aims of international politics, power is always the immediate aim” (p. 13). In geopolitics, this relationship is expanded into a highly complex tripartite relationship between three factors: geography - power - politics. The Britannica Dictionary defines geopolitics as “the analysis of the influence of geography on power relationships in international relations” (Deudney 2013). Geopolitics can be understood as a dialectical next step of the relationship between geography and power. Geography does not fully determine how a power interaction happens, but geography significantly affects any political analysis. It is one of the sources of hard power, but sometimes, it is the leading cause of disputes between powerful actors. Ultimately, increasing ownership of geographical factors will increase power/hard power. This is the last and perhaps the most significant factor enabling an international political actor to prevail in imposing their political will on one or more other political actors. In past centuries, powerful Western countries consistently sought methods to expand their colonies and garrisons, aiming to control major transportation routes worldwide and exploit natural and human resources in their areas of influence or occupation. Their objective was either to maintain hegemony on a global or regional scale or to challenge and contest existing hegemony. This approach is commonly used to explain peace, conflict, competition, and development through a geopolitical lens. Traditional German geopolitics, the birthplace of modern geopolitics, which rose during World War I and flourished under the Third Reich, was influenced by geographical determinism, especially theories that occurred in the mid-twentieth century. The German school believes that geopolitics is the study of space from the state‟s point of view. Specifically, Karl Haushofer asserted that “Geopolitics is the new national science of the state (...) a doctrine on the spatial determinism of all political processes, based on the broad foundations of geography, especially of political geography” (Cohen 2015, 15). In this way, geographical factors are believed to be objective actors that are relatively fixed in nature; the effects of geographical factors on the political policies of a country are considered intuitively cognizable through deductive methods, and their consequences to power interactions in a relevant region can be predicted accurately with the same method of thinking. However, it is more complex and ambiguous due to the diverse coexistence of geographical and non-geographical variables. In the early XXI century, one way to understand shaping theory was not to study geography or politics but from politics to geography or a bidirectional way between two factors. Saul Bernard Cohen‟s point of view is one of the most common conceptions of the impact of geography on politics. Cohen (2003): “Geopolitics is the analysis of the interaction between, on the one hand, geographical settings and perspectives and, on the other hand, political processes. (…) Both geographical settings and political processes are dynamic, and each influence and is influenced by the other. Geopolitics addresses the consequences of this interaction” (Cohen 2015, 16). The point of view of Yves Lacoste (French geographer) represents the opposite. He noted that: The term „geopolitics‟ is understood in a variety of ways. It refers to all things that involve the competition for power or influence over territories and the people living there, the competition between all types of political powers, which is not only countries but also political movements or secret armed groups, the competition for controlling or dominating large or small territories (Lacoste 2012, 28). We ignore the extension of the political interaction entities, and this definition shows that “competition” between political entities plays a leading role in this idea of geopolitics. There are two points we need to expand from this conception of geopolitics. The first is the purpose of the disputes, though often the manifest purpose rather than the latent purpose is to own natural and human sources. The second is competition between political entities, which is organic interaction, like what Foucault recognizes as power. These traditional ways of studying were challenged by the School of critical geopolitics, which occurred and developed at the beginning of the XXI century. the XXI century. According to critical geopolitics, which comes from the social structuralism approach, when experts in state administration create ideas about geographical locations, these ideas influence and underpin their political behaviour and policy choices. And these ideas affect how people process their concepts of place and politics. This tendency has led researchers to focus on analyzing geographical discourses to identify underlying assumptions about power. This aims to break the major concepts of international politics (Flint 2006; Toal 2006). The conceptual awareness of critical geopolitics has been abandoned (Fouberg et al. 2012, 535). In this article, we maintain a unified concept of terminology. Concepts that begin with the prefix “geo” are usually theories of behaviour or policies (military, economic, politics, etc.) of one or more states through geographical, natural, or humanistic aspects rather than focusing on the influence of geographical variables only. Prefix concepts (“geo”, short for geography) should be in the politics/political science sub-disciplines rather than in geography. THE GEOPOLITICAL IMPORTANCE OF THE INDO-PACIFIC REGION The Indo-Pacific region is situated along the coasts of the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific Ocean, with seas connecting these two vast bodies of water. The Indo-Pacific region is home to more than half of the world‟s population and has abundant resources and strategically significant international sea lanes. It is one of the most dynamic economic regions, fostering cooperation and growth between developed and developing economies. Interestingly, the term “Indo-Pacific” is not novel but instead borrowed from the field of geo-biology, where it denotes tropical waters stretching from the western coast of the Indian Ocean to the Western Pacific Ocean. The term “Indo-Pacific” with a geopolitical connotation was first mentioned by Gurpreet S. Khurana, Director of the National Maritime Foundation in New Delhi (India). In the article “Security of Sea Lines: Prospects for India-Japan Cooperation”, published in Strategic Analysis in 2007, G. S. Khurana defined the Indo-Pacific as a maritime space connecting the Indian Ocean with the Western Pacific Ocean, bordering all countries in Asia (including West Asia, Middle East) and East Africa (Khurana 2007, 150). He argued that India and Japan‟s common and core interests in the maritime domain would be complex to secure if the Indian and Pacific oceans were divided in strategic perception. Thus, the term “Indo-Pacific” was born as a new regional strategic vision. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in his address to the Indian Parliament in 2007, restored an ancient geographical view of Asia called “The Confluence of the Two Seas” (Chandra and Ghoshal 2018, 34), considering it a “dynamic coupling as seas of freedom and of prosperity” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan 2007) in Asia, set the target of linking the Pacific Ocean with the Indian Ocean to become the “Indo-Pacific” region, replacing the term of “Asia-Pacific”. The “Indo-Pacific” concept is supposed to be a geopolitical concept associated with countries inside and outside the geographical boundaries of the Asia-Pacific. Since 2010, this concept has become increasingly prevailing in strategic and geopolitical discourse and is employed by policymakers, experts, and scholars worldwide. Besides the geographical reference to the connection between the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean, the concept also has strategic and geopolitical significance, reflecting strategic changes, particularly in maritime security. Regarding geographical space, the “Indo-Pacific” term is a connecting space between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, which combines these two oceans into a singular regional construct (Berkofsky and Miracola 2019, 13). This region mainly stretches from the east coast of Africa to the west coast of the US. Indo-Pacific is located along the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific Ocean, with the seas connecting these two oceans, including Northeast Asian, Southeast Asian, and South Asian countries, as well as many Middle East and African countries. Regarding the roles, functions, connectivity, and interdependence of the two oceans, the Indo-Pacific has a diversity of ethnicities, religions, cultures, languages, and politics. This region has rich resources and important sea lanes, has the three largest economies in the world (the US, China, and Japan), is one of the most dynamic regions in terms of economy, and can support and promote each other between developed and developing economies. The Indo-Pacific has 9/10 busiest seaports in the world. About 60% of the world‟s maritime trade passes through this region, of which a third passes through the South China Sea (The US Department of Defense 2019). In addition, the sea route in the Indian Ocean is vital for transporting oil, gas, and goods worldwide, from the Middle East to Australia and East Asia. This is also a famously unstable sea with piracy and terrorism. Therefore, ensuring security for the lifeline of the world economy has received special attention from many countries. Almost 90 percent of global trade and 2/3 of hydrocarbons have been transported across oceans, most concentrated in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The Indian Ocean, in particular, carries over half of all global container shipping capacity and accounts for around 70% of all transshipment hydrocarbons. The Indian Ocean is one of the busiest international maritime trade channels, accounting for 1/9 of global seaports and 1/5 of the world‟s import and export cargo (Zhu 2018, 4). Every year, more than 100,000 ships pass through the Indian Ocean, including 2/3 of the oil tankers, 1/3 of the large cargo ships, and 1/2 of the container ships in the world (Kumar and Hussain 2016, 151). Strategically, the Indo-Pacific is viewed as a seamless structure connected by the strait of Malacca, the leading trade route connecting the two oceans. Two rationales explain the Indo-Pacific‟s strategic potential: Firstly, China‟s footprint throughout this region; secondly, the relative weakening of the US alliance system and its attempt to revive it (Das 2019). With topographical tectonics, the Indo-Pacific is also an area that holds the world‟s most important sea lanes and is home to strategic “choke points” of the world - the Suez Canal, Bab-el-Mandeb and the Strait of Hormuz to the northwest, the Mozambique Channel to the southwest and the Strait of Malacca (the strategic connection point between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean), the Sunda Strait, and the Lombok Strait in the southeast and the Cape of Good Hope. In particular, the Strait of Hormuz accounts for 40% of global crude oil shipments. Between Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia, the Strait of Malacca holds half the world‟s merchant shipping tonnage (Kaplan 2010, 7). In the context of increasing tensions in the South China Sea, the strategic location of the Strait of Malacca has become the focus of attention of countries whose economies are heavily dependent on this nasopharyngeal shipping route. Currently, the amount of oil transported through this strait is three times higher than the Suez Canal and 15 times larger than the Panama Canal (Tan 2011, 93). It can be said that the Indo-Pacific region has the most critical position for international maritime trade and the intersection of the political and economic strategic interests of many powerful countries. This region plays an increasingly important role in the XXI century, becoming the focus and center of world power. However, the Indo-Pacific is witnessing geopolitical competition and competition of interests among major powers. The US, China, India, Japan, and Australia have all made strategic adjustments to increase their influence and protect their interests in this region. The XXI century is considered “the century of seas and oceans” and is accompanied by fierce competition among world powers to gain strategic interests in the seas. In the past, nations primarily focused on competition for military objectives, geostrategic bases, and maritime traffic routes. However, in contemporary times, countries worldwide have shifted their focus towards competing for economic advantages and marine resources. The advancement of military capabilities and endeavours to vie for resources at sea increasingly indicate a trend toward leveraging maritime control to influence continental affairs. The “sea power” theory of US foremost thinker on naval warfare and maritime strategy - Alfred T. Mahan, has generated a premise for nations promoting sea power: “Control of the sea, by maritime commerce and naval supremacy, means predominant influence in the world; because however great the wealth product of the land, nothing facilitates the necessary exchanges as does the sea” (Mahan 1897, 124). Maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region has therefore become a “hot” focus in the maritime foreign policy agenda of powers. For the time being, the Indo-Pacific region is by and large peaceful and secure; however, it is confronted with some maritime security challenges: Firstly, regarding maritime disputes, there are about 40 maritime disputes between countries in the region, which could be disputes over territorial sovereignty or sovereign rights over the waters. Many disputes, including those in the East China Sea, South China Sea, Indian Ocean, or Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, are viewed as potential flashpoints for a Sino-US war or even a Third World War (Echle et al. 2020, 126). While direct armed conflicts have yet to erupt in these areas, they serve as the underlying cause of the region‟s escalating security challenges. These conflicts stem primarily from the diverse security needs of numerous countries in the region. Moreover, given their strategic significance, these areas represent complex issues in Indo-Pacific maritime security, highlighting the intricate nature of the disputes. Secondly, piracy and armed robbery have driven the Strait of Malacca, the South China Sea, and the Indian Ocean to the top of the list of the most dangerous waters. In 2018, the number of piracy and robbery cases in these areas was 8, 57, and 25, respectively, placing them second only to West Africa, which had 81 cases (International Maritime Organization, 2019, 2). While the number of piracy cases in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean decreased to 34 and 10, piracy cases in Malacca Strait increased to 45 in 2019 (International Maritime Organization 2020, 2). Another notable transnational maritime security issue in the Indo-Pacific is piracy off the coast of Somalia, which affects the waters of the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, and the Western Indian Ocean (Elleman et al. 2010, 210). In response to this threat, the United Nations Security Council has passed Resolution 1816, which states that cooperating countries may enter Somali territorial waters and use all necessary means to combat piracy and armed robbery (Klein 2011, 280). Thirdly, alongside piracy, the Indo-Pacific region serves as a focal point for terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabab. Following the 11 September terrorist attacks (commonly known as 9/11), countries including Singapore, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia have consistently coordinated their naval forces to combat terrorism in the Strait of Malacca, safeguarding oil tankers traversing the area. Additionally, new maritime security risks are emerging, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region, as terrorists exploit the Malay Archipelago as a sanctuary to identify vulnerable targets in the region and collaborate with extremists, Islamic insurgents, or members of organized crime networks. This fear has become much more real since the 2002 Bali bombings (Tan 2011, 91). Furthermore, terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf, and Jemaah Islamiyah have extended maritime terrorism into Southeast Asia, affecting the broader region. The bombing of Super Ferry 14 in the Philippines in 2004 stands as the deadliest maritime terrorist attack globally to date, claiming the lives of 116 individuals (Safety4Sea 2019). Lastly, drug trafficking and human trafficking are frequent transnational concerns in the Indo-Pacific. Many multinational organized criminal groups rely heavily on drug trafficking by water for a significant portion of their revenue. Drugs produced in Afghanistan, India, and Indonesia are transported by sea to other countries via illegal markets. The manufacture and transport of drugs are rising in the Indo-Pacific region, and criminal groups are exploiting the Malacca Strait as their primary distribution route to Southeast Asia countries (Zulkifli et al. 2020, 19). Moreover, the human trafficking issue remains unresolved as the coast guard, or the security department of port and ship facilities cannot predict the consequences. Furthermore, one of the threats to maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region is arms trafficking. Most of the arms trade was carried by criminal organizations by sea in containers from southern Thailand to Aceh, Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka via the Malacca Strait and the Andaman Sea (Zulkifli et al. 2020, 19). The increase in arms trade is a significant contributor to the rise in maritime crime, particularly in Southeast Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region. Consequently, territorial and maritime sovereignty disputes, coupled with the intricate linkages between transnational crime, piracy, and terrorism, have heightened the complexity of security threats in the marine domain. These developments strongly influence the adaptation of foreign strategies by several major powers, including China, India, and the United States. THE STRATEGIC ADJUSTMENTS OF SOME MAJOR POWERFUL COUNTRIES FOR THE INDO-PACIFIC REGION The Indo-Pacific region, with nearly half of the Earth‟s population, is at the center of the world‟s political and economic strategic interests. Currently, being rich in resources, many “throat” sea routes, and most dynamic economic and trade activities, this region plays an increasingly important role in the XXI century and beyond. However, the Indo-Pacific has been experiencing intense geopolitical competition, increasing pressure on trade and supply chains, and tensions in the technology, political, and security sectors. Great powers such as the US, China, India, Japan, and Australia have all made strategic adjustments to increase their influence and protect their interests in this region. United States of America Although not the first country to propose the Indo-Pacific concept, the US pioneered executing and implementing the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy. In recent years, the power has responded to global geopolitical changes by developing an Indo-Pacific strategy that seeks to rebalance the US to Asia as a counterweight to China‟s rise, developing alliances and partnerships to strengthen the Washington authority‟s interests over a large area stretching from the west coast of India to the west coast of the country. The US first coined the term “Indo-Pacific” through Secretary of State Hillary Clinton‟s official speech in Honolulu in October 2010. In 2017, following his inauguration, President Donald Trump intensified the term “Indo-Pacific” in official policy discourse (Turner and Parmar 2020, 229). In early June 2019, the US Department of Defense officially announced the Indo-Pacific Strategy Report for the first time. This strategy aims to enhance the US‟s bilateral alliances and multilateral cooperation mechanisms across economic, security, and maritime domains, establishing a comprehensive network spanning South, Southeast, and Northeast Asia. Subsequently, in November 2019, the US Department of State released a Progress Report detailing the implementation of the Indo-Pacific strategy. These developments underscore the significance of US engagement in the Indo-Pacific region as a top priority in President Donald Trump‟s foreign policy agenda. President Donald Trump chose the Indo-Pacific to underscore India‟s historical and contemporary significance in the region while affirming US interests and those of other countries. During a press conference in early April 2018, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex N. Wong elaborated on the concept, offering insights into how the Trump administration defines “freedom” and “openness”. According to Wong, “freedom” in the strategy primarily emphasizes international freedom, aiming for countries in the Indo-Pacific region to pursue their paths without coercion. At the national level, the US seeks to foster societies in the region that gradually embrace freedom, characterized by good governance, protection of fundamental rights, transparency, and anti-corruption measures. On the other hand, “openness” is primarily focused on expanding sea and air traffic. Maritime traffic is crucial to the region‟s vitality, as approximately 50% of international trade traverses the Indo-Pacific, mainly through the East Sea. Therefore, expanding sea and air routes in the Indo-Pacific is increasingly vital and significant on a global scale (Le 2018). The US‟s “Vision for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific” was born for two primary reasons. Firstly, it stems from the internal factors of the US that are associated with the vital nature of national security and the role of the US in the world. As an area adjacent to many oceans, gateways, and throats connecting the US with the world, the Indo-Pacific has always been considered by the US to be a critical geostrategic area, directly affecting national security and the world leadership role of America. Implementing the FOIP strategy is a way for the US to protect national interests, ensure the freedom and security of maritime traffic, maintain the balance of forces, and promote diplomatic activities and society-culture exchanges in the area. Second, stemming from the regional security situation, China‟s rise along with construction and militarization in the East Sea are seen as threatening the free flow of trade, threatening to narrow the sovereignty of countries, and reducing stability and security in the region. Not only that, but China‟s BRI is also challenging the US‟s leadership role in the Indo-Pacific region - where there is no multilateral mechanism on security, mainly based on bilateral agreements and arrangements, such as the US-Japan Security Treaty, the US-South Korea bilateral defense treaty (Pham and Vu 2020, 103-104). The US‟s Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy is constructed upon three fundamental pillars: security, economy, and governance. The objectives of this strategy are multifaceted. Firstly, it aims to sustain long-term US leadership within the Indo-Pacific region and globally, particularly in light of China (and Russia) being explicitly identified by the US as America‟s primary strategic competitors in the National Security Strategy of 2017 and the National Defense Strategy of 2018. Secondly, the strategy promotes free, fair, and reciprocal trade. The US opposes trade deficits and unfair trade practices by other nations, instead demanding equal and responsible behaviour from its trading partners. Thirdly, it aims to uphold open sea and airspace within the region. Fourthly, it effectively addresses traditional and non-traditional security challenges, including North Korea‟s nuclear program. Lastly, the strategy strives to ensure adherence to the rule of law and the protection of individual rights (The US Department of Defense 2019). The US‟s Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy focuses on ensuring the country‟s interests, focusing on the “4P” formula in a clear order of priority: prosperity, peace, power through the deployment of American power, and finally, influence through American values and principles – Principles (Nguyen 2021a, 49). US‟s Indo-Pacific Strategy is expected that the vital sea lanes of the Indo-Pacific will “create the foundation for the global trade and prosperity” (The US Department of Defense 2019). Therefore, the US strives to promote a Free and Open Indo-Pacific by promoting economic, governance, and security linkages. The core goal of the US‟s Indo-Pacific strategy is to build an alliance axis, Quadrilateral Security Dialogue1 (QUAD) (including the US, Japan, Australia, and India) to curb and prevent China‟s rise in the region, gain dominance, and control the entire region, thereby continuing to maintain the economic interests, political power, military and diplomatic power of the US (Pham and Vu 2020, 103). This is one of the main pillars that help to realize this connectivity strategy between the two oceans. The QUAD aims to foster the sharing of common interests, values, and perceptions of security threats among the four member countries. This collaboration aims to establish a balanced power dynamic that upholds a “rules-based” order in the Indo-Pacific region. On 12 March 2021, the QUAD officially convened online to reaffirm its primary maritime security mission. The overarching objective is to counteract China‟s growing regional and global influence (The White House 2021a). Besides QUAD, on 15 September 2021, the US, UK, and Australia officially announced establishing a tripartite security partnership in the Indo-Pacific region (AUKUS). The first step can confirm that AUKUS is a new structure prone to “triangle” security in the Indian Ocean. The Pacific Ocean space aims to protect and maintain the shared interests of the parties in this region. A joint statement by US President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson affirmed the partnership in AUKUS “guided by the enduring ideals and shared commitment to the international rules-based order” (The White House 2021b). This alliance aims to “help sustain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region” (The White House 2021b). [1] The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) was established in 2007 with four member countries: the US, Australia, Japan, and India. Its primary objective was to establish a trans-Pacific economic mechanism, potentially serving as the nucleus of the Asia-Pacific Economic Forum (APEC). After a 10-year hiatus, the QUAD group officially resumed the four-way dialogue in 2017, elevating it to a dialogue of foreign ministers. This resurgence occurred amidst heightened tensions between the US and China across various fronts, with Beijing's assertive behaviour posing security concerns for Japan, India, and Australia (Buchan and Rimland 2020, 3; Brunnstrom 2017). Therefore, the US‟s efforts to promote strategic cooperation, enhance engagement across economic, political, and security domains, and forge partnerships and alliances with regional countries reflect its ambitions in the Indo-Pacific. The Free and Open strategy serves as an extension of the “America First” policy, gradually bolstering the role and preserving the influence of the US in the region. China As a major power in Asia and globally, China inevitably focuses on strategically significant regions like the Indo-Pacific. Since the Cold War, particularly in the first two decades of the XXI century, China‟s ascendance has profoundly impacted global development, reshaping power distribution worldwide. This perspective is echoed by Robert D. Kaplan, a professor at the US Naval Academy: “China is currently changing the balance of power in the Eastern Hemisphere. On land and at sea, its influence extends from Central Asia to the Russian Far East and from the East Sea to the Indian Ocean” (Kaplan 2012, 200). China has stepped up its presence in the Indo-Pacific with the “String of Pearls” strategy and the “Belt and Road” Initiative (BRI). “String of pearls” is a term coined by American analysts to describe China‟s network of shipping lanes extending from southern China to the Indian Ocean, traversing strategic points such as the Strait of Mandab, the Strait of Malacca, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Strait of Lombok. It also encompasses other fundamental naval interests, including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives, and Somalia. Within this network, notable installations such as the military base on Hainan Island, the container shipping facility in Chittagong (Bangladesh), the deep-water port in Sittwe, the Kyaukpyu port, the Yangon port (Myanmar), the naval base in Gwadar (Pakistan), and the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka are referred to as the “jewels” or “pearls”. This chain of “pearls” extends from the coast of China, through the East Sea, the Strait of Malacca, across the Indian Ocean, and to the reefs of the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf (Kaplan 2012, 200). Each “jewel” within the “String of Pearls” represents China‟s geopolitical influence or military presence in key regions such as the Indo-Pacific, the East Sea, and other strategically significant seas. Through this strategy, China aims to extend its influence from Hainan in the East Sea through the world‟s busiest sea lanes towards the Persian Gulf. The primary objectives include restraining India, ensuring energy security, and asserting control over vital shipping lanes (Tran 2012, 77). To implement the “String of Pearls” strategy, China has improved relations with most of India‟s neighbours, including Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. In that context, Myanmar is a place that China can use as a springboard for its ambitions to expand its sphere of influence into Southeast Asia and South Asia (Gupta 2013, 82). Myanmar has an important strategic position between two major Asian countries, China and India. Besides, Myanmar is a coastal country in the Indian Ocean, so for Chinese policymakers, Myanmar is increasingly of more strategic value to China. Myanmar is strategically important to India and a key player in China‟s ambitions to reach the Indian Ocean. Myanmar is the only neighbouring country that can give China access to the Indian Ocean from the east, namely the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea (Myo 2015, 26-27). China’s moves in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea are the first steps to ensure China’s best interests in the Indian Ocean. China has also assisted Myanmar in developing naval bases at Sittwe, Hianggyi, Khaukphyu, Mergui, and Zadetkyi Kyun by building refuelling facilities and radar stations for Chinese submarines to operate on the Bay of Bengal (Singh 2007, 3). These facilities gather intelligence on Indian Navy activities and are forward bases for Chinese Navy operations in the Indian Ocean. With India‟s naval expansion efforts at a standstill, the Chinese Navy‟s growing presence in the region has had enormous strategic consequences for India because India‟s traditional geographical advantages are increasingly threatened by China‟s ability to penetrate deeper into Myanmar. According to US military experts, the “String of Pearls” is the basis for China to inspect and monitor all vital sea lanes in Asia and the world, curb India, Japan, and Korea, and gain the advantage of direct access to strategic locations in the Pacific. “String of Pearls” strategy, China strengthens ties with regional countries through aid, trade, and defense agreements and launches new cooperation initiatives. In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This initiative consists of two main parts: (i) The Silk Road Economic Belt (also known as the Land Silk Road) is a roadway designed with three branches (from China to Central Asia and Russia to Europe, from China through Central Asia, West Asia to the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean Sea, from China to Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Indian Ocean); (ii) Maritime Silk Road in the XXI century aims to build transport routes between major ports in different countries, including the development of an economic corridor across the Indian Ocean, connecting China with South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and the Mediterranean (Pham 2019, 31-32). The objectives of this BRI are: first, to expand the strategic space and create a backyard area of China to control the Eurasian - African continent, creating a counterbalance to the US‟s Indo-Pacific strategy; second, dominate the Indian and Pacific Ocean regions, control related shipping lanes and regional seaport systems, dominate oil and gas supplies, establish military bases in these areas through which these roads pass; third, create a socio-economic environment for the expansion of China‟s “soft power”; fourth, build a security perimeter around China to prevent the US and its allies from entering the area that Beijing considers its “backyard”, supporting China to go out into the world; fifth, promote regional economic cooperation, rely on economic cooperation to promote political relations, create a catalyst to solve problems in relations between China and countries in the region, prevent the contraction of countries in the region that have disputes with China, including the issue of maritime and island disputes; sixth, through the “5 channels” (through policy, communication (on land, at sea), trade, currency and people) to access, penetrate and control the regional economy in order to promote economic development in the region to take control of international trade, the right to evaluate and the right to distribute international resources; seventh, solve the problem of excess production capacity, find a market for stagnant goods, find an investment market, effectively use China‟s huge foreign exchange reserves, find a market for the yuan, speeding up the process of internationalization of the renminbi; Eighth, access to energy resources, especially oil and gas; Ninth, take advantage of the surrounding environment to create conditions for more equal development among regions in the country, especially the border areas, western China (Dinh 2021, 7-8). China‟s BRI prioritizes the maritime sector when it proposes the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” to connect seaports, one of the two main connections between China and Europe (Kuo and Kommenda 2018). It can be said that the BRI aims at strategic goals in terms of politics, security, economy, territorial sovereignty, and building a new framework of rules of the game in the region and the world, in which China plays a leading role (Tran 2017, 100). In addition, to counterbalance the Indo-Pacific strategy of the US and the QUAD, China has strengthened its relations with Russia and Iran by strengthening the Sino-Russian alliance in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and admitted Iran to this organization on 17 September 2021. China, Russia, and Iran have formed a “new maritime power triangle” and are preparing to launch a joint maritime exercise in the Persian Gulf. Previously, in December 2019, these three countries also conducted a joint maritime exercise in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman in the context of tensions between Washington and Tehran showing signs of escalation. India As a continental power occupying a strategic position in the heart of the Indian Ocean, India has become a prominent player in the Indo-Pacific region and one of the countries deploying manoeuvres to adjust foreign strategy. India‟s “Look East” policy (implemented since 1992) has extended India‟s foreign strategy to Southeast and East Asian countries. Over the years, India‟s regional involvement has shifted from economic ties to security cooperation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi‟s “Act East” policy (implemented since 2014) underpins India‟s approach to the Indo-Pacific region, in which this foreign policy will strengthen India‟s participation through strategic partnerships. In addition, the country has its vision for the Indo-Pacific region. India wants to promote peace and stability through an equal approach at sea and air, freedom of navigation, combating maritime crime, protecting the marine environment, and developing a green economy (Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India 2018). In 2015, in the Report “Ensuring Maritime Security: India‟s Maritime Security Strategy”, India clearly stated that its strategic vision shifted from the Euro-Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific, associated with the “Act East” policy. In his speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue (June 2016), Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid out India‟s vision for the Indo-Pacific region, emphasizing India‟s participation in organizations, taking ASEAN as the center of the region, such as the East Asia Summit (EAS), the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM+). Indian Prime Minister N. Modi first announced the Indo-Pacific Initiative during his speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue held on 1 June 2018 in Singapore. Prime Minister N. Modi affirmed, “The Indo-Pacific is a natural region (...) India does not see the Indo-Pacific Region as a strategy or as a club of limited members” (Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India 2018). On 4 November 2019, Prime Minister N. Modi once again mentioned this idea at the 14th East Asia Summit (EAS), held in Bangkok (Thailand), which “propose a cooperative effort to translate principles for the Indo-Pacific into measures to secure the shared maritime environment” (Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India 2019). This proposal also transforms India‟s conception of the Indo-Pacific region into practical and enforceable measures in the maritime domain. Regarding the policy, India has demonstrated its determination to implement the Indo-Pacific Initiative through the establishment of a Directorate-General for the Indo-Pacific under the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) since April 2019, based on merging international organizations, such as ASEAN, the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and the QUAD including the US, Japan, Australia, and India. In September 2020, India continued to establish the Directorate for Oceania in the MEA to promote India‟s administrative and diplomatic fields, stretching from the Western Pacific Ocean to the Andaman Sea. India‟s Indo-Pacific Initiative consists of 7 pillars, including 1) Marine security, 2) Marine ecosystems, 3) Marine resources, 4) Capacity building and resource sharing, 5) Disaster risk reduction and management, 6) Technology and trade cooperation, and 7) Connectivity and shipping, which can be grouped into six groups: 1) Maritime security; 2) Marine ecosystems and marine resources; 3) Building maritime enforcement capacity and information sharing; 4) Manage and reduce disaster risks; 5) Science and technology cooperation; 6) Trade connection and sea transportation (Nguyen 2021). India‟s approach to this strategy is inclusive and transcends traditional security issues or geopolitical challenges. India also wants to promote cooperation in environmental issues related to the sea and ocean sectors. Through the Indo-Pacific Initiative, India wishes to lead, chair, and coordinate in cooperation inside and outside the region, especially with small and medium-sized countries. Compared to the US‟s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy, India expands the geographical reach of the region under the Indo-Pacific Initiative, whereby the Indo-Pacific covers the African coast to the west of the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea, including neighbouring countries in the Gulf, islands in the Arabian Sea and the African region. By asserting “both geographical poles” of the Indo-Pacific Initiative, India emphasizes the balance between the two groups of policies, “Act East” and “Act West”, forming an integral part of the country‟s strategy in the Indo-Pacific region. For India, strengthening security cooperation with the US, forging a special strategic partnership with Japan, and maintaining the relationship with Australia are strategic focuses in shaping economic and security architecture in the region based on the “diamond quadrilateral” alliance. At the same time, to connect with the open Indo-Pacific space, India also strengthened ties with Asian, European, and African countries. CONCLUSION Due to the Indo-Pacific region‟s current structural makeup, the major regional powers have gradually turned it into a strategic area of power competition. Countries interested in the region actively participate in the Indo-Pacific regional architecture and seek ways to strengthen their positions to act as a counterweight in regional international affairs. Today, the Indo-Pacific is seen as a crucial element in the changes in global geopolitics and the focal point of numerous power struggles. In this region, besides the US, two Asian powers play a major role in regional security, China and India, because both countries seem to be putting all their efforts into improving regional security, greater competition than other areas due to their position. India is prepared and actively involved in a motivated strategy against China in the Indo-Pacific, in contrast to other regions where it has historically been more passive and weaker. India is moving toward the US in this competition but maintaining a neutral stance. Additionally, it is working to increase influence and fortify multilateral ties to close the power gap with China. With regard to China‟s growing influence in the region and its security implications for India and other regional countries, there exists a wide pessimism, particularly in Western analyses. It is quite pertinent to point out here that the India - China relationship is nicely balanced between the elements of cooperation and conflict, like that of the US-China relationship. Especially there is enough space in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond to accommodate both rising China and India. They can coexist and grow peacefully. However, the trends and issues will ostensibly continue to unfold in the region with greater worrying security concerns. In the coming years, maritime security within the Indo-Pacific region will be a key factor in the development of many countries. It, however, remains a major concern in the area because of the growing non-traditional security threats, in addition to maritime boundary disputes. Particularly, events in the SCS will continue to attract much of the regional and international attention. These could engulf the regional and international stakeholder‟s capability to maintain peace, security, and stability within the region in a sustained and effective manner. Most importantly, countries in the Indo-Pacific region share many of these common concerns. Invigorating greater cooperation and coherence in their strategy could help address the problems collectively. Moreover, establishing an Indo-Pacific Regional Security Architecture will be very handy in addressing common security concerns and threats. As a result, as the Indo-Pacific area is being shaped, the competition between the major powers is also becoming more complex and severe, significantly impacting the other nations in the region. In short, during the first two decades of the XXI century, the Indo-Pacific region has witnessed constant competition among numerous world powers. The region‟s strategic, economic, and commercial significance has positioned it at the heart of global contention, reshaping the character of international politics. The Indo-Pacific has become the focal point of international conflicts and power dynamics, heralding a significant new geopolitical landscape in the XXI century. It can be asserted that the power competition among these nations will shape the interaction patterns among Indo-Pacific countries in the ensuing years of this century. 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Energy & Economics
SHENZHEN, CHINA - CIRCA NOVEMBER 2019: ZTE room at the High-Tech Fair China 2019 at Shenzhen Convention & Exhibition Center.

What should Europeans do about the U.S.-China Rivalry in key strategic technologies?

by Roberta Haar , Hengyi Yang

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском In October 2023, the EU Commission identified four technology fields as critical: advanced semiconductors; artificial intelligence (AI); quantum, and; biotechnologies.[1] All four areas are greatly impacted by the U.S.-China rivalry in technology, making it essential for Europeans to understand the Sino-American competition. This article examines this rivalry from the Chinese and U.S. perspectives. It recounts their prevailing attitudes, which are shaped by recent events, and that, in turn, mold Chinese and American strategic approaches. From the Chinese policymakers’ perspective, its geo-technological competition with the U.S. is novel and passively learned. During Xi Jinping’s first term, the Chinese government still positioned technology under the economic-oriented strategy of innovation-driven development. This stance followed the idea that ‘science and technology constitute a primary productive force’ and the ‘peaceful development’ principles set during Deng Xiaoping’s era. However, around 2018, two sanctions incidents that targeted Chinese telecommunications giants shifted Chinese leaders’ understanding of tech strategy into the geopolitical context. The first sanction incident involved ZTE, China’s second-largest communications equipment manufacturer. In 2016, the Barack Obama administration accused ZTE of selling telecom equipment containing American chip technology to Iran, which violated U.S. sanctions. In 2017, ZTE pleaded guilty and paid a fine of $1.2 billion. However, in 2018, Trump’s government stated that ZTE did not comply with the settlement agreement, coupling previous sanctions with export controls on ZTE in April 2018. The second incident involved Meng Wanzhou, then Vice-Chairwoman and CFO of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, who was arrested in Vancouver, Canada, during a layover in December 2018. Her detention was at the extradition request of the Trump administration, which levied charges related to alleged violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran. These included bank and wire fraud and outright violations of U.S. sanctions via a subsidiary called Skycom Tech, which allegedly concealed Huawei’s activities in Iran. The necessity of a strategic adjustment These two incidents caused an uproar in the Chinese media, followed by a surge in public patriotic sentiment. However, for the Chinese government, the impact and significance of the two cases were quite different. The essence of the ZTE case was commercial sanctions, which meant that ZTE violated business norms and deserved economic punishment. The official Chinese government stance was that ‘this is just an individual case of corporate violation.’ Despite this position, the fact that the government was actively involved nonetheless politicized the incident within China. It was Xi Jinping himself who negotiated with Trump to save ZTE from bankruptcy after which ZTE became a state-owned enterprise with absolute state control—a move that ultimately resulted in ZTE gaining a greater domestic market share than Huawei. At the international level, the top-level nature of negotiations prevented the ZTE incident from overly politicizing then-ongoing trade frictions between the U.S. and China. While the ZTE episode was resolved with little rancor, Chinese senior officials became concerned about the impact that the U.S. might have on China’s strategic technology companies.[2] In November 2018, Tan Tieniu, then Deputy Secretary-General of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, reported to China’s top leaders that they should learn from the ZTE incident. They should avoid overreliance on imports of core electronic components and chips, and they should not repeat mistakes made by ZTE. In the same month, Xi Jinping mentioned in a speech that ‘internationally, advanced technology and key technology is more and more difficult to obtain… forcing us to travel the road of self-reliance.’ Terms like technological security, technology ‘chokepoints’ (卡脖子), and core technologies in key fields (关键核心技术) began to appear frequently in Chinese official discourse. These reflected Chinese leadership’s views about the ZTE incident that were in turn shaping strategic thoughts on the geopolitical technology competition with the United States. It was the Meng Wanzhou incident at the end of 2018 that for Chinese leaders confirmed the necessity of a strategic adjustment. As in the ZTE case, Huawei was involved in a business violation that from the Chinese perspective should have resulted in corporate punishment. Instead, a personal arrest warrant was issued for Meng, thereby escalating a commercial sanction into a political and diplomatic incident. Le Yucheng, then Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, urgently summoned the U.S. and Canadian ambassadors to China and issued a stern protest. The Chinese government also arrested two Canadian citizens in China, sentencing one to 11 years in prison. The Chinese Ambassador to Canada wrote that the Meng Wanzhou case was a ‘premeditated political act in which the United States wields its regime power to hunt a Chinese high-tech company out of political consideration.’ Chinese Defensive Deterrence These two episodes shaped and reinforced Chinese leaders’ strategic thinking about its geopolitical technology competition with the U.S. The 14th Five-Year Plan issued by the CCP in 2020 proposed ‘making technological self-reliance’ a strategic goal. Soon all official documents established a new tone for China’s technology strategy based on self-reliance. Previously, China pursued a reassurance strategy, a strategy that showed goodwill towards the U.S. and the system it led. Thus, in theory, China had two strategic options: reassurance and/or deterrence. The former strategy involves showing friendliness towards the U.S. and its allies, thereby releasing tension, and maybe re-joining the U.S.-led system. A reassurance strategy allowed China more time for stable development—the logic of ‘keeping a low profile’ of the Deng Xiaoping era. The Xi Jinping government picked the second option, deterrence, which is to show strength or use countermeasures to reduce the likelihood of further U.S. trade or coercive action. To make a deterrence strategy work, however, Xi further believed China needed to gain strong capacity in key tech fields. Therefore, Xi first mobilized domestic R&D resources and tried to acquire advanced technologies before using diplomatic countermeasures. The core logic underlying this geopolitical technology strategy is one of ‘defensive deterrence.’ A typical example of this strategy in play concerns the semiconductor industry. Facing export controls on semiconductor equipment from the U.S., the Netherlands, and Japan, the Chinese government first increased R&D investment in the sector, trying to overcome ‘chokepoint’ technologies. As a result, China’s investment in semiconductor R&D grew from $10 billion in 2018 to $25 billion in 2022, an increase of 150%. At the same time, the Chinese government increased investment in the production of key raw materials (silicon, gallium nitride, etc.) and semiconductor production bases. It also guided industries upstream while also pushing for downstream integration through policies to improve and strengthen supply-chain security. Chinese policy also moved to increase international supply-chain dependence on China through its comparative advantages in the semiconductor industry (and even other industries) in a hedging move against the U.S. and its allies. For example, in the automotive chip sector, in the supply of vital raw materials, and in the semiconductor equipment markets, China sought to utilize its significant comparative advantages. In August 2023, the Chinese government announced export controls on gallium and germanium, two key materials for manufacturing semiconductors. China Seeking More Regulatory Power But in addition to responding to what was perceived as U.S. containment policies in the area of technology, China’s strategic use of technology followed another approach, one led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT). This third approach sought more regulatory power, for example, in the areas of civilian AI where China has huge potential.[3] Starting in 2018, the Chinese government showed a strong determination to introduce and study AI ethics and technical standards.[4] Based on these domestic framework policies, various diplomatic initiatives, and standards proposals, the MFA and MIIT expanded China’s regulatory influence in the field of AI. For example, the MFA proposed the ‘Global Data Security Initiative’ in 2020 and the ‘Global Artificial Intelligence Governance Initiative’ in 2023. Minister Wang Yi explicitly stated ‘We hope to provide a blueprint for related international discussions and rule-making.’ The China Electronics Standardization Institute, affiliated with the MIIT, also actively participates in the formulation of international new technology standards. Selectively decoupling: U.S. Attitudes and Strategies When it comes to strategic technologies, the Joe Biden administration has generally maintained a stance toward China that aligns closely with the previous administration led by Donald J. Trump. This is especially the case concerning competitive technologies such as 5G/6G, the specialized processors designed to handle the computational demands of AI, quantum computing, and electric vehicles (EVs). Taking a page from U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s Cold War playbook of outspending the Soviet Union, president Biden initiated a $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan. This plan, not unlike China’s policy to increase domestic innovation and strength, allocated funds for sectors such as transportation, manufacturing, renewable energy, clean water, and high-speed broadband for both wired and wireless technologies. The justification for these investments, part of the Build Back Better Act (BBB) policy and later incorporated into the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) and Science Act, was that they were a response to Xi Jinping’s ambitious goals of doubling China’s economy by 2035, intending to establish China as a global leader in biotechnology, green energy, and AI. In addition to a spending strategy to boost U.S. competitiveness in strategic technologies, the Biden administration continued with some of Trump’s punitive measures. For example, Biden maintained tariffs amounting to approximately $300 billion. He also continued action against Huawei, which has the potential to outcompete in 5G/6G mobile network technology. The Trump administration used the Bureau of Industry and Security to exclude Huawei from global semiconductor supply chains and it placed the company on the Commerce Department’s Entity List, thus requiring U.S. companies to obtain a license before exporting to Huawei. As discussed above, Trump’s executive branch also brought fraud allegations against Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng. While Biden kept in place Trump-era prohibitions on sales of U.S. goods to companies like Huawei, as well as maintaining restrictions on exports of U.S. critical technology, he did quickly resolve the dispute over Meng. Within hours of the deal for her release, the two men caught up in the game of hostage diplomacy left China on a flight back to Canada. Highlighting the political nature of the incident, when Meng returned to China, senior local officials at the airport met her. Encourage Multilateralism to meet Global Challenges Along with strident measures, the Biden administration also sought a more nuanced stance. Indications that suggest a less hawkish approach to China include emphasizing a collaborative approach toward global challenges like climate change and future pandemics. Biden further pushed for engagement in high-level meetings with, for example, Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, who held talks with their Chinese counterparts, Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi, in Anchorage, Alaska, in March 2021. These talks were frostier than U.S. officials would have preferred but they got the two sides to engage in some dialogue. Similarly, Biden sought to engage with China in multilateral forums and organizations where both countries are members, such as the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum that Biden hosted in November 2023. Even the choice of San Francisco as the venue was designed to be conciliatory as it has historic ties to Asia as well as a central role in global technology as the home of Silicon Valley. Still, one must keep in mind that in deciding on a strategy towards China, Biden must also contend with a Congress and public opinion that are growing increasingly skeptical of doing business with China, which they believe steals good jobs and sends balloons over American territory to spy on U.S. critical infrastructure. One primary shaper of U.S. attitudes towards China are the leaders of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, Republican Representative Mike Gallagher and Democratic Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, who lead one of the last bastions of functioning bipartisanship in Washington, D.C. With their many investigations, subpoenas, and policy recommendations, the House China Committee has become the ‘beating heart’ of U.S. Congressional policy, which, with regards to technology, argues for selectively decoupling from China for national security reasons.[5] A way forward Faced with the U.S.’ decoupling or blunting strategies and China’s defensive deterrence strategy, what steps might European nations take to navigate through the choppy, contentious waters of strategic technologies? Are there also steps that Europeans can take to mitigate the impact on their own strategic technology vulnerability? First, recognizing the pivotal role of technology in the rapidly digitizing global economy, Europeans need to stress that it is in the collective interest of everyone to establish institutions, norms, and policies for effective global governance. Rather than engaging in reactive geopolitical maneuvers resembling a chess game, these institutions could concentrate on constructing a more cooperative foundation for crucial technology sectors. Second, along with this recognition, efforts could be directed toward the development of future institutions, policies, and norms that set standards for next-generation and sensitive technologies. Such efforts should take into account initiatives already made by the Chinese and the Americans. Such efforts could also coincide with a third approach of encouraging the Biden administration to adopt a comprehensive multilateral approach. The U.S. needs to push for collaboration beyond issues such as climate change and economic inequality to encompass the intensely competitive areas in technology like those discussed in this article. For one, Europeans could point out that U.S. blunting strategies are simply not working and may even be backfiring by accelerating Chinese technological advances. In September 2023, Huawei released the Mate 60 Pro smartphone equipped with a 7nm domestic chip, revealing that China has overcome some hurdles that U.S. bans were designed to stymie.[6] Since no one knows how long China’s defensive deterrence strategy will hold (and shift to what Chinese leaders believe is a more offensive deterrence), nor whether Trump or someone as equally anti-multilateral as Trump will be (re)elected, Europeans have many incentives to encourage a softer engagement between China and the U.S. Changing the narrative is a fourth important recommendation. It is essential to recognize that the essence of the Sino-American technology competition is more about narrative construction than a description of the current situation. One indication of this is that both sides believe that the other side started what has been described as the ‘new Cold War.’[7] It does not help that both sides have engaged in behavior that supports the other side’s narrative with some hawkish actors employing similar bash-the-other tactics to gain political advantage.[8] Typically, the factual basis for technological competition is grounded in industrial competition, corporate rivalry, or intellectual property disputes. However, the high-tech relationship between China and the United States has been one of complementarity as well as rivalry. Both China and the United States, as well as European stakeholders, need to be careful of the narratives they espouse, lest they become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This work has been funded by the REMIT project, funded from the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 101094228 Footnotes [1] EU Commission Recommendation of 3.10.2023 on critical technology areas for the EU’s economic security for further risk assessment with Member States. [2] Gregory C. Allen. 2023. ‘China’s New Strategy for Waging the Microchip Tech War.’ csis.org, May 3. [3] Jing Cheng and Jinghan Zeng. 2023. ‘Shaping AI’s Future? China in Global AI Governance.’ Journal of Contemporary China 32(143): 794-810. [4] See White Paper on AI Standardization, a Guide to the Building of a National Standard Framework for New Generation AI, a report on Ethical Norms for New Generation AI, a White Paper on Trustworthy AI as well as other regulatory documents. [5] Robbie Gramer. 2023. ‘The Masterminds: Washington wants to get tough on China, and the leaders of the House China Committee are in the driver’s seat.’ foreignpolicy.com, November 27. [6] Weiwen Wang. (2023). ‘China Breaks Through 7nm Chip Technology, Has the China-U.S. Tech War Entered Phase 2.0?’ (中国突破7纳米芯片技术 中美科技战进入2.0阶段?). Lianhe Zaobao (联合早报), September 17. Retrieved from https://www.zaobao.com.sg/news/china/story20230917-1433739 [7] Patricia M. Kim, Matthew Turpin, Joseph S. Nye Jr., Jessica Chen Weiss, Eun A Jo, Ryan Hass, and Emilie Kimball. 2023. ‘Should the US pursue a new Cold War with China?’ Brookings.edu, September 1. [8] Roberta N. Haar. 2020. ‘Will China replace the U.S. as the world’s predominant power?’ Atlantisch Perspectief 44(3):9-13.

Defense & Security
Flags of china and the united states on a map of the southern china sea.

War games risk stirring up troubled waters as Philippines − emboldened by US − squares up to Beijing at sea

by Fred H. Lawson

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском U.S. Marines joined Filipino counterparts on May 5, 2024, for a mock battle at a telling location: a small, remote territory just 100 miles off the southern tip of the contested island of Taiwan. The combat drill is part of the weekslong Exercise Balikatan that has brought together naval, air and ground forces of the Philippines and the United States, with Australia and France also joining some maneuvers. With a planned “maritime strike” on May 8 in which a decommissioned ship will be sunk and exercises at repelling an advancing foreign army, the aim is to display a united front against China, which Washington and Manila perceive as a threat to the region. Balikatan is Tagalog for “shoulder to shoulder.” Joint Philippines-U.S. naval drills have become an annual event. But as an expert in international relations, I believe this year’s drills mark an inflection point in the regional politics of the South China Sea. For the first time, warships taking part in the exercise ventured outside the 12-mile boundary that demarcates the territorial waters of the Philippines. This extends military operations into the gray area where the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone rubs up against the territory claimed by China and designated by its “nine-dash line.”    Also for the first time, the U.S. deployed an advanced mobile launcher for medium-range ballistic and cruise missiles of a type that had been banned under the now-defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. In addition, the Philippine navy is showing off its newest acquisition, a South Korean-built missile frigate. The South China Sea has long been the source of maritime disputes between China, which claims the vast majority of its waters, and nations including Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. In addition, heightened tensions over the status of Taiwan – a territory that the Biden administration has pledged to defend militarily in the event of a Chinese invasion – have made the South China Sea even more strategically important. Containment at sea The latest joint maneuvers come amid two developments that could go some way to influence the future trajectory of tensions in the South China Sea. First, the Philippines has grown increasingly assertive in countering China’s claims in the region; and second, the U.S. is increasingly intent on building up regional alliances as part of a strategy to contain China. The Philippines-U.S. alignment is more robust than ever. After a brief interval during the 2016-22 presidency of Rodrigo Duterte, U.S. warships and military aircraft once again operate out of bases in the Philippines. Joint naval patrols resumed in early 2023. At the same time, Manila granted U.S. troops unprecedented access to facilities on the northern Batanes islands, which have become the focus of current joint operations. Meanwhile, Washington has become more vocal in condemning challenges to the Philippines from China. U.S. officials had carefully avoided promising to protect the far-flung islands, atolls and reefs claimed by Manila for seven decades following the signing of the Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines in 1951. Only in March 2019 did then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assert that the treaty covers all of the geographical area over which the Philippines asserts sovereignty. In February 2023, Presidents Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Joe Biden doubled the number of bases in the Philippines open to the U.S. military. That May, the two leaders affirmed that the Mutual Defense Treaty applies to armed attacks that take place “anywhere in the South China Sea.” Causing waves, rocking the boat Firmer ties to the U.S. have been accompanied by more combative behavior on the part of the Philippines. In May 2023, the Philippines coast guard introduced demarcation buoys around Whitsun Reef – the site of an intense confrontation with China’s maritime militia a year earlier. Reports circulated three months later that Philippine marines planned to construct permanent outposts in the vicinity of the hotly contested Scarborough Shoal. And a Philippine coast guard ship, with the commander of the country’s armed forces aboard, approached Scarborough Shoal in November, before being forced to retreat by Chinese maritime militia vessels. Then in January 2024, the Philippines broke with its adherence to a prohibition on erecting structures on disputed territory, which was part of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, by installing electronic surveillance equipment on Thitu Island, which sits beyond Scarborough Shoal in the heart of a cluster of disputed formations. This was followed by announced plans to put water desalination plants on Thitu, Nanshan Island and Second Thomas Shoal, making it possible to maintain permanent garrisons on these isolated outposts. Manila has continued to assert its maritime rights by announcing that armed forces would escort exploration and mining activities in the exclusive economic zone. Further acts that could be seen as provocative in Beijing followed, including the stationing of a Philippine navy corvette at nearby Palawan Island and a joint flyover by Philippine warplanes and a U.S. Air Force B-52 heavy bomber. A raft of Chinese responses It is clear that the deepening of Philippines-U.S. ties has given Manila the confidence to undertake a variety of combative acts toward China. The question is, to what ends? A more assertive Philippines may end up contributing to the U.S. strategy to deter Beijing from extending its presence in the South China Sea and launching what many in Washington fear: an invasion of Taiwan. But it is possible that heightened truculence on the part of the Philippines will goad Beijing into being more aggressive, diminishing the prospects for regional stability. As the Philippines-U.S. alignment has strengthened, Beijing has boosted the number of warships it deploys in the South China Sea and escalated maritime operations around Thitu Island, Second Thomas Shoal and Iroquois Reef – all of which the Philippines considers its sovereign territory. In early March 2024, two Chinese research ships moved into Benham Rise, a resource-rich shelf situated on the eastern coast of the Philippines, outside the South China Sea. Weeks later, a Philippines coast guard cutter surveying a sandbar near Thitu was harassed not only by Chinese coast guard and maritime militia ships but also by a missile frigate of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, which for the first time launched a helicopter to shadow the cutter. Washington has taken no public steps to dampen tensions between Manila and Beijing. Rather, Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed full-throated support for “our ironclad defense commitments” during a mid-March 2024 stopover in Manila. Reassured of U.S. backing, Marcos has amped up the rhetoric, proclaiming that Manila would respond to any troublemaking on Beijing’s part by implementing a “countermeasure package that is proportionate, deliberate and reasonable.” “Filipinos,” he added, “do not yield.” Such an approach, according to Marcos, was now feasible due to the U.S. and its regional allies offering “to help us on what the Philippines requires to protect and secure our sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction.” The danger is that as the Philippines grows more assured by U.S. support, it may grow reckless in dealing with China. Rather than deterring China from further expansion, the deepening Philippines-U.S. alignment and associated Filipino assertiveness may only ramp up Beijing’s apprehensiveness over its continued access to the South China Sea – through which virtually all of its energy imports and most of its exports flow. And there is little reason to expect that Washington will be able to prevent an emboldened Manila from continuing down the path of confronting China in the South China Sea. To Beijing, the prospect of an emboldened Philippines forging active strategic partnerships with Australia, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and – most troublesome of all – Taiwan makes the situation all the more perilous.

Defense & Security
Japanese Fighter Jet

Japan’s Role in Shaping the Security Landscape of Southeast and East Asia

by Swati Arun

한국어로 읽기 Leer en español In Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français Читать на русском Japan has embarked upon a transformative journey that signifies a departure from its conventional pacifist stance. Despite encountering pockets of domestic opposition, Japan’s vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific has received increasing support from neighbouring nations. Within a regional backdrop of countering China’s military modernisation and expansionism, Japan is now laying the groundwork for collective defence while working to institutionalise these efforts and ease concerns about remilitarisation. Japan has gradually undertaken various steps to enhance the role of self-defence forces and allow military partnerships. The three new requirements for exercising self-defence, adopted in 2014, expanded Japan’s right to self-defence in the “occurrence of an armed attack against Japan or another country with close ties to Japan”, a threat to national existence, with “no other means to ensure the survival of the country”, adding the use of “minimum amount of force necessary”. Japan broadened the definition of security to encompass any changes in its vicinity that may compromise its territorial integrity. Following these changes, on 16 Dec 2022, the Kishida administration formally approved three revised strategic documents – the National Security Strategy (NSS), the National Defense Strategy (NDS), and the Defense Buildup Program. These revisions reduced the limitations imposed on the Self Defense Forces and collective defence. Viewing these changes in today’s security conflict in East Asia, the first requirement effectively extended the parameters of self-defence to include Taiwan. In the NSS, Japan identified Taiwan as an “extremely important partner and a precious friend” while characterising China as “a matter of serious concern” and “the greatest strategic challenge.” The documents also designated North Korea as “a graver, more imminent threat” and Russia as “a serious security concern.” The documents revealed Japan’s acquisition of counterstrike capabilities, filling gaps in its defences, and broadening the second and third requirements for collective self-defence. Furthermore, Tokyo intends to upgrade the indigenous Type 12 surface-to-ship missile, with a range of approximately 200 km, to approximately 1,200 km, substantially increasing the cost of Chinese attacks in the region. In January 2024, Japan signed agreements with the US to acquire 400 Tomahawk cruise missiles, with a firing range of approximately 1,600 km. Reportedly, Japan aims to rectify its current ammunition reserves by constructing “70 ammunition depots within five years” and plans to construct up to 130 ammunition depots by 2035, drawing lessons from the conflict in Ukraine. Japan revised the Three Principles of Transfer of Defence Equipment and Technology overcoming the past restrictions on transfer of defence equipment and technology to other countries. These revisions marked the beginning of Japan’s evolving role as a security provider in the region. Together this amounts to the doubling of the defence spending from 1% to 2% of GDP by 2027 to speed up the advancement of Japan’s peacetime and immature military and bring it to NATO standards. The revisions are consistent with Japan’s understanding of its new security environment where Chinese assertions are reinforced by the largest naval force in Asia. The shift also underscores the limitation of the US power in the region to remain the sole security provider by enabling Japan to take a central role. Japanese people also resonated with the sentiments, as a poll conducted in 2022 revealed that 89% see China as a threat in 2022, and 49% of respondents supported an expanded role of Japan in the alliance while 46% were against it. In 2023, Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force conducted Indo-Pacific Deployment 2023 (IPD23) to “clearly demonstrate the intention that Japan will never tolerate unilateral changes to the status quo by force” as specified in NSS. The Japanese forces visited 17 countries and held 27 exercises with like-minded countries, highlighting Japan’s intention to expand security ties across the nations with territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and with the ASEAN. In the same year, Japan established a Permanent Joint Headquarters to oversee all three forces – the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces – to ensure effective joint operations. Acknowledging Japan’s growing ambition, in December 2023, Chinese President Xi Jinping instructed the coast guard to strengthen its activities to assert sovereignty over the East China islets. Japan has actively pursued collective defence in Southeast Asia with its introduction of “Official Security Assistance” in February 2023, under which the Philippines was the first to receive aid, followed by Malaysia. Japan also plans to include Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, and Cambodia. These plans will allow Japan to establish a military-industrial complex, extending the nexus of partnership and interdependency between Japan and Southeast Asia. The changes when seen together with the U.S.-Japan Joint Leaders’ Statement mark a decisive shift in Japan’s strategy to counter China. In an upgrade to the US-Japan alliance, the two parties agreed to establish a unified Japanese-US command, enabling the US to make a headquarters in Japan for overseas military operations in the region. They also agreed upon the co-development and co-production of missiles and cutting-edge technologies in Japan, enhancing its defence industrial complex, and export to third parties. The statement noted Japan’s cooperation with AUKUS in its Pillar II advanced capability projects. The statement also relayed the “existential crisis” facing Japan making these efforts natural, conforming to Japan’s revisions to strategic policy documents. Previously, in 2022, Japan had announced a collaboration with the UK, and Italy to develop next-generation fighter jets and subsequently in March 2024, decided to authorise the export of jointly developed fighter jets to other nations. Cross-strait relations, once dealt with utmost precaution through the lens of the “One-China Policy” have now shifted to a more openly debated foreign and strategic policy surrounding Taiwan. Since 2021, Japanese leaders have made a series of statements and comments concerning Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait. In May 2022 a statement from US-Japan Summit reiterated that “peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait as an indispensable element in security”. In a January 2024 speech, former PM Aso Taro also reiterated that the Taiwan crisis constitutes “a threat of national existence” for Japan. China reacted to former US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August 2022 with large-scale military exercises around the island. Four months later in December 2022, Japan released three new strategic documents. Taiwan’s importance to Japan’s security was cited seven times in NSS and NDS. Furthermore, Japan intends to enhance the defence of all of its 6,852 islands, focusing on the Ryukyu Island chains, the cornerstone of Japan’s defence against China, lying only 100 Km from Taiwan, which also tightens security around the island. The deployment of a surface-to-air guided missile unit is now under consideration on Yomaguni, home to a JSDF surveillance station adding to Japan’s understanding of Taiwan’s security tied closely to its own. China’s preferred military scenario of a “lightning war”, or a surprise attack to take over Taiwan within weeks or days, has increased the level of urgency and acted as a precursor for the military acceleration of the past several years. The history of Japanese aggression in East Asia and Chinese military support for North Korea diluted the possibility of a regional framework between Japan, South Korea and China. However, through years of efforts in August 2023, a rapprochement was reached between Japan and South Korea when they met at Camp David for a trilateral summit between US-Japan-South Korea. The trilateral took the first step in removing historical obstacles and proving trust in Japan’s new regional role. South Korea has remained averse to participating in major power competitions, but this trilateral institutionalised the effort, guarding the progress against changes in the political situation in either country. For South Korea, North Korea remains its primary security concern. For Japan, the North remains the second most crucial threat with its launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile in the Sea of Japan in 2022, provoking cooperation on the same despite fractures. Through the joint statement of the trilateral summit, the US got support from South Korea in recognising the perils of not maintaining peace and security in the Taiwan Strait. South Korea got a much-needed boost in intelligence sharing on North Korea’s missile launches and cyber activities which will strengthen ballistic missile defence cooperation. However, it is unlikely that South Korea will endanger its security by interfering in a cross-strait crisis. It will still play a critical role in keeping North Korea at bay in the event of an armed conflict in the Taiwan Strait or East China Sea. Nevertheless, Taiwan thanked the support shown through the trilateral, while China warned against destabilising the region. Japan stands as one of the Philippines’ most trusted partners, second only to the US. Ties have grown deeper as the two have signed a series of agreements from Military and Capacity Building to Maritime Security and Intelligence Sharing in the Indo-Pacific. In 2023, under Japan’s Official Security Assistance, the Philippines received USD 4 million worth of coastal surveillance radars. The two parties are discussing signing a Reciprocal Access Agreement before the end of 2024. An April 2024 joint statement between Japan, the Philippines and the US prioritised advancing “multilateral maritime domain awareness cooperation”, and developing “an information communications technology ecosystem”. It also committed to trilateral defence cooperation and support for the Philippines’ defence modernisation priorities. The statement noted concerns about China’s aggressive behaviour, its “coercive use of Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels in the South China Sea”, conjoining it with the situation in the East China Sea. It also reiterated the importance of the Taiwan Strait in global security. Under this framework, reliance and trust in Japan have increased, setting it up for a larger security role and the collectivisation of security has brought new assurances for the smaller powers of the region. The Taiwanese President thanked the trilateral joint statement supporting peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. China, however, slammed the anti-China gathering, accusing it of forming a NATO analogue in the region. China summoned Japanese and Philippine diplomats, expressing dissatisfaction and urging Japan to “take actions beneficial to regional peace”. Beyond South Korea and the Philippines, Japan has also maintained long military and diplomatic relations with Vietnam, having had 10 defence dialogues in the past. Furthermore, Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced the Vietnam-Japan Comprehensive Strategic Partnership on 27 November 2023. According to their joint statement, Kishida and Thuong reinforced the vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific”. The US also upgraded its ties with Vietnam in September 2023. These developments led to President Xi Jinping’s visit to Vietnam in December 2023, culminating into an agreement to establish a hotline between the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s Southern Theatre Command and the Vietnamese navy. But mistrust towards China runs deep in the Vietnamese public, which is furthered when China continues to lay new claims in Vietnamese waters. While Vietnam remains reluctant to participate in US-China conflict, its closeness with Japan is a sign that the latter is seen as a reliable regional partner with similar territorial problems. In a wider regional sense, Japan views ASEAN as its key partner in fulfilling the Indo-Pacific vision. The ASEAN centrality resonates in both the Indo-Pacific Strategy and the US-Japan-South Korea trilateral. Japan maintained close ties with the region through robust economic and defence cooperation. But the latter has gained momentum in the past few years. Beginning with the Philippines in 2016, Japan forged bilateral agreements for defence equipment and technology collaboration with multiple ASEAN nations (with Malaysia in 2018, Indonesia and Vietnam in 2021, and Thailand in 2022). In February 2023, the “Expert Panel for the 50th Year of ASEAN-Japan Friendship and Cooperation” issued a report emphasising that ASEAN has evolved from being primarily an aid recipient from Japan to a growing and influential partner. In December 2023, the ASEAN and Japan summit released a joint statement, committing to “strengthening security cooperation including maritime security” in the light of growing threats in the South China Sea. The statement highlighted the trust ASEAN has in Japan amid China’s growing claims in the South China Sea. This reflects a growing realisation among ASEAN members that collective defence is the answer to their security challenge – which China reacted negatively to. In the face of a major power conflict, the trust of Southeast Asian countries in Japan’s security guarantee has been increasing. A poll conducted in 2022 reflected these sentiments when 43.1% of Taiwanese confirmed their belief that Japan would defend Taiwan in the event of an invasion from China, while 42.8% of citizens felt that the US would be a security guarantor to Taiwan. Surveys undertaken in 2023 and 2024 substantiate the increasing affinity between ASEAN and Japan. While China surpassed the US as the preferred partner for ASEAN, Japan remained the most trusted partner, with 58.9% of respondents expressing faith in the country, surpassing levels for the US, China, India, and the European Union. This suggests that ASEAN is gradually transitioning its geopolitical alignment towards Japan as (at least part of) a viable alternative, rather than seeing things as a binary choice between China and the US. The predominant theme in the understanding of the current security environment in Southeast and East Asia is that, while US assistance and reliance on its security guarantee in the region are essential to counter the so-called China threat, the defence of the maritime nations ultimately rests with those nations themselves. This sentiment has served as a catalyst to address gaps in individual countries’ defence preparedness and work towards a collective approach to protect against potential changes in US strategy – which has evolved into one of enabling regional stakeholders by providing technology, skills, and assistance, while maintaining dominance through other platforms. This has necessitated a collective defence posture where a more interconnected network, involving Japan, can be more resistant to isolation and coercion.