Publication in Economics, Politics and Public Policy in East Asia and the Pacific

United States

China’s PAFMM grey zone maritime challenge to the Philippines

Hand out file photo dated 27 October, 2019 of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62) and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Akizuki-class destroyer JS Fuyuzuki (DD 118) are underway in formation while conducting a bilateral exercise in the Philippine Sea. An unknown number of sailors onboard the Nimitz class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, which forward-deployed in Japan and presently pier-side there, have tested positive for the COVID-19 novel coronavirus. This comes just a day after the U.S. Navy announced it had quarantined the entire crew of another aircraft carrier, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, on their ship in port in Guam after a number of sailors contracted the virus (Photo: Reuters/Codie L. Soule).

Author: Christian Vicedo, Manila

China’s People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) is key to understanding Beijing’s grey-zone operations in the South China Sea (SCS). The PAFMM is organised and linked to the People’s Liberation Army chain of command through the People’s Armed Forces Districts. PAFMM members are trained in maritime claims enforcement, logistics support, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and sabotage. Operating about 84 large vessels with reinforced hulls and water cannons, the PAFMM serves as China’s third force in the SCS.

Read more…

Demystifying Australia’s South China Sea stance

An F18 fighter takes off from the deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt while transiting the South China Sea, 10 April 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Karen Lema).

Author: Sam Bateman, University of Wollongong

On 23 July, Australia lodged a note verbale to the UN Secretary-General setting out its position on China’s claims in the South China Sea. This was part of a series of notes verbale from countries bordering the South China Sea that was triggered by a December 2019 Malaysian submission to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) claiming a partial outer continental shelf in the South China Sea. Read more…

A chance for Chinese economic leadership

Chinese President Xi Jinping attends a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, 25 October, 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Lee).

Authors: Peter A Petri, Brandeis University and Michael G Plummer, Johns Hopkins University

In late June 2020, 15 East Asian countries — representing nearly 30 per cent of the world’s economic output and population — committed to signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in November. This will be the largest free trade agreement ever and complements the 2018 Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

Read more…

US–China scientific cooperation faces an uncertain future

Chinese and US flags flutter near The Bund, Shanghai, China, 30 July 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Aly Song).

Authors: John P Haupt and Jenny J Lee, University of Arizona

Geopolitical tensions between the two largest scientific knowledge producers in the world are intensifying, and the Trump administration is now scrutinising scientific collaboration with China as a potential threat to US national security and economic prosperity. Chinese researchers and graduate students are being portrayed as potential spies who may steal intellectual property, while China’s ‘Thousand Talents’ program is characterised as a scheme allowing China to acquire US technology, intellectual property and know-how.

Read more…

India does not need a Cold War alliance

US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi make joint statements after bilateral talks at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, 25 February 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Al Drago).

Author: Arzan Tarapore, National Bureau of Asian Research

As the India–China border crisis continues, will India join an alliance with the United States? Some analysts have suggested that India may now jettison its diplomatic ambiguity and ‘pick a side in the new cold war’. Last week, India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar rejected the idea of an alliance. But the border crisis may yet shift India’s approach to strategic competition with China.

Read more…

Crunch time for US allies and partners in navigating a new Cold War

A man works to remove the US Consulate plaque at the US Consulate General in Chengdu, Sichuan province, China, 26 July 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Thomas Peter).

Author: Editorial Board, ANU

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo now leads the gathering charge in Washington to wage a new Cold War on China. All doubts about that were dispelled in his fiery speech at the Nixon Library last week and in his mission to lock Boris Johnson and the United Kingdom in behind him immediately afterwards. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, on their way to Washington for bilateral talks, will fly straight into the middle of this brewing geopolitical cauldron. Read more…

Aegis Ashore and Japan’s constitutional debate

Japan's Defense Minister Taro Kono attends a press conference to speak about stopping the deployment procedure of the ground-based interception system 'Aegis Ashore' at Defence Ministry in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo on 25 June 25 2020 (The Yomiuri Shimbun).

Author: Tom Corben, Pacific Forum

Last month, Japan’s Defence Minister Taro Kono made the sudden announcement that Tokyo was abandoning plans to deploy two Aegis Ashore missile defence batteries to sites in northern and southern Honshu. Kono cited significant cost overruns and technical difficulties associated with the trajectory of debris from the system’s booster phase as the core rationales behind the decision.

Read more…

Standing up for ASEAN in the South China Sea

Warships and fighter jets of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy take part in a military display in the South China Sea, 12 April 2018 (Photo: China Stringer Network via Reuters).

Author: Collin Koh, RSIS

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently stated that the United States considers Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea illegal. This is a fundamentally new stance. While scholars and pundits are trying to make sense of what the statement means for the dispute, more interesting is how ASEAN will respond as it is inevitably caught in the eye of the South China Sea storm.

Read more…

US–China blame game grates on Southeast Asia

Medical officers prepare to send boxes with protective suits and masks as a donation for government, amid coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Konawe, Southeast Sulawesi Province, Indonesia, 14 April 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Antara Foto).

Author: Hunter Marston, ANU

2020 has been an extremely difficult year for Southeast Asia. Multiple countries are expecting an economic contraction as tourism and intraregional trade grind to a halt in the wake of COVID-19. China has donated enormous quantities of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing equipment to the region, while the United States has directed roughly US$80 million in pandemic assistance to Southeast Asian countries. Read more…

A US vision beyond great power competition

A US flag is seen during a welcoming ceremony in Beijing, China, 9 November, 2017 (Reuters/Peter).

Author: Adam Yang, American University

The 2017 US National Security Strategy (NSS) and the 2018 National Defense Strategy unilaterally declared the beginning of a new era in international relations. Together, these reports portend great power competition between the United States and China. The NSS demands that all federal agencies recalibrate their internal strategies accordingly and, more importantly, it serves as an ideological starting point for all US political interaction with China. But US grand strategy must move beyond ill-defined bilateral competition with China for the US to remain a global leader.

Read more…

Will the national security law ruin Hong Kong’s economic future?

Buildings are seen above Hong Kong and Chinese flags, as pro-China supporters celebration after China's parliament passes national security law for Hong Kong, in Hong Kong, 30 June 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu).

Author: Yan Liang, Willamette University

Hong Kong’s controversial new national security law has sparked debate about its economic future. The law is generally portrayed in the Western media as a major step by Beijing to chip away at Hong Kong’s autonomy, leading to grim perceptions of Hong Kong’s future.

Read more…

A collective ASEAN response to COVID-19

An official wearing a face mask looks on as Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc attends a special video conference with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Hanoi 14 April 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Manan Vatsyayana).

Author: Hsien-Li Tan, NUS

When COVID-19 cases first appeared in the ASEAN region early in 2020, there were fears that public health systems would be overwhelmed. Responses around the region have varied. After decisive action — and missteps — in the initial months, Vietnam, Thailand, Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore are now cautiously relaxing restrictions while working to avert a second wave. Indonesia and the Philippines continue to see significantly higher infection and death rates, leading to strong criticism against the Jokowi and Duterte administrations.

Read more…

Australia’s vision of leadership in the Indo-Pacific

Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne speaks during a joint news conference with US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Australia's Defence Minister Linda Reynolds (unseen) in Sydney, Australia, 4 August 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/Pool).

Author: Bradley Wood, ANU

The recent speech by Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne was an implicit message to the United States — Australia and the Indo-Pacific region can no longer wait for its leadership. Australia has signalled to the region and the next US administration that it is prepared to lead by example while the United States gets its house in order. Read more…

Australia’s new defence geography

Commander Peter Lockwood from the Guided Missile Frigate HMAS Darwin watches from the Bridge as (L-R) HMAS Hobart, the New Zealand frigate HMNZS Te Mana, HMAS Arunta and HMAS Anzac sail out of Sydney Heads 28 February on their way to intensive warfare training off the coast of New South Wales (Photo: Reuters/Tan).

Author: Hugh White, ANU

In one of its bolder steps, Australia’s new Defence Strategy and Force Structure Review is proposing a radical redefinition of the geographical reach of Australia’s strategic priorities. It rejects the expansive view of Canberra’s last major defence policy statement — the 2016 Defence White Paper — which accorded equal priority to local, regional and global missions and commitments.

Read more…

Modernising the Philippine Navy

Members of the Philippine Marines on BRP Sierra Madre, a dilapidated Philippine Navy ship (Photo: Reuters/Erik De Castro).

Author: Shang-Su Wu, RSIS

The upcoming commission of two purpose built Jose Rizal-class frigates is unprecedented for the Philippines. Since independence, the Philippines has relied heavily on secondhand warships — mainly from the United States — to protect its large archipelagic land, waters and other maritime entitlements. But this strategy has proven flawed.

Read more…