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

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.

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The return of sovereignty to Australia’s defence strategy

An Australian Navy officer from Australian Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) ship, HMAS Canberra stands next to a helicopter after arriving at the main harbour in Colombo, Sri Lanka 23 March, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte).

Author: Richard Brabin-Smith, ANU

The Australian Department of Defence’s three recent update documents — the 2020 Defence Strategic Update, the 2020 Force Structure Plan and the Defence Science and Technology Strategy 2030 — all recognise the country’s demanding new strategic environment. This is reflected in the prioritising of operations in Australia’s immediate region, planning for force structure and preparedness, and the greater attention given to sovereignty and self-reliance. Read more…

Strengthening the Philippines’ approach to maritime security

A Philippine flag flutters from BRP Sierra Madre, a dilapidated Philippine Navy ship that has been aground since 1999 and became a Philippine military detachment on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea, 29 March 2014 (Reuters/ Erik De Castro/File Photo).

Author: Ellaine Joy C Sanidad, Philippine National Coast Watch System

Over the last decade, a lack of expertise among countries in managing their maritime domain has allowed lawlessness and crime on the seas to proliferate. Emerging criminal networks have become more complex and harder-to-quell. The relationship between various security threats, such as maritime piracy and terrorist financing, is also becoming increasingly interconnected. Read more…

When rising powers clash: face-off versus face-saving in China–India relations

Demonstrators stand next to an effigy depicting Chinese President Xi Jinping before burning it during a protest against China, in Kolkata, India, 18 June 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri).

Author: Deepa M Ollapally, George Washington University

The border clash in the Galwan Valley between Asia’s two rising powers on 15 June has tested some key assumptions about their bilateral relationship. India and China both thought that they could contain any border disagreement without casualties. They were confident in their ability to rapidly de-escalate, as well as insulate their economic ties from a skirmish. There was also a prevalent assumption that it would take a lot more than border brawls to change India’s strategic preference for hedging and decisively move toward a US coalition.

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COVID-19 accelerates maritime insecurity

Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy’s guided-missile frigate Yueyang takes part in a China-Thailand joint naval exercise in waters off the southern port city of Shanwei, Guangdong province, China, 6 2019 (Reuters/Stringer).

Author: Asyura Salleh, Pacific Forum

COVID-19 is showing the world how a health crisis can exert disproportionate pressure on existing social and political fissures. The Asia Pacific maritime environment is no exception, with hybrid challenges persisting and non-conventional incidents on the rise. As state budgets adjust to accommodate the health crisis, non-state actors are escalating violence on land that is spilling over into the maritime domain. Read more…

Australia’s defence, South Korea’s dilemma

A South Korean war veteran holds the national flag during a ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Korean War, near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Cheorwon, South Korea, 25 June, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Hong-Ji).

Author: Peter K Lee, ANU

As two of the Asia Pacific’s leading middle powers, Australia and South Korea face increasingly difficult strategic choices. Although separated by vast distances, they both have a vital interest and role to play in shaping the region’s security landscape.

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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.

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China–India border crisis reaches new heights

An Indian Army convoy moves along a highway leading to Ladakh, at Gagangeer in Kashmir's Ganderbal district 18 June 2020 (Reuters/Danish Ismail/File Photo).

Authors: Harsh V Pant and Kartik Bommakanti, ORF

The latest crisis to engulf China and India erupted over their disputed border in early May 2020, when India discovered the presence of a large number Chinese forces in its claimed territory. It became quickly evident that China had occupied several areas on India’s side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in western Ladakh, as well as a portion of territory in the Indian state of Sikkim. Read more…

Australia’s Defence Strategic Update: when all you have is a hammer

A Royal Australia Air Force (RAAF) Wedgetail aircraft flies over the Sydney Harbour (Photo: Australian Department of Defence via Reuters).

Author: Melissa Conley Tyler, University of Melbourne

The old saying ‘when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail’ comes to mind upon the release of Australia’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update on 1 July.

The biggest issue is not so much what’s in the Update, but the way it continues the tendency to view international issues through a security lens. To avoid a militarisation of Australia’s international relations, Canberra needs to balance defence, diplomacy and development approaches. Read more…

Preserving peace along the China–India border

Student unions of Congress political party hold a protest gathering against the alleged incursion of China in India and killing of 20 Indian troops in Ladakh by Chinese army . Kolkata, India on 18 June 2020 (Reuters/Photo by Debarchan Chatterjee/ABACAPRESS.COM).

Author: Baohui Zhang, Lingnan University

On 15 June 2020, a tragic and violent clash occurred between Chinese and Indian troops along their disputed border at Galwan Valley, Ladakh. The conflict resulted in significant casualties, including deaths on both sides. This was the most serious clash between the two countries since the 1962 war, which sowed the seeds for current border tensions. 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.

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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.

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China–India relations plummet to new lows in the Himalayas

Demonstrators shout slogans as they burn an effigy depicting Chinese President Xi Jinping during a protest against China, in Kolkata, India, 18 June, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri).

Author: Manjari Chatterjee Miller, Boston University

The relationship between China and India has reached a dangerous low. The recent clash between Chinese and Indian troops resulted in the deaths of at least 20 Indian soldiers and the injury of many others. The conflict took place in the Galwan River Valley in the Himalayan border region of Ladakh at the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Read more…

Rising tensions on the Nepal–India border

Nepalese student take part in a protest shouting anti Indian slogans near the Indian embassy in Kathmandu, Nepal September 28, 2015. According to the students, they were protesting against the Indian logjam at the India-Nepal borders causing acute fuel crises all over the country (Photo: Reuters/Chitrakar).

Author: Rishi Gupta, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Amid rising cases of COVID-19 in Nepal, the country is engaged in a diplomatic spat with India over land disputes in the Dharchula region — a tri-junction between Nepal, India and China. The latest dispute began after Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated an 80 kilometre road from Dharchula to Lipulekh in India’s Uttarakhand state. The road will shorten the route for Hindu pilgrims to the sacred Mount Kailash in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

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Back to square one for inter-Korean relations

South Korean soldiers take part in a live fire exercise near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea, 23 June, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji).

Author: Scott Snyder, Council on Foreign Relations

On the eve of the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War, the two Koreas face a dramatic breakdown in relations. Tensions rocketed on 16 June when North Korea demolished a liaison office that had stood as a symbol of hope for improved communications. For the South Korean Moon administration, the re-establishment of inter-Korean summitry in 2018 represented an historic step toward establishing a permanent peace, coexistence and economic integration on the Korean Peninsula. Read more…