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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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).

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Laying down the law in the South China Sea

The Royal Australian Navy guided-missile frigate HMAS Parramatta (FFH 154) (L) is underway with the US Navy amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6), the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) and the Arleigh-Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52) in the South China Sea 18 April, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Nicholas Huynh).

Author: Donald R Rothwell, ANU

Australia’s 23 July statement to the UN Secretary-General in formal response to a series of diplomatic exchanges between Malaysia, China and other states is the clearest to date on legal issues associated with China’s South China Sea maritime claims. Diplomatically the statement is unremarkable, legally though, it makes Australia’s position on some key issues very clear.

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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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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.

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Canada contemplates the harsh realities of one world two systems

Picture of Canadian and Chinese flags at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, 5 December 2017. (Photo: Pool/Fred Dufour via Reuters).

Author: Paul Evans, UBC

The engagement approach that has been the bedrock of Canadian policy toward China for 50 years is teetering. Read more…

Nepal’s geopolitical dilemma

Activists affiliated with 'Human Rights and Peace Society Nepal' protest near the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu against the alleged encroachment of the Nepal border by India, 12 May 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Navesh Chitrakar).

Author: Gaurab Shumsher Thapa, Nepal Forum of International Relations Studies

Nepal is situated in a geostrategic location between two big and powerful states. Historically, Nepal’s foreign policy has focussed on maintaining a balanced relationship with its neighbours. Modern Nepal’s founder, the late King Prithvi Narayan Shah, once remarked that Nepal was a ‘yam between two boulders’.

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Is ASEAN ready to stand up to China in the South China Sea?

Navy personnel of Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy take part in a military display in the South China Sea, 12 April 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Stringer).

Author: Lee YingHui, RSIS

As the pandemic dominates international media headlines, tension in the South China Sea has slowly intensified in the background. Recent incidents include the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing vessel after being hit by the Chinese Coast Guard near the disputed Paracel Islands and the dispatching of Chinese seismic survey vessel Haiyang Dizhi 8 into Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone. Beijing’s also taken steps to institutionalise control over disputed waters, announcing in April the establishment of two administrative districts under the authority of Sansha city. 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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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.

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Australia’s strategic appetite should take more account of Indonesia

Indonesian Air Force planes fly near the National Monument in Jakarta, Indonesia, 17 August 2016 (Photo: Reuters/Iqro Rinaldi).

Author: Evan A Laksmana, CSIS Indonesia

Australia launched its 2020 Defence Strategic Update this month to bring defence policy up to speed with the deteriorating strategic environment in the Indo-Pacific, marked by the rapid military modernisation in the region, sharpening US–China strategic competition, and the rise of ’grey-zone’ forms of assertiveness and coercion to achieve strategic goals without provoking conflict. 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…

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.

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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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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…