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PacNet #29A – U.S. and Japan in the Malacca Strait: Lending Hands, Not Stepping In

During a maritime security conference in Singapore in May 2004, a Singapore delegate called for maritime patrols by U.S. and Japanese naval vessels. This echoed a March comment by Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, that the United States was considering the deployment of special forces or marines on speed boats to combat maritime terrorism in the Strait of Malacca. Both calls were immediately opposed by Malaysia and Indonesia. The diverse positions in regard to maritime patrols in the Malacca Strait stem from combinations of historical factors and strategic interests. However, the differences among the three in regard to a regional security role for the U.S. and Japan are more nuanced than they appear, and neither Singapore’s embrace nor Malaysian and Indonesian rejections should be taken at face value.