PacNet #67 – After Ukraine, the need for a collectively framed new order

When Russia’s President Vladimir Putin launched his “special military operation” to invade and occupy neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, the world shuddered. In a painstakingly premeditated manner, Putin stepped over perhaps the most foundational norm of the prevailing international order. For approximately two decades, many sensed the gradual but relentless erosion of confidence in the principles, conventions, and processes designed to foster stability and peace. The world shuddered because, on Feb. 24, it seemed that the end game had abruptly come into view.

The rules-based order has emerged as a key axis of the intensifying animosity between the West and the China-Russia partnership. Twenty years ago, Beijing and Moscow voiced guarded expressions of support, an acknowledgement that the trade regime, in particular, was central to their aspirations for economic development. Yet they also flagged a possible interest in unspecified amendments to the wider regime at some point in the future. Only in recent times—essentially since 2020—have China and Russia indicated more precisely where and how the rules-based order clashes with their interests and preferences.

The key points of contention emerging thus far concern economic competition, governance, and international security. While disputes in and around the international trade agenda probably attracted the most attention, grasping them is at least straightforward. Regarding governance and international security, the nature and intent of the Chinese and Russian positions is more challenging. China has indicated that, while its system of governance is distinctive in a number of ways, it is unacceptable to question its legitimacy or equivalent status to those in the West. China contends that a perfectly valid re-conceptualization of democracy—and related concepts such as universal human rights—means its approach to governance is legitimate and effective. Regarding international security, the China-Russia joint statement of Feb. 4 spoke of an aspiration to shape “a polycentric world order based on the universally recognized principles of international law, multilateralism and equal, joint, indivisible, comprehensive and sustainable security.” The last of these principles—especially the notion of indivisibility—was the core contention by President Putin in support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Is there space for a constructive conversation on these matters? Finding that space is a challenge we must approach with creativity and humility. The prevailing rules-based order has delivered massively across a broad front for over 70 years, not least in preventing war between the major powers. Presumably, therefore, the rewards for genuine engagement on a workable adaptation of the current order could be immeasurable. No state should claim a monopoly on wisdom. No state should presume to be on the right side of history. Democracies may be prone to slipping toward chaos as priorities and process are lost in a scramble to indulge too many disparate aspirations. However, no authoritarian leadership has ever dared offer a candid account of how to achieve and sustain the order and discipline they covet.

A first step must be to lower the barriers to easier communication. All parties must project a willingness to learn and understand. It would also be helpful to widen the band of participants in these international conversations so we get more spontaneity—as well as confidence that we are hearing the real story.

We already have a modest record of edging closer together on a range of the more sensitive issues on the international economic, political, and social agenda. Furthermore, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has noted that the prevailing order must modernize to address the challenges the framers of the order could not even imagine. Even if we cannot readily identify a path to reconciliation, for both sides to acquire a deeper appreciation for the other’s perspective could prove an important shock-absorber.

The final, and definitive, reality: we must change our ways. All empires have stemmed from a powerful, unfettered leadership that achieved compelling dominance and used that status to frame their “orders”—Persian, Greek, Roman, Mongol, down to the United Kingdom and United States. All these leaders encountered the same dilemma: how to make the order suit the values and interests of the dominant power, while remaining sufficiently attractive to be self-policing, keeping the costs of sustaining order within manageable bounds. Nuclear weapons have overtaken this traditional method of shaping an order. They are powerful beyond purpose—they have destroyed the relationship between outcomes on the battlefield and any combination of numbers, technology, strategy, tactics, planning, judgment, effort, bravery, skill, and honor. Compelling dominance has become much harder to achieve and capitalizing on that dominance in a world with nuclear weapon states harder still. The next iteration of the rules-based order, if there is to be one, must be the first framed in some collective fashion.

The foregoing observations suggest small indications that, alongside the need for an innovative approach to refurbishing the prevailing order, there may well be something of a political appetite to consider novel approaches, even if the likely outcome is somewhat spartan. These straws continued to swirl positively during the cluster of high-level gatherings in Southeast Asia in November 2022, notably ASEAN’s East Asia Summit (EAS) and the Indonesia-chaired G20. The G20, having found a way through the Ukraine question and energized by a long and earnest bilateral between Xi and Biden, produced a lavish 52-paragraph leaders statement, perhaps the first consensus statement from a broad group of leaders since the invasion of Ukraine.

ASEAN must ensure that its familiar and trusted security processes—especially the EAS and the ASEAN Regional Forum—remain alert to opportunities for these processes to assist with creating or sustaining the many protracted conversations between states that surely lie ahead.

Ron Huisken (ron.huisken@anu.edu.au) adjunct Associate Professor, Strategic & Defence Studies Centre, ANU and Editor of the CSCAP Regional Security Outlook.

The following has been adapted from the introduction to the Regional Security Outlook 2023, prepared by the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific.

PacNet #62 – Myanmar’s emerging national identity could change everything

The Myanmar military is, paradoxically, achieving one of its longest-standing objectives: a tangible national identity. The success of this goal, however, will require the failure of the regime’s more pressing objective: remain in power.

To maintain control, the Myanmar military has demonstrated a willingness to inflict brutality. Many observers assess the regime’s increasing use of air strikes and explicit targeting of civilians as desperation due to depleted and demoralized ground forces. However, these actions also follow the military’s long-standing “four cuts” doctrine: cut off access to food, money, potential recruits, and information within areas opposing central government rule.

Critically, the four cuts doctrine is now directly applied against the majority ethnic Bamar population areas previously relied upon for recruitment and material support which, more than desperation, may signal the Myanmar military’s quasi-religious belief in its own centrality. Even if the regime is desperate, Commander-In-Chief Min Aung Hlaing and his coalition are likely willing to sacrifice everything to maintain privilege and power.

The resulting civil war has mobilized citizens across class, ethnic, religious, and geographic divides toward the common goal of ending the regime. The current opposition to the military is the strongest unifying force in Myanmar’s recent history.

A broader opposition

The Civil Disobedience Movement, which started as a general strike against the coup, drew workers across the country and from diverse sectors of the economy. Even when met with lethal force, peaceful opposition has far outlived comparable past attempts. Simultaneously, violent opposition has expanded beyond the long-established claims of Myanmar’s powerful ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) and into traditional military strongholds.

Majority ethnic Bamar areas, notably Magway and Sagaing, are now sites of intense combat against loosely organized, often poorly equipped People’s Defense Forces (PDF), as well as the regime’s indiscriminate raids, killings, and the burnings of civilian homes.

Yet the Myanmar military’s operational and strategic challenges have only intensified. Last month saw the effective end of a tenuous ceasefire with the Arakan Army, the powerful EAO seeking autonomous rule in Rakhine State. The Myanmar military also, after months of clashes, struggles to make operational gains against the Karen National Union—which has resisted central government rule since 1948—in Karen State.

The growing cooperation of some EAOs with the National Unity Government (NUG)— primarily members of the prior civilian government—and NUG-backed PDFs signals potential for much greater operational capacity on the part of the opposition.

Most tellingly, the Myanmar military appears to be losing people faster than it can replace them. The military’s response, no matter how brutal, is likely insufficient to reestablish previous military dominance.

However, the alternative to a central government victory against the opposition is not necessarily one where a popular, or less brutal, regime comes to power. The Myanmar military is in the process of becoming one among many armed factions grappling for territory and resources.

Nevertheless, the continued survival of opposition across Myanmar’s ethnic and geographic boundaries represents the clearest opportunity yet for the emergence of a shared national identity. This identity, should it survive, may prove a critical unifying force giving the nation and its people a more stable and prosperous future.

For most of Myanmar’s turbulent post-colonial history, its ethnic minorities have suffered the brunt of successive military regime attempts at consolidating power. This has often been easy to dismiss for those in the Bamar-dominated heartland now suffering what those in Myanmar’s ethnic states have for decades experienced. These minorities remain suspicious of how the NUG-led opposition might act in power. Growing cooperation suggests this suspicion is gradually relieving, but much mistrust remains.

The damage caused by the double disasters of COVID-19 and the 2021 coup left millions in poverty, and rampant economic mismanagement in the wake of the coup has destroyed the financial system, making access to critical commodities, including medicines, scarce. Yet, perhaps because they have little left to lose, the opposition continues.

Regional realism

It’s easy to assume the current opposition won’t succeed, especially considering the stances of regional powers such as China, India, and Thailand, which continue to either enable or outright support the military regime. That should come as no surprise: those who continue to support the regime look first to their own interests, backing the side perceived as most likely to win.

But it’s more complicated than it seems.

As the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia, with 45% of its population under 25 and expansive natural resources including hydroelectric potential and fossil fuel reserves, Myanmar could become a major regional power, potentially threatening Thailand’s central economic position in mainland Southeast Asia. Thailand continues to endure ongoing political turmoil that appears to share much in common with Min Aung Hlaing’s regime in terms of maintaining power at the expense of political and economic transformation. Keeping Myanmar undeveloped and a source of cheap labor and commodities is therefore a tolerable status quo.

A more unified Myanmar may also prove less amenable to the economic and security interests of India and China when these do not align with the popular will.

The expansive sanctions and efforts at humanitarian aid delivery by the United States and others notwithstanding, international efforts stop short of official recognizing the NUG. Doing so would surely pose significant diplomatic risk, ending whatever engagement is possible with the current regime and upsetting key partners—especially Thailand.

The national identity taking shape in opposition to the regime demands consideration through both realist and idealistic lenses. From a humanitarian perspective, the growing toll of nearly 30,000 homes burned, thousands of civilians killed, and hundreds of thousands displaced is unconscionable. The crisis drains the credibility of ASEAN, while transnational threats of narcotics and arms trafficking are sure to intensify and undermine regional security.

A “wait and see” approach will keep Myanmar’s future opaque. The damage from this civil war will not be reversed anytime soon, yet the opportunity for outside powers to support a national identity, which could lead to stability and prosperity, is unprecedented. Doing so will require backing the opposition against the current regime in recognition of a better future. Growing unity suggests that this is not only possible, but increasingly expected.

Wayland Blue (wjblue@uscd.edu) is a graduate student in the School of Global Policy and Strategy at UC San Diego focusing on development and security issues in Southeast Asia. He previously worked as the director of research and evaluation for Shade Tree Foundation, a Thailand-based NGO delivering aid and education to Myanmar migrant and refugee families.

An earlier version of this article appeared in Southeast Asia Globe.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

Photo: Protest against military coup (9 Feb 2021, Hpa-An, Kayin State, Myanmar) by Ninjastrikers

PacNet #57 – What Indo-Pacific countries should do about Taiwan

In retaliating against US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s August trip to Taiwan, the People’s Republic of China deployed military maneuvers to encircle the island and, for the first time in nearly 26 years, conduct missile launches into Taiwan’s coastal waters. Beijing’s recent military exercises, even after their scheduled end, continue to focus on “anti-submarine and sea assault operations,” most likely making them a dress rehearsal for a full-scale invasion.

This time, and unlike in past crises (namely 1996), it does not appear as though there is an off-ramp, a peaceful path to reconciliation between Beijing and the United States. Preparation, and not just for Washington and Taipei, is thus of the essence.

1996, and now

China’s recent military exercises remind of the Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1996, when Lee Teng-hui, then president of the Republic of China, visited Cornell University in the state of New York.  Though US officials insisted that Lee’s visit was a private and unofficial trip for a class reunion at his alma mater, it nonetheless caused dissatisfaction in CCP headquarters, leading to military exercises intended to intimidate Taiwan. Nevertheless, both the United States and PRC considered resolving the crisis to be in their long-term interests. Furthermore, the balance of power largely favored the United States; China did not have the capability to impose its will.

To resolve the crisis, the Clinton administration reaffirmed Washington’s “one China policy,” while Chinese President Jiang Zemin underlined gradual peaceful reunification, while not renouncing the possibility of using force to achieve this goal. Both sides also agreed to engage in bilateral interactions through regular high-level dialogues. Jiang and Clinton subsequently paid state visits to Washington and China in 1997 and 1998, respectively.

This time, the crisis has received international attention due to intensifying threats from Beijing, which now seeks to displace the United States as the leader of both the regional and international orders. The balance of power across the Taiwan Strait increasingly tilts toward China, whose growth in military power is the “largest and fastest” in history—completely outclassing its smaller neighbor in aircraft carriers, ballistic missile submarines, fighter aircraft, etc. Furthermore, Xi Jinping pledges to “smash” any attempts at official independence from Taiwan.

Unlike after the 1996 crisis, there is no sign of rapprochement between Washington and Beijing—US and Chinese representatives did not hold dialogues at August’s ASEAN ministerial meeting. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Beijing’s military exercises surrounding Taiwan and said the PRC “should not use the visit as a pretext for war, escalation, for provocative actions.” On Aug. 6, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi justified Beijing’s actions by saying they aimed at sending a warning to the “Taiwan independence” forces and denounced the US for “using Taiwan to contain China.” One day before Wang’s speech, the PRC halted bilateral cooperation with the United States on military dialogues, maritime safety, anti-drug efforts, transnational crime, illegal immigration, and climate change.

Taiwan matters for the Indo-Pacific

In the 1990s, although China’s population was about 60 times that of Taiwan’s, Beijing’s defense budget was only double Taipei’s. Today, the PRC spends more than 20 times that of Taiwan on defense spending. The PRC, a growing totalitarian power driven by irredentism and civilizational superiority, may intensify its efforts to subdue Taiwan with multiple strikes on political, military, and economic fronts. Such a cataclysmic conflict in the region will be detrimental to both the regional and international order.

The clock is ticking, not only for the United States but the Indo-Pacific as a whole. Regional countries should not dismiss this scenario, as a Chinese takeover of the island would have a chilling effect throughout Southeast Asia, specifically for countries with maritime disputes with the PRC. At some point in future disputes, it has been speculated that the PRC may “seek a relatively controlled conflict” to settle maritime disputes in its favor rather than invade Southeast Asian countries, as a manufactured crisis could awe regional smaller states into acceding to China’s interests. If the PRC is willing to launch an invasion to retake Taiwan, there can be little doubting of their intentions to settle maritime disputes forcefully.

In the meantime, the ongoing trade war, diplomatic spats, and tit-for-tat actions—such as imposing visa restrictions on officials and suspending flights due to altercations over air services—will continue to drive the Sino-US relationship, with spillover effects for Indo-Pacific countries. These nations do not want the PRC to have unfettered access to the Pacific as a result of Taiwan’s fall. Middle powers such as Japan and Australia have taken action at the regional level to prevent this development. Some Southeast Asian countries, namely Vietnam and Singapore, have also sought closer cooperation with the United States, yet stop short of directly condemning China’s behavior.

If more regional countries, particularly middle powers, fail to strengthen deterrence, including by seeking tighter ties with the United States (including on the military level), condemning Beijing’s provocations, and sending joint congressional delegations to the Island, the consequences for Taiwan and the region could be dire.

Huynh Tam Sang (sangtamhuynh@gmail.com), an international relations lecturer at Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities (Vietnam National University), is a research fellow at the Taiwan NextGen Foundation and nonresident WSD-Handa Fellow at the Pacific Forum.

(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article stated that Lee Teng-hui’s 1996 visit was to Washington, rather than Cornell University in New York.)

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

Issues & Insights Vol. 22, SR5 – US-Singapore: Advancing Technological Collaboration and Innovation in Southeast Asia

About

In this special publication, authors were encouraged to reflect on what stronger US and Singapore cooperation looks like in concrete policy terms amid ongoing geopolitical volatility. Beyond the technical and geopolitical perspectives, the contributions in this edited volume emphasize the importance of cross-sectoral collaboration and sustainability for an enduring US-Singapore strategic partnership.

Download the full volume here.


Table of Contents

Introduction
Mark Bryan Manantan

Setting the overview, Mr. Manantan emphasizes the confluence of geopolitical and technological events over the past year which shaped the foundation of the digital publication. Building on the lessons learned from the Pacific Forum’s inaugural US-Singapore Cyber&Tech Security Virtual Series (2020-2021), and the recently concluded US-Singapore Tech & Innovation Virtual Dialogue (2021-2022), Mr. Manantan advocates to reframe policy conversations. Beyond the narrow, zero-sum competition, the US-Singapore bilateral cooperation must champion resilience, inclusion, and sustainability to catalyze Southeast Asia’s digital transformation.

Chapter 1: Singapore’s sanctions against Russia: What are the long-term implications?
Manoj Harjani

Mr. Harjani assesses the long-term implications of Singapore’s sanctions against Russia. Harjani canvassed the drivers of Singapore’s decision to use export controls on military and select dual-use goods that the Kremlin may use to conduct cyber operations. He also discussed Singapore’s efforts to target cryptocurrency loopholes as part of the city-state’s sanctions package against Russia.

Chapter 2: Defending Supply Chain Cybersecurity: Opportunities for Singapore-United States Cooperation
Andreas Kuehn, Ph.D.

Dr. Kuehn examines the growing importance of supply chain cybersecurity frameworks, given the growing complexity of supply chains and the multiplicity of Information and Communications Technology providers. Going just beyond the “Know your ICT supplier” to ensure accountability and transparency, Kuehn offers practical advice on how Singapore, as an innovation hub in Southeast Asia in cooperation with the US, can test pilot new initiatives to safeguard supply chain cybersecurity at the organizational, industry, and multilateral levels.

Chapter 3: Digitalization and Sustainable Energy in ASEAN
Courtney Weatherby

Ms. Weatherby investigates Southeast Asia’s conundrum on how to meet its carbon emission targets amid increasing pressure on supply chain resilience and energy transitions. Weatherby also highlights the growing role of blockchain technologies in facilitating renewable energy certification given the growing intra-ASEAN energy trade. Reflecting on the outcomes of the US-ASEAN Summit and relatedly the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), Weatherby notes the shared expertise of the US and Singapore in capacity-building to lubricate Southeast Asia’s ongoing energy transition.

Chapter 4: Sustainable Considerations for Inclusive Digital Futures
Natalie Pang, Ph.D.

Recognizing the region’s medium to long-term prospects in the data-driven economy, Dr. Pang examines the urgency of addressing the current gaps and vulnerabilities in Southeast Asia’s digital future. Pang notes the need to fast track digital literacy to address burgeoning concerns over privacy and algorithms, as well as the increasing negative effects of electronic waste or e-waste, mainly from large data centers, that carry environmental and health risks for local communities.

 

Listen to the accompanying podcast episodes on Spotify here.

And on Apple Podcasts here.

PacNet #47 – Time for difficult choices on Myanmar

An earlier version of this article appeared at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Aug. 3, 2022.

The recent executions of four anti-regime activists, including former lawmaker Phyo Zeya Thaw and civil society leader Kyaw Min Yu, known as Ko Jimmy, by the Burmese junta have caused global uproar. After being knocked from international news coverage by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, inflation, and food insecurity, Myanmar’s civil war is back in the headlines. But the United States and other foreign governments remain hesitant to fully embrace the opposition National Unity Government (NUG) or take riskier steps to help push the military from power. Instead, they issue condemnations, tinker with sanctions, and pass the buck to the “five-point consensus” that Myanmar’s neighbors in ASEAN negotiated with the junta more than a year ago. But the five-point consensus was dead on arrival, and assumptions about how the opposing forces would fare on the battlefield have been decisively proven wrong. It is time to make some difficult choices about Myanmar policy.

Since the Feb. 1, 2021, coup in which the Burmese military overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, the United States and other partners have condemned and withheld recognition from the junta. Even countries such as China and India, which went easy on the condemnation and maintained official ties with the military, were initially ambiguous about the junta’s legitimacy. Beijing has since acknowledged the government of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, but Delhi and many others remain circumspect. Things have gone no better for the generals on the international stage. ASEAN has refused to accept Min Aung Hlaing’s participation in leader-level summits, though it has allowed junta appointees to represent Myanmar at the ministerial level in some cases. At the United Nations, China and the United States agreed to defer any decision on credentialing a new Burmese ambassador, leaving the former National League for Democracy’s emissary—a fierce critic of the junta—to represent the country for the time being.

Faulty assumptions

US officials have had frequent public and private engagements with NUG officials. So have leaders from Europe, Australia, Japan, South Korea, and some ASEAN members. Washington has directed much of its humanitarian assistance for Myanmar to civil society organizations with close connections to the NUG. But Washington has not recognized the NUG as the legitimate government of Myanmar, nor has it allowed the NUG access to $1 billion in frozen Burmese government assets held in the United States. And the US government has not extended security assistance to anti-junta forces in Myanmar, despite increasing calls to do so in the wake of the Ukraine invasion. A small fraction of the assistance delivered to Kyiv could decisively turn the tide of battle in Myanmar. So why hasn’t any of this happened?

Following the coup, most foreign governments believed that the junta would brutally and efficiently consolidate a new military regime. The scope and resilience of the opposition, both civil and armed, surprised the international community at least as much as it did the junta’s generals. Those faulty early assumptions help explain why the United States and others were slow to embrace the NUG—supporting a doomed resistance would only cause more bloodshed and economic pain for average Burmese citizens. But after a year and a half, grassroots People’s Defense Forces (PDFs) and older ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), continue to effectively resist the junta. On their best days, the regime’s forces might control half of the country. Two dry seasons have now come and gone—the periods when the junta is at its strongest due to advantages in air and artillery power—and the military has made no appreciable gains. Despite killing over 2,000 civilians, arresting almost 15,000, and burning more than 28,000 homes to terrorize the population into compliance, large swaths of the Bamar (Burman) heartland in Magwe and Sagaing Regions remain outside regime control. The Karen National Union, Karenni National Progressive Party, Kachin Independence Organization, Chin National Front, and Arakan Army have expanded the frontier territories under their control, with the latter seizing most of Rakhine State. Given battlefield conditions, it is hard to see how the junta can win by force of arms. The choices, then, are either victory for the opposition or a protracted civil war that leads to state collapse in the center and de facto independent fiefdoms on the margins.

Being resigned to a junta victory might explain why the United States and others withheld support for the NUG in the beginning, but it has been clear for many months that the armed resistance is holding its own. Several other factors explain why that still has not been enough to garner recognition or military assistance. It is unclear how much command and control the NUG exerts over the PDFs, many of which remain wholly independent. And the NUG can make no claim to either control or effectively represent the EAOs, which are the most effective resistance to the junta. The Karen National Union, Karenni National Progressive Party, Kachin Independence Organization, and Chin National Front are providing support and limited coordination against their shared enemy. But they do not yet trust the Bamar-dominated NUG. After decades of civil war and the disappointment most EAOs felt with Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, which they viewed as betraying her earlier promises of federalism and inclusivity, it will take more than vague promises to bring them into a confederacy. Most other EAOs, including the powerful Arakan Army and the myriad narco-armies in Shan State, remain content to sit on the sidelines and watch the Bamar have it out.

Toward a new confederation

The NUG does seem more sincere in its goal of a future federal system than any previous Burmese regime. It has established a National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) with representatives from across the spectrum of ethnic organizations, including the Rohingya, who, after a particularly intense wave of violence in 2016 and 2017, were formally declared by the United States to be victims of genocide following decades of state-sponsored persecution. The NUCC is seeking to establish a new federal charter that can garner support from a wide array of EAOs and ethnic civil society organizations. In the absence of such a charter, it is easy to see why many EAOs would believe they are better off carving out their own autonomous piece of the uplands and letting the center collapse. History has taught them that any Bamar-dominated government will inevitably turn its guns in their direction. For the same reason, it would be irresponsible for outside parties like the United States to provide military support to the NUG in the absence of a political roadmap with substantial buy-in from a critical mass of EAOs. Otherwise, it seems all too likely that this civil war will just transition into the next, when a victorious Bamar government seeks to reimpose control over territories in Chin, Kachin, Karen (Kayin), Karenni (Kayah), and especially Arakan (Rakhine) states that have been lost since the coup.

But if the NUCC process does succeed and the NUG transitions into a truly inclusive federal opposition government with support from most of the EAOs, then the United States should quickly extend it diplomatic recognition as the legitimate representative of the peoples of Myanmar. Washington should be prepared to allow such a government to tap the Burmese state funds currently held in the United States, champion its participation in regional and international forums, and be prepared to deliver military equipment and training to the EAOs and PDFs under that government’s control.

In the meantime, Washington should ensure that the both the NUG and EAOs understand what could be unlocked by the expansion and success of the NUCC process. The United States has no say in what a future Myanmar looks like—a strong federal state, a weak confederacy, or even independence for areas like Arakan—but it should make clear that it will put diplomatic and economic resources behind the survival of whatever system the NUG and EAOs negotiate. Those resources could be powerful incentives for hesitant parties like the Arakan Army or many of the armed organizations in Shan State to throw in their lot with the NUG. This could also offer Washington leverage in ensuring the rights of Rohingya in northern Arakan State. The NUG has already promised them the right of safe return and citizenship, but it has no power to enforce that. Either the military or the Arakan Army will decide the fate of Rohingya in Myanmar. Washington should make resources for the latter conditional on the guarantee of Rohingya rights as part of a political roadmap through the NUCC.

What is happening in Myanmar is a revolutionary war against a brutal, intractable regime that has no interest in compromise. Sanctions and diplomacy will not appreciably affect the outcome. Either the junta will lose on the battlefield or the state will fracture. As soon as the NUG and its compatriots have a viable roadmap to avoid state collapse, the United States and its allies should help it achieve victory.

Gregory B. Poling is a senior fellow and director for the Southeast Asia Program and the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

PacNet #39 – Abe Shinzo’s legacy in Southeast Asia

The murder of Abe Shinzo on July 8 was a profound political shock to Japan and to the world. He was not the incumbent prime minister, and his death did not directly affect the current decision-making process of the Japanese government. Yet, he was the living legend who significantly shaped Japan’s domestic and foreign policy during the 2010s.

Domestically, he led the largest faction in the Liberal Democratic Party, and his word influenced Japan’s diplomatic and security discourse, notably his remarks on “nuclear-sharing” and “doubling the defense budget.” Internationally, his diplomatic visibility was also strong, as he was the norm entrepreneur who facilitated the “Indo-Pacific” narrative through Japan’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” (FOIP) concept from 2016.

Located at the center of the Indo-Pacific, Southeast Asia was a region Abe consistently engaged, considering it vital for Japan’s peace and prosperity.

Japan has engaged with ASEAN and each individual Southeast Asian state continuously since its adoption of the Fukuda Doctrine in 1977. Abe made his mark, however, by increasing Japan’s diplomatic visibility and commitment. Once Abe assumed his second prime ministership at the end of 2012, he enthusiastically conducted comprehensive engagement with Southeast Asia. In 2013, the 40th anniversary of ASEAN-Japan Friendship and Cooperation, Abe made visits to all ASEAN member states, hosted summit meetings, and successfully concluded the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit Meeting in Tokyo. In 2014, Abe made a speech at the 13th IISS Shangri-La Dialogue on “Peace and prosperity in Asia, forevermore,” pushing for stronger international maritime stability, particularly in the East and South China Seas, where China’s assertiveness was growing. In 2014 and 2015 he focused on summit diplomacy to reassure Southeast Asian states that Japan’s constitutional reinterpretation of Article 9 (allowing Japan to exercise a right to collective self-defense) would not be a threat or a destabilizing factor to East Asia.

The Abe administration also intensified its economic, strategic, and defense engagement with Southeast Asia. In 2015, Abe launched the “Partnership for Quality Infrastructure” to provide financial assistance, mainly to Southeast Asia, for infrastructure development that would fully comply with international standards, while competing with China’s Belt and Road Initiative—which had alternative standards. After Abe announced the FOIP strategy in 2016, Japan has continuously emphasized the importance of ASEAN centrality and unity, culminating in “the ASEAN-Japan Summit on Cooperation on ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific” in 2020. In 2016, Japan launched the Vientiane Vision to enhance defense cooperation with ASEAN, which was later upgraded as Vientiane Vision 2.0 in 2019. Also, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force consistently exhibited its defense presence in Southeast Asia, conducting military exercises with regional states through the Indo-Pacific Deployment every year since 2019.

These initiatives were not spawned as ad-hoc or one-shot diplomatic efforts that the then-prime minister created as ceremonial actions. Abe had a clear strategic vision that the future of the balance of power in East Asia, including Southeast Asia, would shift with the rise of an assertive China. Considering China’s growing presence in the East and South China Seas and increasing Chinese economic influence through the Belt and Road Initiative, Abe persistently highlighted the importance of stable maritime security, ensuring the sea lines of communication, the freedom of navigation and overflight, international law, as well as rules-based infrastructure development in line with the highest international standards. Although Japan was in relative decline vis-à-vis China—whose military expenditures surpassed Japan’s in the mid-2000s and whose GDP passed Japan’s in 2010—Abe was not intimidated and facilitated independent strategic thinking to defend his country’s national interests and regional stability. The FOIP was the embodiment of such thinking.

Abe’s diplomatic stance also contributed to promoting Southeast Asian states’ hedging strategy. As strategic rivalry was growing between the United States and China, Southeast Asian states aimed to “hedge”—avoiding taking sides and gaining economic and security benefits from both sides—including even those who tend to lean toward either China (such as Cambodia) or the United States (like Singapore). Japan’s relatively independent stance helped Southeast Asia pursue a hedging behavior by enhancing cooperation with Japan rather than the United States or China. The ISEAS Yusof-Ishak Institute Survey from 2019 to 2022 suggests as much, indicating that ASEAN considered Japan the best strategic option in 2020 and the second best in 2021 and 2022 after the European Union.

To be sure, Southeast Asian states did not always appreciate Abe’s strategic posture. On the contrary, they frequently expressed concerns about Abe’s strong anti-China attitude, which might destabilize East Asian peace and security. For example, Singapore expressed its regret about Abe’s visit to Yasukuni shrine in 2013, fearing that this would increase tension and ruin trust with regional states. In 2016 and 2017, when Japan launched FOIP and began to hold Quad meetings regularly, several ASEAN member states raised questions about Japan’s stance toward ASEAN and were hesitant to support its strategic initiative. However, Abe did not merely dismiss those criticisms. He incorporated them into his existing strategic thinking and attempted to strike a balance between Japan’s interests and Southeast Asia’s concerns. This is evidence of Abe’s willingness to hear ASEAN’s voice, which made Japan the most trusted major power for Southeast Asia, according to ISEAS Yusof-Ishak surveys from 2019 to 2022.

Unlike a traditional Japanese leader, Abe was not a consensus-builder but a strong believer in his own strategic and political vision, which polarized opinion, particularly in the domestic realm. However, his strategic posture produced positive outcome for Japan—making Japan diplomatically more visible in Southeast Asia and gaining more trust from regional states. He will be remembered as a proactive strategic leader who matched words with deeds, raising Japan’s diplomatic status in Southeast Asia.

Kei Koga (kkei@ntu.edu.sg) is assistant professor at the Public Policy and Global Affairs Programme, School of Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and affiliated with S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), NTU.

For more from this author, visit his recent chapter of Comparative Connections

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

PacNet #34 – Why ASEAN should heed the distant tolling of bells

It is hard to know what deft (or otherwise) diplomacy is going on behind the scenes in ASEAN-led architecture in the lead-up to the season of summitry, most importantly the East Asia Summit (EAS). This includes the range of precursor senior officials meetings which often set the conditions for ministerial and leaders-level meetings later in the year. But diplomacy will need to be deft to find a position that at least balances the concerns of all EAS partners with respect to Russia’s participation.

Based on public-facing statements and commentary, right now it appears there is no balance. ASEAN does not seem to have taken action that has imposed costs on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, acknowledged the concerns of other EAS members, or expressed ASEAN condemnation of Russia’s actions.

ASEAN foreign ministers did issue three statements in relation to Ukraine: one calling for restraint and de-escalation on Feb. 26; one calling for a ceasefire on March 3; and one about the killing of civilians and humanitarian access on April 8.

While this was welcome, these statements did not mention Russia. They thus did not challenge Russia’s reprehensible actions.

ASEAN countries also largely supported the UN General Assembly resolution on March 2, which “deplored in the strongest terms” Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and demanded Russia’s immediate, complete, and unconditional withdraw from Ukraine territory (Laos and Vietnam abstained); and on March 24 in relation to the humanitarian consequences of the aggression against Ukraine (Brunei, Laos, and Vietnam abstained). But only the Philippines voted in favour of the UN Human Rights Council’s resolution to suspend Russia on April 7.

ASEAN’s statements and each country’s UN voting record indicates the limits of action for individual ASEAN members and ASEAN as a bloc. Singapore, however, has been the most forward-leaning, applying sanctions against Russia).

Cambodia, as the chair of ASEAN, with Indonesia as chair of the G20, and Thailand as chair of APEC, issued a joint statement on May 4 saying: “we are determined to work with all our partners and stakeholders to ensure a spirit of cooperation.”

Russia no doubt was pleased to see this, stating publicly that the statement represented “an important contribution to strengthening multilateralism, building an atmosphere of cooperation and trust, mutual respect and a reciprocal consideration of interests, not only in the region but also globally.”

While it does not make explicit references to Russia, the trilateral statement indicates that the chairs of these three international groupings will not exclude Russian participation.

Make no mistake, despite the waves of mis- and disinformation and fallacious narratives, Russia’s actions are a breach of international law, both in the principle of its invasion as well as in its ongoing execution—particularly as there are multiple reports detailing violations of the laws of war, and crimes against humanity occurring at the hands of Russian officers and soldiers.

But this is not just a breach of international law. It is also a trampling of the principles that ASEAN purports to hold dear—including sovereignty, non-interference, and the rule of law. These are the principles ASEAN has captured in its own Charter, and the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia to which, as a Dialogue Partner of ASEAN, Russia is a party.

ASEAN has constantly voiced (almost in desperate, anxious tones) the need to maintain its centrality in the region’s institutional architecture. But centrality requires credibility. ASEAN risks its credibility by not taking stronger action.

ASEAN’s consensus-based and conservative approach means that it proceeds at the pace of the slowest member and lowest level of comfort to take action. ASEAN consensus is also influenced by the longstanding relations that some ASEAN members have with Russia, including on military sales. Through this approach, ASEAN seeks to maintain the status quo, to avoid confrontation with major powers or having to “choose sides.” That approach, however, constrains ASEAN’s ability to respond with agility to the shifting geostrategic reality and overlooks the threats to its longer-term interests.

Many countries in the region want ASEAN to maintain credibility and relevance, and believe it is important for regional stability. If ASEAN is to do so, it must take a stance against breaches of international law and (for the most part) universally accepted principles. Otherwise, those principles are moot.

Failure to take action is to legitimize and normalize Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. It ignores not only Ukraine’s current plight, but also Russia’s threats to other countries in Europe—including Sweden and Finland, who see the writing on the wall and have shifted their long-standing position about NATO membership.

It is important to recognise ASEAN’s rationale for not wanting to take sides. But this is not about taking sides with any one country. This is about taking the side of principle. It is essential to reinforce regional stability, security, and prosperity.

Expelling Russia from international fora where Moscow participate with Southeast Asian countries would be a step too far for ASEAN. But finding a better balance would be in order. A good start would be an explicit acknowledgement that Russia is the aggressor.

It is time ASEAN stepped up to demonstrate why it has become an integral part of the regional political architecture. Doing so will prove its value as a key platform in shaping and reinforcing norms of behavior.

Patrick O’Connor is the pseudonym of a non-American diplomat and former military officer who has worked on and studied Southeast Asia extensively. He has had several diplomatic postings throughout the Indo-Pacific and in Ukraine.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

PacNet #9 – Biden struggles as China advances in Southeast Asia

The Joseph Biden administration’s priority to compete more vigorously with China in Southeast Asia features strong efforts but widely publicized shortcomings. The latter consist of insufficient attention because of higher priorities, economic programs competing poorly with China-led trade and infrastructure initiatives, and lagging official postings dealing with Southeast Asia. What gets less attention are Beijing’s remarkable efforts to advance regional leadership over the past year, using a wide range of persuasive and coercive measures that overshadow US initiatives and curtail ASEAN members cooperating with the United States in ways Beijing opposes. Chinese efforts and the resulting Southeast Asian reluctance to cooperate with the United States are the most important obstacles in struggling Biden government efforts to outcompete China in the region.

Chinese advances overshadow US initiatives

China’s success in spreading influence in Southeast Asia since the 2020 US election is one of the most remarkable advances Beijing has made in countering the United States in the Indo-Pacific over the past decade. Keenly attentive to Biden’s proposed efforts to compete more effectively with China in Southeast Asia—and elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific—Beijing has relied on ever-expanding Chinese influence in Southeast Asia to eclipse and offset US initiatives. For more than a year, Chinese officials and media have devoted more attention to Southeast Asia than any other foreign policy topic apart from relations with the United States. President Xi Jinping closely identified with the efforts in Southeast Asia, weighing in with authoritative initiatives; Foreign Minister Wang Yi has been peripatetic throughout the region. Beijing has used a combination of impressive positive incentives and coercive mechanisms to impose its will in the region, thereby sidelining the United States.

In particular:

  • Beijing took advantage of former President Donald Trump’s absence from East Asian Summit and APEC  leaders meetings in November 2020 to conclude an agreement on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), excluding the United States; and to highlight Xi’ Jinping’s initiative to join the other major regional trade agreement, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which the United States rebuffed.
  • Wang Yi visited leaders in nine Southeast Asian countries from October 2020-January 2021 and then held in-person meetings in China in April with four regional foreign ministers.
  • Secretary of States Antony Blinken’s failed video conference with ASEAN counterparts in late May contrasted sharply with Wang’s successful two days of in-person meetings with the ASEAN foreign ministers in China in early June.

China-ASEAN relations have prospered. For example:

  • ASEAN-China trade grew 20% and approached $800 billion in 2021 and the opening of the $6 billion Chinese highspeed railway in Laos underlined Chinese widespread infrastructure investment in ASEAN.
  • China was the leading source of medical supplies and vaccines for Southeast Asian countries.
  • China used its control of headwaters of rivers important to Southeast Asian development, providing unique leverage on down-river countries.
  • It sustained good relations with the Myanmar junta and ASEAN, putting Beijing in a much better position than the United States to deal with the crisis.
  • The Chinese military, coast guard, and maritime militia ably controlled and advanced China’s enormous claim to most of the South China Sea against weak Southeast Asian claimants.

Beijing’s less overt but common means of influence were:

  • efforts influencing Chinese diasporas in Southeast Asia;
  • leveraging Chinese-provided transportation, communication, and other infrastructure to compel recipients’ deference to Chinese requirements;
  • routinely accommodating corrupt regional leaders in economic agreements, winning their support;
  • fostering China’s state penetration of local media, gaining positive publicity; and
  • leveraging Chinese tourists dominating this regional industry to advance Chinese ambitions.

Against this background, ASEAN and most Southeast Asian states remained publicly silent in the face of Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea. Southeast Asian governments followed a broader pattern avoiding criticism of an ever-widening range of Chinese policies, knowing that doing so would prompt Chinese punishment. In contrast, Southeast Asian officials freely criticized US policies and practices.

Wrapping up advances in 2021, Xi Jinping hosted a summit to commemorate the 30th anniversary of ASEAN-China dialogue on Nov. 22. He announced that China-ASEAN relations were elevated from a strategic partnership to a comprehensive strategic partnership, which meant more security cooperation along with deep economic and diplomatic cooperation. The China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement will also be upgraded. China will donate 150 million doses of COVID vaccine to ASEAN members and pledged an additional $1.5 billion in development assistance over the next three years.

China had already provided ASEAN with 360 million doses of the COVID vaccine (versus the US count of 60 million by December 2021). China-ASEAN trade reached $684 billion in value in 2020 and reached $703 billion in the first 10 months of 2021, representing a growth of 20 percent. (US-ASEAN trade was $308 billion in 2020).

Significantly, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte offered a rare public rebuke of Chinese coercion in the South China Sea. Xi, however, ignored Duterte’s intervention and with seeming confidence in China’s control of the overall situation emphasized the mendacious claim that China will “never seek hegemony, still less bully smaller countries.”

Meanwhile, Chinese hard tactics advanced in the South China Sea. The Chinese Coast Guard and Maritime Militia undermined Philippines control of its claimed waters. Indonesia reportedly was warned against undertaking gas and oil development in areas claimed by China and a Chinese survey vessel spent seven weeks conducting seabed mapping inside Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Malaysia’s developing oil and gas in its EEZ, also claimed by China, were regularly harassed by Chinese Coast Guard ships. In October, Malaysia protested a Chinese survey vessel operating in the Malaysian zone.

Outlook

China resolutely employs blandishments and coercion in Southeast Asia. The Biden administration lags behind, still working on developing elements of a recently announced Indo-Pacific Strategy that deals with the shift, over the past five years, from a policy in Asia premised on sustained constructive engagement with China to a policy based on acute competition with China. The unilateral and often erratic measures of the Trump administration accelerated US relative decline in Southeast Asia. The Biden government emphasizes enduring strong rivalry with China and reassurance of allies and partners against the unilateral and unpredictable America first policies of the Trump government. However, the possibility of a return of Donald Trump to the White House (or the election of a Trumpist) suggests that US reliability cannot be taken for granted.

For now, the Biden administration seems determined to advance relations with Southeast Asia in areas those governments believe will not upset Beijing. The pace and intensity of US efforts will no doubt depend on numerous developments in the world. Reflecting a more fundamental obstacle to US ambitions, Beijing is effective in countering American initiatives, while persuading or cowing regional interest in cooperating more closely with the United States in ways opposed by China.

Robert Sutter (sutterr@gwu.edu) is professor of practice of international affairs, George Washington University, USA. His most recent book is US-China Relations: Perilous Past, Uncertain Present (fourth edition) Rowman & Littlefield 2022. For more from this author, visit his recent chapter of Comparative Connections.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

PacNet #34 – Advancing a Rules-Based Maritime Order in the Indo-Pacific

The following is an excerpt of Chapter 1 of Issues & Insights Vol. 21-SR2, edited for length. Read the full article or download the entire volume here.

Many have called for stronger rule of law in maritime Indo-Pacific over the past decade. From Washington, Tokyo, and Canberra to the capitals of Southeast Asia, leaders and policymakers stress international law, as well as bilateral and multilateral cooperation to address maritime challenges. Year-after-year, ASEAN has repeated the same refrain regarding “the need to pursue peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).” In April 2021 US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide also expressed shared opposition to “any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea,” and reiterated “shared interest in a free and open South China Sea governed by international law, in which freedom of navigation and overflight are guaranteed,” consistent with UNCLOS. Yet, a strong rules-based maritime order appears elusive.

Despite apparent regional consensus on the benefits of a rules-based maritime order, why do tensions keep rising and the applicability of international rules and norms to the region’s maritime spaces continue to weaken? Authors of “Advancing a Rules-based Maritime Order in the Indo-Pacific,” an Issues & Insights edited volume, provide three categories of answers: lack of good faith, inherent weaknesses in regional multilateral mechanisms, and the politics surrounding “great-power competition.”

First, some countries continue to insist on maritime claims already declared invalid or without basis under international law by a competent, authoritative international tribunal. There is, therefore, a lack of good faith vis-à-vis adherence to related international legal regimes. In the South China Sea, Beijing insists on its nine-dash line, a claim rejected in July 2016 by an arbitration tribunal constituted in The Hague under Annex VII of UNCLOS. China has also sought to reverse Japan’s administration of the Senkaku Islands, not through peaceful means such as judicial procedures, but coercive maneuvers in the East China Sea.

This lack of good faith and blatant disregard for international law is evident in Beijing’s dispatch of fishing vessels with maritime militia to neighboring states’ exclusive economic zones that fall within the discredited nine-dash line. China has also used its Coast Guard and other government vessels to question the longstanding control and jurisdiction of many Indo-Pacific littoral states over their waters, and to change the status quo. In maritime security parlance, these actions are called gray-zone operations—activities not rising to the level of an armed attack but consequential enough to achieve security or political objectives.

Regional states struggle to respond to these types of activities. For US allies, Washington’s security commitment is triggered by an “armed attack,” not gray-zone challenges. Hence, deterrence through collective defense has been difficult. The Philippines, for instance, lost Mischief Reef in 1995 and Scarborough Shoal in 2012 because of a failure to respond to Beijing’s gray-zone maneuvers. Many in Japan have expressed concerns about China’s intrusions into the waters of the Senkaku Islands as well. For instance, how to respond to Chinese government vessels, which under international law enjoy sovereign immunity, entering the territorial waters of the Senkaku Islands and refusing to leave isn’t obvious. Some actions could very well trigger war. For other regional states, dealing with an increasing Chinese presence in their waters is more difficult owing to factors such as insufficient maritime domain awareness and weak offshore law enforcement capacity.

Second, while ASEAN-led institutions remain important to advancing a rules-based maritime order in the Indo-Pacific, they are not designed to address high-stakes security issues, especially involving the great powers. The “ASEAN Way” of non-interference and consensus in decision-making constrains regional mechanisms’ effectiveness in dealing with maritime disputes. They allow for discussions on some functional cooperative engagements, but do not shape the strategic environment in ways that strengthen the rule of law. For instance, the so-called South China Sea Code of Conduct never materialized despite countless meetings between ASEAN and China since 1995. Moreover, as Kyoko Hatakeyama discusses in her Issues & Insights piece, the Quad has struggled to achieve a united front necessary to prop up maritime rule of law because its four participating countries have different threat perceptions, priorities, and approaches vis-a-vis China.

Finally, the framing of maritime issues as part of the US-China “strategic rivalry” or “competition” has been counterproductive. Many regional states do not want to take part in that competition. More importantly, that framing has led to two narratives that prevent many states from taking stronger positions based on international law: 1) false equivalence that equates legitimate US maritime operations and regional presence as akin to China’s disruptive, illegal, and domineering behavior; and 2) an impression that Washington and Beijing are forcing Southeast Asians to take sides between them—hence strong pushback from regional leaders and decision-makers. As a result, when the United States or its allies and partners insist on adherence to international law, some regional states hear an anti-China push. Instead of “competition with China,” the United States and its allies and partners should focus on advancing a rules-based maritime order in which all countries, big and small, can benefit.

This volume dissects the multifaceted maritime challenges in the Indo-Pacific from multiple perspectives, and explores policy options to advance a more rules-based maritime order. Shuxian Luo surveys six maritime crises between Japan and China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, and between Japan and the Republic of Korea over Dokdo/Takeshima, arguing that crisis prevention should be a priority.

Ishii Yurika’s paper explains how the unique structure of Japan’s national security law has created challenges by hampering seamless coordination between Japan Coast Guard and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, and effective alliance between Japan and the United States. Kanehara Atsuko’s chapter contends that in the maritime security context, the “rule of law” consists of three principles: making and clarifying claims based on international law, not using force or coercion to drive claims, and seeking to settle disputes by peaceful means.

Nguyen Thi Lan Huong highlights the importance of international law vis-à-vis the use of force at sea. She assesses China’s new Coast Guard law and its conformity with international law. Hatakeyama Kyoko focuses on the Quad, arguing that its embrace of two contradictory goals—maintain a rules-based order based on international law and promote a prosperous region without excluding China—makes it difficult to develop a framework for cooperation and set a clear purpose.

Virginia Watson proposes several recommendations, arguing that the “intensification of China’s global efforts to hard-wire geopolitical and security conditions alongside its hefty economic influence” have made the traditional alliance approach of the United States ineffective. Finally, John Bradford argues that the key to addressing the Indo-Pacific’s multifaceted challenges is improved governance capacity among the region’s coastal states and that maritime governance capacity-building, in particular, should be a priority for the US-Japan Alliance.

Jeffrey Ordaniel (jeffrey@pacforum.org) is Director for Maritime Security at the Pacific Forum. Concurrently, he is Assistant Professor of International Security Studies at Tokyo International University in Japan.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.