This article was written by Katherine Ehly and Matthew Hays, two Participants in PSA’s Congressional Partnership Program. All CPP articles are produced by bipartisan groups of Democrat and Republican Hill Staff who were challenged to develop opinion pieces that reach consensus on critical national security and foreign affairs issues.
The Need for US Leadership as China Continues to Exert its Influence in the South and East China Seas
In late 2011 the Obama Administration announced that it would increase America’s visibility in Asia. These efforts were described by the Administration as a “pivot” or “rebalancing” of U.S. military planning, foreign policy, and economic policy toward the region. Washington, however, has wrestled with how to engage the most prominent and powerful country in the region, China. With troops nearly gone from Iraq and drawing down in Afghanistan, this shift could not have come at a better time. As the region has grown more prosperous, the issue of sovereignty over the South and East China Seas has become intense with China exhibiting worrisome acts of aggression toward its neighboring countries. China, in attempting to control these waters, appears to be demonstrating its intent to exert dominance over the region.
This article was written by two Spring 2012 Participants in PSA’s Congressional Partnership Program. All CPP articles are produced by bipartisan groups of Democrat and Republican Hill Staff who were challenged to develop opinion pieces that reach consensus on critical national security and foreign affairs issues.
Over the past year the United States has launched an effort to “rebalance” its strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific region. While there are many policy issues that divide Republicans and Democrats, America’s role in actively shaping a more peaceful and prosperous Asia-Pacific is one issue that enjoys strong support amongst both parties. After a decade of focusing our time, energy, and resources on counterterrorism and the Middle East region, we welcome a strategic rebalancing of our efforts to a region that will play a leading role in defining the 21st Century. However, the elements of this new focus should not just focus on the “balance of power” in the region, but also take into account the “balance of alliances” the U.S. enjoys. Approaching the region using an alliance-centric lens can help the U.S. position itself to play a major role in ensuring the region’s continued prosperity and peace.
Earlier this morning, the National Bureau of Asian Research held a launch event for the newest volume of their Strategic Asia series, “Asia’s Rising Power and America’s Continued Purpose.” One of the most interesting presentations at the event was that of Nicholas Eberstadt, who discussed the changing demographics in the Asia-Pacific region.
Eberstadt’s talk highlighted an important point: when debating the long-term future of the Asian strategic system, American academics and policymakers tend to ignore demographics in favor of factors such as economic growth, political stability, bilateral relationships, territorial disputes and military expenditures. The exceptions to this, of course, are studies on China, India and Japan, countries whose population statistics have received some attention, primarily from economists trying to predict their economic growth. But these studies tend to focus only on the country in question, instead of taking into account how the demographic changes of that country might impact the balance of power of the Asian system. Looking at the demographics of individual power players does not give a comprehensive picture of the region’s shifting dynamics as a whole. More worthwhile is an expansive look at which countries are growing in population and which are shrinking. (more…)
In a 2004 speech, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao summarized the basic tenets of China’s ‘Peaceful Rise’ doctrine: the growing power and clout of China, he said, “will not come at the cost of any other country, will not stand in the way of any other country, nor pose a threat to any other country.”
If only China’s neighbors still believed him. Earlier this year, China declared the South China Sea, which is partially claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Brunei, to be part of China’s “core interest” of sovereignty, similar to regions such as Taiwan and Tibet on which China sees no room for negotiation. China’s statement followed closely on the heels of past aggressive Chinese actions in the disputed waters, which have included seizing Vietnamese fishing boats, ordering foreign oil companies not to work with Vietnam on maritime oil exploration projects, planting a Chinese flag on the ocean floor, and training guns on an Indonesian naval ship. Needless to say, from the perspective of the other five nations that share territorial claims on parts of the Sea, these actions look anything but peaceful.
China’s southern neighbors are right to be worried. The past year has produced a number of indicators that Chinese regional policy is shifting away from its previous strategy of soft-power projection to a more assertive, hard-line position. (more…)
One of the most striking statistics from the U.S. war in Vietnam doesn’t concern Vietnam at all, but its neighbor, Laos. Between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. dropped over 2.5 million tons of ordnance on Laos. This works out to the equivalent of one B-52 load of bombs every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years. The sheer tonnage of explosives dropped on Laos makes the tiny, land-locked nation the most heavily-bombed country in history, with half a ton of bombs dropped for every inhabitant.
This dubious distinction carries a terrible legacy. According to U.S. estimates, approximately 30% of ordnance dropped over Laos failed to detonate upon impact. This unexploded ordnance, or UXO, remains scattered and buried throughout an area that covers one third of the country. In the past five decades over 50,000 Laotians – a fifth of them children – have been killed or maimed by American UXO. Currently, around 300 Laotians needlessly die every year from accidents involving UXO. Particularly deadly have been cluster bombs, which consist of sub-munitions that scatter over a wide area and are notorious for causing indiscriminate civilian casualties. Experts estimate that of the 260 million cluster bombs, or “bomblets” American forces dropped on Laos, 80 million remain unexploded. (more…)
The Thai name for Bangkok, Krung Thep, roughly translates as “city of angels.” Rarely has this moniker seemed more of a misnomer than the past week, with its climatic battle between the Red Shirt protesters encamped in downtown Bangkok and the Thai government.
Early Wednesday morning, the Thai army made a final push on the protesters’ camp in downtown Bangkok, rolling through barricades in armored vehicles and prompting two prominent protest leaders, Jatuporn Prompan and Nattawut Saikua, to surrender to the Bangkok police on charges of terrorism. At least five people died in the operation, adding to the previous six days’ toll of 38 dead. While Prompan and Saikua asked protesters to surrender, saying “we cannot resist against these savages anymore,” some die-hard elements chose not to, turning instead to rioting, looting and continued street battles in defiance of the government’s 8pm curfew. One of the more extremist protest leaders, Arisman Pongruengrong, managed to escape government forces. Protesters set fire to around thirty buildings, including the Thai Stock exchange; CentralWorld, one of Bangkok’s biggest and ritziest malls; two banks, a television station, and a movie theater.
While the height of the organized protest is now over, replaced by rioting, the situation is far from resolved. Bangkok is still nowhere close to calm, and guerrilla-style attacks and looting by more militant members of the Red Shirt movement who have so far escaped arrest will likely continue for another few days.
More important, however, are the long-term effects the violence and events of the past month will have on Thailand’s fragile political situation. The activities of both sides of the conflict have entrenched the positions and grievances of each party, and a peaceful and speedy resolution of the country’s difficulties is looking farther away than ever.
Once again, Thailand finds itself gracing the front pages of newspapers around the world for all the wrong reasons. A month-long standoff between the Thai government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and hundreds of thousands of Red Shirt protestors erupted into violence this weekend when Prime Minister Abhisit issued an order for the Army to clear demonstrators from the streets using non-lethal force. The resulting (lethal) clashes left 21 people dead and over 800 injured in the worst political violence Thailand has seen in twenty years.
A very unique sort of blood drive is currently underway in Bangkok. Outside Government House, hundreds of Thais have lined up to donate their blood to the cause- the political cause, that is. The bags of blood are not intended for medical use, but are instead being ceremoniously splattered on the gates and pavement of Government House, a visceral and highly visible symbol of anger with the Thai government.
The congealed blood decorating Government House is simply the latest stunt of the latest protest against the latest government in Bangkok. Once again, tens of thousands of protestors clad in red have shut down parts of Thailand’s steaming capital in an attempt to force the current prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, to dissolve Parliament. Like the last few times the Red Shirts stormed Bangkok, the likely outcome of the protests will be a messy clean-up job, deaths- already, two soldiers were wounded when grenades were fired on a Bangkok military camp- and another blow to Thailand’s vital tourism industry, already shaken by the week-long takeover of Bangkok’s international airport in 2008. What we are not likely to see, however, is any sort of meaningful political movement away from the vicious cycle of political in-fighting and corruption that has plagued Thailand’s government and effectively divided the country for the past several years.
Reinvigoration of US policy in Southeast Asia is an early hallmark of the Obama administration’s foreign policy. Besides the “soft power” boost from Obama’s boyhood ties to the region, there is considerable low-hanging fruit to gather. The administration’s commitment to multilateralism; willingness to engage former enemies or antagonists; signing the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation; and a vow that the Secretary of State would attend the annual meetings of the ASEAN Regional Forum – the last a dig at Condoleezza Rice, who missed two of the four ARF meetings – all contrast favorably to Southeast Asians’ impressions of second-term Bush administration policies.
In addition, the administration has announced an early menu of more specific innovations and adjustments. To strengthen US relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Obama will participate in the first-ever meeting of a US President with leaders from all ten ASEAN member states, to be held on the margins of this week’s APEC meeting. The US Ambassador for ASEAN Affairs will no longer be based in Washington but will move to Jakarta, where the ASEAN Secretariat is located. A new initiative in the Mekong region and the decision to lift OPIC restrictions on Cambodia and Laos shore up the US presence in the smaller, poorer countries of Southeast Asia that the United States had all but ceded to China in the past decade. But in terms of international attention, the sum of these policy shifts is overshadowed by the administration’s 45-degree turn in Burma policy, to pursue longstanding objectives of promoting political openness there by adding engagement to a sanctions-heavy policy.
All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.