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Is naval conflict in the Asia-Pacific becoming more likely? This edited volume explores the reasons for the naval build-up in the region, and analyses its consequences.



1. Introduction: Themes and Issues

Maritime Asia is the scene of both continuity and change. Rising tensions over the South and East China Seas have coincided with a major increase in the naval power of the countries of the Asia-Pacific region. The strategic relationship between China and the United States and the conflict between concepts of sea control and sea denial are at the heart of this turbulence. Local countries have to chart their own passages across these choppy waters.
Geoffrey Till

2. The Maritime Balance in Asia in the Asia Century

Changes in relative economic power and the declining capacity of maritime powers to project their power ashore mean that China now cannot be stopped from becoming one of the world’s most powerful states both economically and militarily, even if Washington should wish to do so. This will inevitably lead to major change in the strategic architecture of the Asia-Pacific region and the world generally. This being so, the United States needs to develop a new relationship with China and to share power rather than to contest primacy.
Hugh White

3. The ‘Rebalance’ and the Dangers of America’s Creeping Containment of China

With its ‘rebalance’ towards the Asia-Pacific region, the United States is in danger of falling into a policy of seeking to contain China’s rise rather than to engage with it constructively. In many ways this is an unconscious hang over from the Cold War era and has been reinforced by the apparent centrality of military and maritime, rather than political and economic expressions of interest in the region. This policy will prove counterproductive and is likely to alarm prospective allies and partners in the region. It will increase tensions and could potentially drag the United States into commitments that are not in its interest.
Evan N. Resnik

4. Maritime Asia: A Chinese Perspective

China is in the midst of a substantial economic and military rise in its relative power, although it does not aspire to play a hegemonic or superpower role. Much of this rise is essentially maritime but with this comes apprehensions of vulnerability. China’s dependence on energy supplies and other commodities from abroad and its need to export its manufactured goods mean that safe and secure shipping is critical to its peace and prosperity. Because this shipping is especially vulnerable to turbulence in critical choke points such as the Straits of Malacca and Hormuz, China is acutely sensitive to the prospect of disorder and American reactions in these regions. Against this background it needs to develop its maritime power in order to defend its interests.
Cai Penghong

5. Maritime Asia: An Indian Perspective

The Indian Ocean is becoming so vital a part of the Asia-Pacific region that analysts should instead be using the phrase Indo-Pacific region. The growing strategic interest and engaged presence of China and the United States in the Indian Ocean is testament to its rising importance. Against this background India’s role is critical. For many years, India has been much less influential in determining outcomes in the Indian Ocean than was expected but with the increased presence of China and the United States, India is beginning to exert its authority more and to engage proactively with other countries in the region, not least Southeast Asia. Since this is by definition an essentially maritime area, much of this activity will be at sea.
C. Raja Mohan

6. Maritime Asia: A Southeast Asian Perspective

Southeast Asia is, and always has been, a pivotal point between the Indian and Pacific oceans, economically, culturally and strategically. Its maritime interests vary widely from country to country. Some, like Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines, are maritime by virtue of their geography and economic imperatives. Others are essentially continental in their outlook. The economic and geographic proximity of China is a fact of life for all the countries of the sub-region, but their particular relationship to China is partly determined by their status as claimants to the South China Sea, or not. In varying degree they welcome the interest and presence of the United States as a balancing factor, while remaining wary of being sucked into a great power confrontation or of having to choose between the two. They have their own local inter-state tensions too. All these diferences make it difficult for ASEAN to act effectively as a coherent body. Accordingly each country has to work out its own maritime destiny against a host of local and broader pressures.
Euan Graham

7. Maritime Asia: A Japanese Perspective

Japan’s maritime policy has to be seen against the context of variations in China’s historic dominance of Northeast Asia. Rivalry between the two countries has been especially strong in periods when China has been strong, and its current rise suggests that rivalry will now increase. Japan’s response has been complicated by countervailing cultural and economic affinities with China, and in the post-war era by its reaction against militarism and power politics. But China’s new assertiveness and the rise of its provocative anti-access/ area denial strategies at sea have alarmed Japan and stimulated it into a more active politico-strategic response, particularly in refreshing and extending its all important relationship with the United States.
Yoji Koda

8. Maritime Asia: An Australian Perspective

As a maritime country with a heavy dependence on safe shipping and an extensive marine domain, Australia has much at stake in the developing situation in Asia’s seas. Tree successive Defence white papers have sought to explore the relationship the country should have with the region. These have pointed to the increased need to guard against the prospect of inter-state conflict in the region, confirmed the centrality of the country’s strategic relationship with the United States and pointed to the need for expanded political and military engagement in the region. Opinions differ as to whether China represents a potential threat to the country, but there is general agreement that Australia should aim to reduce tensions at sea and encourage greater cooperation between China and the United States.
Sam Bateman

9. Maritime Asia: A South Korean Perspective

While not as yet degenerating into armed conflict, the Asia-Pacific region is blighted by a number of tensions and disputes especially at sea. These, together with historic sensitivities and genuine diferences of opinion over international maritime law, result in occasional dangerous incidents, worsening public relations and limits to the level of cooperation needed to deal with non-state threats to common maritime security at sea. Most worryingly, the relationship of the two great maritime powers of the region is deteriorating. This raises important issues for South Korea and other countries in the region. South Korea is expanding its naval forces, not in order to participate in an incipient naval arms race, but so that it can play its part as an important ‘middle power’ in the enhancement of maritime peace and prosperity. If this is successful, other countries will follow suit.
Sukjoon Yoon

10. Maritime Asia: A Taiwanese Perspective

The unique political status of Taiwan and the strict ‘One China’ policies followed by many of the countries of the Asia-Pacific region make it difficult for Taiwan to play a role in the developing scene in the region that its intrinsic maritime interests require. Nonetheless it follows events in both the South and East China Seas closely. President Ma has accordingly proposed an ‘East China Sea Peace Initiative’ which is designed to stabilize tensions between China, Japan and Taiwan as claimants to the East China Sea and to develop a cooperative framework for the management of the dispute. In addition to this Taiwan has to balance between increasing calls for more cross-strait cooperation with mainland China and developing its relationship with the United States as that country ‘rebalances’ towards the Asia-Pacific.
Yann-huei Song

11. Conclusions?

The papers in this volume demonstrate a variety of views about what is happening at sea in the Asia-Pacific region, but there is widespread agreement that the region is a very maritime one and that geostrategic considerations largely determine the distinctive policies that the many countries of the region adopt. Perhaps for that reason, history and the continuing sensitivity it generates, is crucial. There is, however, much diversity of view about the nature and immediate significance of the American ‘rebalance’ towards the Asia-Pacific region, and what its long-term consequences will be for the developing relationship between Washington and Beijing. Recommendations about how both sides should handle the economic, political and military dimensions of this relationship abound. In this debate the tensions between China’s anti-access/area-denial strategies and the Pentagon’s ‘Air-Sea Battle’ response will be crucial. While very aware of such dangers, the region’s leaders nonetheless realize that continued peace, not least at sea, is the greatest stake of all because that is what their prosperity and political survival depends on.
Geoffrey Till


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