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A Brief

Indonesia, a nation boasting a population of more than 270 million, is a sprawling archipelago comprising over 17,500 islands. With an impressive economic size exceeding one trillion dollars, it stands proudly as a member of the exclusive G20 and holds the chair among the ASEAN nation states. The country’s vast size, youthful demographic, and strategic location contribute to its exceptional standing within the global community, rendering Indonesia truly unique among the elite nations of the world.

The capital is by definition a seat of power and a place of decision-making processes that affect the lives and the future of the nation ruled, and that may influence trends and events beyond its borders.” (Gottmann and Harper 1990, 63)

Indonesian daring and superb plan to change the capital from Jakarta to Nusantara is not an unprecedented decision. It is also not the first country in the world to change its capital. For example, Egypt has outlined plans to build a new administrative capital that would cover an area of about 270 square miles near Cairo. Nigeria transferred its capital from Lagos to Abuja in 1991. In the same vein, Myanmar’s military rulers moved the capital 200 miles north from Rangoon (Yangon) in 2005, to Naypyidaw. Russia has switched between Moscow and Saint Petersburg. In 1959, Pakistan also shifted its capital from its south in Karachi, to Islamabad in the north of the country. Another new capital seat is Astana, a planned city that became the capital of Kazakhstan in 1997. It took over from Almaty, which is still the country’s commercial center and largest population center.

Where the new capital is located and why it was needed?

While addressing Conference of Parties, COP27 summit, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres termed climate change as “collective suicide”.  Indonesia is grappling with the deep impacts of climate change, particularly evident in its capital, Jakarta. Flooded streets, overwhelmed sewerage systems, and congested thoroughfares underscore the urgent challenges faced by the nation. Moreover, the looming threat of rising sea level has compelled Indonesia to make a pivotal decision, to relocate its capital from Jakarta to Nusantara in East Kalimantan. Recent studies indicate that Jakarta, situated on Java, the most densely populated island, could be submerged by 2050 due to increasingly severe rainfall, flooding, and land subsidence. In response to this pressing concern, Nusantara, a purpose-built city located 620 miles away in Borneo’s East Kalimantan province, is poised to replace Jakarta as the country’s political center by late 2024. The ambitious relocation plan involves a substantial $35 billion investment, reflecting Indonesia’s commitment to addressing the complex interplay of environmental and urban challenges.

How Nusantara will impact Jakarta in future?

The impending shift of the capital to Nusantara heralds a myriad of challenges. The city faces the grim prospect of dwindling attention from policymakers and a dearth of funds for its essential rehabilitation. The relocation poses a daunting predicament for Jakarta’s inhabitants, as not everyone can feasibly move to the new capital. The anticipated resource scarcity and apprehensions about the relocation process compound the worries of the city’s residents. The challenges extend beyond mere funding constraints; the move threatens to divert attention away from critical infrastructure development in Jakarta, leaving its current denizens to bear the brunt of the consequences. The looming question pertains to the fate of their resources and how they can safeguard their assets. Jakarta’s vulnerability to floods adds another layer of complexity, with insufficient measures in place to mitigate these issues.

“People need to be attracted to come to a new place. They first need to see robust infrastructure like schools, hospitals, and housing facilities or it won’t be attractive for them to move there,” (Melinda Martinus, lead researcher for Socio-Cultural Affairs at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute)

How Nusantara will impact Indonesia in future?

The Indonesian government aims to relocate up to 1.9 million people to Nusantara by 2045, with some civil servants moving as early as 2024, would have to face a bumpy road ahead.

The prospect of Nusantara serving as Indonesia’s new capital presents a dichotomy of positive and negative impacts for the nation’s future. On the positive side, a deliberate shift towards green and clean energy dependency positions Indonesia as a trailblazer for environmental sustainability. This transformative move not only enhances the country’s international image but also augurs well for its burgeoning tourism sector. Nusantara’s emergence promises a boon in employment opportunities, particularly in the realm of infrastructural development, vital projects such as main roads and water sanitation systems. However, amidst these promising prospects, challenges loom on the horizon. The perpetually congested and challenging conditions in Jakarta pose an ongoing hurdle for policymakers, compounded by the economic strains associated with the relocation. The hefty estimated cost of $35 billion for constructing Nusantara raises concerns, especially when the government’s commitment stands at a modest 20%, potentially impacting economic stability in Jakarta.

A new city in the need of hour

The urgency for a new city has become important in the light of Jakarta’s current state. The capital of Indonesia depicts an image of overcrowding, congestion, environmental degradation, and imminent perils. The rapid expansion of Jakarta, from a population of less than a million to a staggering 30 million since Indonesia’s independence, has led to the construction of towering skyscrapers fueled by fortunes amassed from various resources like timber, palm oil, natural gas, gold, copper, and tin. However, this growth has come at a significant cost.

The city is now grappling with severe space constraints, exacerbated by heavy traffic and pollution. Jakarta is also sinking due to the over-extraction of aquifers by its inhabitants and the encroaching rise of sea waters along its shores. A staggering 40% of Jakarta now finds itself below sea level. In response to these challenges, the imperative for a new city arises—a city where Indonesians can breathe smoke-free air, enjoy access to clean water, revel in expansive and unpolluted spaces, and experience the vibrancy of a new, clean, and green urban environment.

  • Depiction of the progressive outlook of Indonesia

“A capital city is not just a symbol of national identity, but also a representation of the progress of the nation,” he said, just one day before Indonesia’s 74th anniversary of Independence. “This is for the realization of economic equality and justice.”(Indonesian President Joko Widodo)

Indonesia is characterized by immense diversity encompassing numerous languages and ethnic groups, it navigates a complex mix of regions governed by Islamic Shariah inspired principles, driven by separatist sentiments, or steeped in Indigenous traditions. Remarkably, it stands as a secular democracy, boasting the world’s largest Muslim population, a substantial Christian minority, and recognition of several official faiths. Despite historical episodes of deadly sectarian conflicts, Indonesia has demonstrated resilience and unity.

The prospect of a new capital city will bring an opportunity for profound reinvention, symbolizing Indonesia as a beacon of progress, development, and economic strength. This transformative endeavor reflects the nation’s commitment to inclusivity, portraying Indonesia as a state that embraces its diversities and presents a forward-looking, cohesive image to the entire world.

  • Climate change Resilience

“Indonesia envisions its new capital to be the first city in the country to achieve net zero”

(Nusantara National Capital Authority Chairman Bambang Susantono)

The Indonesian government is resolutely committed to cultivating Nusantara as a green, intelligent, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable city, recognizing that the development of the new capital is an integral part of Indonesia’s broader vision for 2045. In a significant move towards climate change resilience, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Nusantara National Capital Authority (NNCA) have formalized a memorandum of understanding (MOU).

“Nusantara continues to strengthen its pathway to becoming the world’s first sustainable forest capital, as well as Indonesia’s first carbon-neutral city by 2045,” said Mr. Susantono

This collaborative agreement sets the stage for joint planning and development efforts to shape Nusantara into a carbon-neutral forest city. Under the MOU, the ADB and the Government of Indonesia have pledged to work together to ensure that the new capital is meticulously designed to minimize its environmental footprint, with a firm commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2045.

(D) Enhance FDI and Investor Confidence

Indonesia currently lags behind regional counterparts in attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), accounting for only around 2 percent of its GDP. This stands in contrast to economies like Malaysia over 3 percent, Vietnam over 6 percent, and Cambodia over 12 percent. The shortfall in FDI deprives Indonesia of crucial sources of technology, knowledge transfer, and external funding. Export-oriented manufacturing FDI is linked to accelerated labor productivity, higher average wages, increased introduction of new products, and elevated investment rates.

“We are opening up our arms to foreign investors,” says the head of the Nusantara Capital Authority (OIKN)

The Nusantara Capital City Authority reports 182 letters of intent from investors, half of whom are international, signaling a growing interest since October 2022. Government representatives are actively engaging with potential investors globally, and recent regulatory updates in March aim to further boost investor confidence. These regulations streamline business licensing, offer tax breaks, and extend land rights in Nusantara, allowing for periods of up to 190 years—double that of other major cities in Indonesia.

(E) Provide growth prospective and new development opportunities for the whole country

“It is not just about wanting to relocate the capital. We don’t just want a place for government functions,” said Danis H. Sumadilaga, “We want to create a new economic growth center.”

Sumadilaga heads the task force overseeing infrastructure development implementation at Indonesia’s Ministry of Public Works and Housing.

In addition, Sumadilaga highlighted the government’s efforts to enhance businesses in key sectors such as renewable energy, health care, education, and agriculture.

(F) Impact on the demography of Indonesia

“The demographic dividend refers to the accelerated economic growth that begins with changes in the age structure of a country’s population as its transitions from high to low birth and death rates” (Gribble and Bremner 2012:2).

Indonesia currently finds itself in the advantageous phase of its demographic transition, often referred to as the ‘sweet spot.’ With over 70 percent of its population in the prime working age group, the nation stands to benefit significantly. However, the true potential of this demographic dividend can only be realized if productive employment opportunities are created for those aged 15 to 55. The establishment of the new capital is poised to accelerate the harnessing of this demographic dividend to its fullest extent. By doing so, Indonesia aims to boost productive employment, mirroring the rapid progress observed in countries like Taiwan and South Korea.

(G) Nusantara: An effort to neutralize polarized politics

The establishment of the new capital transcends mere attempts to overcome the current challenges faced by Jakarta; it seeks to redefine the relationship between the seat of government and the heart of civic society. This endeavor aims to physically distance decision-makers from dissent, creating a space where the corridors of power are insulated from the tumult of public discord. Jakarta, historically pivotal in Indonesian politics, has witnessed significant moments, from student-led protests that toppled authoritarian leader Suharto in 1998 to 2016 and 2017’s Islamist demonstrations against then-Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama amid rising religious conservatism.

The envisioned new capital aspires to become a stage for a more harmonious and dissent-free political decision-making process. By relocating the seat of government, it seeks to establish a new narrative, rooted in fresh symbols of national pride, detached from the historical complexities of Jakarta. This strategic move aims not only to address the current challenges but also to set the foundation for a new era in the nation’s political landscape.

 (H) Provide strategic depth to Indonesia

The strategic advantages tied to the recently chosen capital city, Nusantara, are multifaceted. Notably, the new capital’s geographical location renders it less susceptible to natural disasters, positioned away from fault lines, seismic activity, storms, and floods. This strategic placement not only mitigates environmental risks but also serves to relocate the focal point of the country, thereby shifting its center of gravity. This includes the establishment of new infrastructure and the formulation of updated policies to safeguard the newly constructed Integrated Knowledge Hub (IKN) and the government operating within its confines. Designating the IKN as a new Center of Gravity (COG) underscores its pivotal role in national security, a matter of paramount interest.

Flip side

(a)Environmental set backs

Indonesia’s proposed new capital in East Kalimantan is envisioned as a “smart, green, beautiful, and sustainable city,” yet it has triggered concerns about extensive environmental repercussions for the island of Borneo, a crucial biodiversity hotspot and carbon sink.

Projections indicate that the direct footprint of the new capital may rapidly expand, reaching over 10 km from its core within two decades and exceeding 30 km before mid-century. The sensitive ecosystems at risk include forest reserves, mangroves, and peatlands.

Borneo, often referred to as the “lungs of the world,” harbors diverse wildlife such as long-nosed monkeys, clouded leopards, pig-tailed macaques, flying fox-bats, and the smallest rhinos globally. Despite the Indonesian government’s claim that Nusantara, the new capital, will accommodate 1.9 million residents by 2045, environmentalists express apprehension. They argue that building a capital in this ancient location could expedite deforestation in one of the world’s largest and oldest tropical rainforests, endangering the habitats of various endangered species.

Indigenous communities, residing in the area for generations, face the potential threat of displacement. Forest Watch Indonesia, a non-governmental organization monitoring forestry issues, highlighted in a November 2022 report that a significant portion of the forested areas in the new capital zone are categorized as “production forests.” This classification raises concerns about potential permits for forestry and extractive activities, contributing to further deforestation.

 (B) Cost associated with new capital in the prospect of global economic slow down

The anticipated completion of the new city is estimated to incur a total cost of $35 billion by the year 2045. The government has already allocated an investment of 32 trillion Rupiah to establish fundamental infrastructure, encompassing the construction of a dam and a toll road. However, the existing conditions pose potential risks, including conflicts of interest, allegations of mark-ups and kickbacks, legal repercussions, and possible delays in the capital relocation process.

(C)Widodo’s political tool to garner political support

The choice of name is intended to reflect President Joko Widodo’s “Indonesia-centric” push to spur development away from the island of Java, closer to the geographic center of the archipelago.

 (D) Exclusion not inclusion real face of new Indonesian capital

Concerns have been raised by the indigenous and local communities who fear the potential displacement of their homes and farmland. Additionally, residents of Borneo Island are apprehensive about the influx of new individuals into East Kalimantan, expressing anxieties about the impact on their local communities.


Philippines Air Force Joins Multi-Nation War Games in Australia to Counter China

Philippines Air Force Joins Multi-Nation War Games in Australia to Counter China

In an unprecedented move, the Philippines Air Force has embarked on its first overseas deployment in over six decades. This historic event sees the Philippines joining forces with U.S. and Australian fighter jets for combat practice in northern Australia amidst escalating tensions with China in the South China Sea. This strategic maneuver underscores the Philippines’ commitment to enhancing its defense capabilities and strengthening alliances in response to regional security challenges.

The Pitch Black War Games

The Pitch Black war games, a significant international air combat training activity, took place in Australia’s sparsely populated Northern Territory from July 12 to August 2, 2024. This large-scale exercise included four Philippine FA-50 fighter jets and 162 personnel among approximately 140 aircraft and over 4,000 personnel from 20 nations.

This year’s iteration was the largest in the exercise’s 43-year history, exposing participants to complex scenarios utilizing advanced aircraft and battlespace systems. Aircraft and personnel from the Philippines, Spain, Italy, Papua New Guinea, and embedded personnel from Fiji and Brunei participated for the first time, joining aircraft from countries such as France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States, and embedded personnel from Canada and New Zealand.

Aircraft operated primarily from RAAF bases in Darwin and Tindal in the Northern Territory, with additional tanker and transport aircraft at RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland. Exercise Pitch Black is Australia’s premier activity for international engagement, held every two years to build stronger ties with like-minded nations.

A Historic Milestone

This deployment marks a significant moment in the history of the Philippines Air Force, as the first time since 1963 that it has taken combat aircraft abroad. On July 10, 2024, four FA-50s and 162 personnel from the Philippine Air Force arrived at RAAF Base in Darwin, marking the first-ever deployment of the country’s fighter jets for drills outside the Philippines.

Royal Australian Air Force Air Commodore Pete Robinson expressed his honor at Australia being chosen for this significant deployment, highlighting the historic nature of the event. The decision to deploy four FA-50s instead of the initially planned six was made to retain more aircraft in the Philippines for domestic operational requirements.

The deployment of the FA-50s to the Pitch Black war games demonstrates the Philippines’ commitment to engaging in multinational military cooperation and improving its own defense capabilities. The FA-50s, which are light combat aircraft, are well-suited for training exercises that involve both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat scenarios. By participating in these exercises, the Philippines Air Force can gain valuable experience and insights into modern combat tactics and technologies.

Enhancing Capabilities

The vast airspace of the Northern Territory provides an ideal environment for enhancing a wide range of capabilities, focusing on the tactical execution of large force employment and offensive counter air and land operations in a multinational coalition environment. The war games involve not only dog fighting but also the use of advanced radar and missile systems for long-range engagements.

Philippine fighter jets worked alongside advanced aircraft such as the F-35A Lightning II, EA-18G Growler, and Su-30MKI Flanker, tackling complex problems against simulated adversaries and ground threats. This includes air-to-air refueling, reconnaissance, and airlift operations, enhancing the capabilities of all participating forces to operate together, improve readiness, and strengthen regional partnerships.

The FA-50s’ participation in these exercises allows the Philippine pilots to train in an environment that mimics real combat conditions. This exposure is crucial for building confidence and proficiency in handling advanced aircraft and executing complex missions. The experience gained from these exercises will be invaluable in guiding the Philippines’ ongoing military modernization efforts.

A United Front

The U.S. F-22 stealth fighter and Australia’s F-35A and F-18 are among the combat aircraft taking part in these war games. The U.S. sent F-22 jets from the 15th Wing based at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, to train alongside Australia’s F-35A jets, improving interoperability between their armed forces.

Fast-jet pilots from the U.S. Marine Corps conducted training in offensive counter air, defensive counter air, suppression of enemy air defenses, and strike mission sets during the day and night, demonstrating the depth of interoperability between the two nations.

The collaborative efforts in the Pitch Black war games highlight the importance of interoperability and joint operations among allied forces. By training together, these forces can develop a better understanding of each other’s tactics, procedures, and capabilities. This level of cooperation is essential for effective multinational operations, especially in complex and dynamic combat environments.

The participation of the Philippines in this multinational exercise not only enhances its own defense capabilities but also strengthens its ties with key allies. The ability to operate seamlessly with U.S. and Australian forces is a strategic advantage for the Philippines, particularly in the context of regional security challenges.

The South China Sea Dispute

The South China Sea dispute between the Philippines and China has been a source of tension for many years. The crux of the dispute lies in overlapping territorial claims over the South China Sea, a strategic and resource-rich waterway. China’s extensive claims have led to several direct confrontations, including a clash at the Second Thomas Shoal on June 17, 2024, causing injuries to Filipino navy personnel and damage to military boats.

The encounters between the two nations have grown increasingly tense as Beijing continues to assert its claims to shoals in waters that Manila insists are within its exclusive economic zone. Despite these tensions, both sides have affirmed their commitment to deescalate tensions without prejudice to their respective positions. However, the geopolitical landscape in the South China Sea remains complex and fluid, posing significant challenges to regional stability and international law.

China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea, such as the construction of artificial islands and the deployment of military assets, have heightened tensions with neighboring countries, including the Philippines. The strategic importance of the South China Sea, which serves as a major shipping route and is believed to contain significant oil and gas reserves, makes it a focal point of regional and global interest.

China’s Reaction

China’s reaction to the Pitch Black war games was significant. Following the announcement of the exercise, China launched drills in the Taiwan Strait in response to what it perceived as “separatist acts.” These drills involved heavily armed warplanes and staged mock attacks, demonstrating China’s ability to control the seas and prevent foreign involvement.

China’s military maneuvers are a clear signal of its willingness to assert its territorial claims and counter any perceived threats to its interests. The timing of these drills, just days after the announcement of the Pitch Black war games, underscores the geopolitical tensions in the region. China’s actions reflect its broader strategy of demonstrating military strength and deterring foreign intervention in what it considers its sphere of influence.

The Philippines’ participation in the Pitch Black war games can be seen as a response to China’s assertiveness. By strengthening its defense capabilities and engaging in multinational exercises, the Philippines is signaling its determination to protect its territorial integrity and uphold international law. This strategic approach aims to deter potential aggression and contribute to regional stability.

The Philippines’ Defense Strategy

Despite having a mutual defense treaty with the United States, the Philippines is increasingly looking to its own air force and navy as the first line of defense. This shift in strategy is in response to the perceived threat from China, with Manila making concerted efforts to bolster its defense capability.

The Philippines’ defense strategy includes preserving holdings in the disputed sea, deterring coercive actions against Philippine vessels and citizens, and compelling Chinese recognition of and compliance with the 2016 South China Sea Arbitration Award. This multifaceted approach involves strengthening the country’s military capabilities, enhancing regional alliances, and leveraging international legal mechanisms to protect its interests.

In addition to strengthening its military capabilities, the Philippines is forging stronger defense ties with other countries. For instance, the Philippines and Japan recently signed a crucial military agreement permitting the deployment of their forces on each other’s soil, bolstering defense ties between Tokyo and Manila. This agreement, known as the Reciprocal Access Agreement, enhances interoperability and facilitates joint training and exercises, contributing to regional security.

The Philippines’ defense strategy also involves increasing investments in military modernization. The ongoing modernization program aims to equip the Armed Forces of the Philippines with advanced hardware and capabilities to address a wide range of security threats. This includes the acquisition of multirole fighter jets, radars, missile systems, frigates, helicopters, and submarines.

Modernization of the Military

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has embarked on a 15-year modernization program that started in 2012 and will continue through 2027. This program, also known as the Revised Armed Forces Modernization Act, aims to strengthen the AFP’s capability to address counterterrorism and internal threats.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. recently approved a significant military procurement plan, estimated at around $35 billion over the next ten years. This includes acquiring multirole fighter jets, radars, frigates, missile systems, helicopters, and the country’s first submarine fleet.

The modernization program is divided into three phases: Horizon 1 (2013-2017), Horizon 2 (2018-2022), and Horizon 3 (2023-2027). Each phase focuses on different aspects of capability development, with Horizon 3 emphasizing the acquisition of advanced systems and platforms to enhance the country’s defense posture.

Key elements of the modernization program include:

Multirole Fighter Jets: The acquisition of multirole fighter jets, such as the FA-50s, enhances the Philippines’ air defense and strike capabilities.

Frigates and Corvettes: The procurement of additional Jose Rizal-class frigates and missile corvettes improves the country’s naval capabilities, enabling it to protect its maritime interests and conduct various naval operations.

Missile Systems: The acquisition of missile systems, including

surface-to-air and anti-ship missiles, enhances the country’s deterrence and defensive capabilities.

Submarine Fleet: The development of a submarine fleet provides the Philippines with a strategic asset for underwater defense and deterrence.

Regional Defense Relationships

The Philippines is actively seeking to establish more regional defense relationships. Recent defense agreements with Australia and Japan indicate a commitment to enhancing interoperability and strengthening defense ties. These agreements contribute to the Philippines’ defense strategy by enhancing its ability to respond to various security threats.

The agreement with Australia, known as the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA), facilitates the rotation of Australian forces in the Philippines and vice versa. This agreement enhances joint training, interoperability, and capacity-building initiatives, strengthening the defense ties between the two countries.

Similarly, the Reciprocal Access Agreement with Japan allows for closer defense cooperation, joint exercises, and logistical support. This agreement reflects the growing strategic partnership between Japan and the Philippines, driven by shared concerns over regional security and the need to uphold international norms.

The Philippines is also engaging in defense cooperation with other countries in the region, such as South Korea, India, and Vietnam. These partnerships involve joint training exercises, defense dialogues, and capacity-building initiatives, contributing to the overall security architecture of the region.

Implications and Future Developments

The Philippines’ participation in the Pitch Black war games is a significant development in its defense strategy, signaling its commitment to enhancing operational readiness and capabilities. This move also underscores the Philippines’ willingness to collaborate with other nations in maintaining regional security.

By participating in these war games, the Philippines is sending a strong message to other countries in the region, including China. This could potentially deter aggressive actions in the South China Sea and contribute to regional peace and stability. However, it could also escalate tensions, highlighting the need for careful management to prevent conflict.

The experience gained from these exercises will be invaluable in guiding the Philippines’ ongoing military modernization efforts. As tensions continue to rise in the South China Sea, the country is demonstrating its commitment to enhancing its defense capabilities and ensuring preparedness for any eventualities.

The Philippines’ strategic approach involves strengthening its military capabilities, enhancing regional alliances, and leveraging international legal mechanisms to protect its interests. By doing so, the Philippines aims to deter potential aggression, uphold international law, and contribute to regional stability.

The future of the South China Sea dispute remains uncertain, with ongoing geopolitical tensions and competing territorial claims. However, the Philippines’ proactive stance and commitment to defense modernization signal its determination to navigate these challenges and safeguard its sovereignty.

In essence, the Philippines’ participation in the Pitch Black war games is a historic milestone that reflects its evolving defense strategy and commitment to regional security. By enhancing its capabilities and strengthening its alliances, the Philippines is positioning itself as a key player in maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea and beyond.

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Chinese Carrier Passes Near Philippines Amid Rising Tensions in South China Sea

Chinese Carrier Passes Near Philippines Amid Rising Tensions in South China Sea

Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong passed close to the northern Philippines en route to military drills in the Pacific, Taiwan’s defense minister reported on Wednesday. The maneuver came as tensions between Beijing and Manila over territorial disputes in the South China Sea continue to escalate.

Taiwan, vigilant about Chinese movements due to frequent military activities around the island, closely monitored the Shandong’s transit. The defense ministry detected 36 Chinese military aircraft, including J-16 fighters and nuclear-capable H-6 bombers, heading south and southeast of Taiwan to join the Shandong for exercises in the Western Pacific.

Taiwan Defense Minister Wellington Koo assured that his ministry had a “full grasp” of the carrier’s movements. He noted that the Shandong did not pass through the Bashi Channel, the usual route for Chinese warships and aircraft heading into the Pacific. Instead, the carrier traveled further south through the Balintang Channel, situated between the Philippines’ Batanes and Babuyan Islands.

China’s defense ministry did not respond to requests for comment. However, the Philippines military expressed concern over the deployment of the Chinese carrier group. Spokesperson Francel Margareth Padilla emphasized the importance of maintaining regional peace and stability, urging all parties to adhere to international laws and norms.

The Philippines is currently embroiled in a tense stand-off with China over the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea. The recent movements of the Shandong carrier group have added to the strained relations between the two nations.

Japan’s Self Defense Forces also reported detecting the Shandong late Tuesday, accompanied by two missile destroyers and a frigate, approximately 500 km south of Okinawa. Japanese navy ships monitored the carrier group’s movements while Japanese fighter jets scrambled in response to aircraft launched from the carrier.

The Shandong has previously operated near Taiwan, including an incident in December when it passed through the Taiwan Strait just weeks before Taiwanese elections. Taiwan President Lai Ching-te reiterated his government’s commitment to maintaining the status quo in the Taiwan Strait amidst China’s repeated challenges.

During a meeting with the new de facto U.S. ambassador to Taipei, Raymond Greene, President Lai emphasized Taiwan’s resolve in the face of China’s attempts to alter the regional dynamics. Greene reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to supporting Taiwan’s defense capabilities, highlighting the crucial arms supplier relationship despite the absence of formal diplomatic ties.

Taiwan is preparing for its annual Han Kuang war games, scheduled to start on July 22. In anticipation, China has increased its military activities around the island. Since early July, Taiwan has reported detecting over 270 Chinese military aircraft operating in the vicinity, along with two Chinese “joint combat readiness patrols” involving warplanes and warships.

A security source familiar with Chinese deployments in the region noted the traditional summer drills but pointed out the “unusual” uptick in recent activities. The source, speaking anonymously, described the security situation around Taiwan as “worrying.”

China’s animosity towards President Lai is well-known, and it conducted two days of war games shortly after he assumed office in May. Beijing labels Lai as a “separatist” and has consistently rejected his offers for dialogue. Lai, on the other hand, denies Beijing’s sovereignty claims, asserting that only the people of Taiwan can decide their future.

The geopolitical tensions between China and the Philippines have also heightened, with the Chinese carrier’s recent proximity to the Philippines adding another layer of tensions to the situation. The Philippines has been increasingly vocal about its territorial rights in the South China Sea, a region rich in resources and strategic importance.

In response to these developments, regional allies and international observers have expressed concern over the potential for conflict. The United States, a key ally of both Taiwan and the Philippines, has reiterated its commitment to defending their sovereignty and supporting their military capabilities.

As the Shandong continues its journey into the Pacific, the international community is closely watching the unfolding events. The exercises and maneuvers by Chinese forces are seen as a show of strength and a signal of Beijing’s determination to assert its claims in contested waters.

The delicate balance of power in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait is at a critical juncture. Diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions are ongoing, but the military posturing by China indicates that the region remains on edge.

Taiwan’s annual Han Kuang war games will likely be scrutinized by both China and international observers. The exercises are designed to test Taiwan’s defense capabilities and readiness in the face of potential threats, particularly from China.

The recent increase in Chinese military activities around Taiwan highlights the island’s strategic importance and the high stakes involved in the regional power dynamics. The situation remains fluid, with potential implications for global security and economic stability.

As China continues its military drills and the Shandong navigates the contested waters, the world watches closely, hoping for a peaceful resolution but preparing for the possibility of heightened conflict in one of the world’s most volatile regions.

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Whose Navy is strongest in ASEAN?

Whose Navy is strongest in ASEAN?

Throughout history, naval dominance has played a crucial role in shaping the geopolitical landscape, with the British Royal Navy’s supremacy during the 19th century serving as a prime example. By controlling key sea routes and ensuring maritime security, the British Empire expanded its influence, protected its trade interests, and maintained global stability. In Southeast Asia, the maritime dynamics are similarly shaped by the diverse naval capabilities and strategic priorities of its nations. From Indonesia’s formidable naval force safeguarding its vast archipelago to Vietnam’s rapidly modernizing navy aimed at deterring regional threats, each country navigates unique geopolitical challenges. The Philippines fortifies its alliances amid rising tensions in the South China Sea, while Thailand enhances its naval assets to address non-state challenges. Singapore has an advanced and self-reliant navy, and Malaysia strengthens its maritime security through regional cooperation. Myanmar, despite limited capabilities, focuses on developing its naval and coast guard forces, and Cambodia modernizes its naval base in collaboration with China. Brunei, with a smaller fleet, prioritizes coastal defense and regional security initiatives. These varied approaches highlight the critical importance of maritime security and defense in the region’s stability and prosperity.

Let’s discuss, who has the strongest navy in South East Asia?

Indonesia: The Maritime Giant

Indonesia has a formidable naval force crucial for safeguarding its vast archipelago and exerting influence in the surrounding regions. Positioned along critical sea routes, Indonesia plays a pivotal role in global maritime security. The Indonesian Navy’s prime location in the Indo-Pacific, combined with its modernization efforts to enhance capabilities, a large fleet of warships, submarines, and patrol vessels, and active participation in regional security initiatives, signifies its strengths. The Indonesian Navy operates eight submarines, including the Nagapasa-class and Cakra-class vessels. Additionally, their surface fleet comprises frigates, corvettes, and patrol boats. One of the most difficult and challenging geopolitical issue for Indonesia is the South China Sea conflict. Indonesia’s approach to balancing territorial claims in the South China Sea is strategic. To ensure sustainable naval development, Indonesia has entered into an agreement with the French Naval Group and domestic company PT PAL to acquire two Scorpene-class submarines. The Indonesian Navy aims to expand its fleet to a total of 12 submarines.

Vietnam: Rising Naval Power

Having a long coastline facing the South China Sea, Vietnam stands among the Southeast Asian nations with the fastest-growing militaries and defense budget. Vietnam aims to modernize its defense capabilities to deter regional threats, anticipating a cumulative defense budget of $46 billion between 2025 and 2029. This aligns with the broader trend among Southeast Asian countries, which are boosting their defense budget to strengthen territorial sovereignty.

With a coastline stretching 2,000 miles along the South China Sea and significant GDP contributions from the maritime industry, maritime concerns are a top defense priority for Vietnam. In 2011, Vietnam released a comprehensive marine plan for 2011 to 2020, emphasizing maritime sovereignty and industry as crucial pillars of national security. By 2018, Resolution 36 highlighted the need for sustainable development of the maritime sector in line with national security, making it a priority for Vietnam’s economic development from 2030 to 2045.

A key aspect of the growing defense ties between the United States and Vietnam is maritime security. Between 2017 and 2023, the U.S. State Department provided approximately $104 million in security assistance to Vietnam through the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program to increase its marine security and law enforcement capacities. In 2018, FMF allocated an additional $81.5 million to Vietnam as part of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy. Prominent examples of bilateral maritime security cooperation include U.S. port visits to Vietnam and joint naval exercises.

Vietnam’s cautious approach to strengthening ties with the United States aims to maintain stable and peaceful relationship with its neighbours. Stronger defense relations between the U.S. and Vietnam may provoke China, potentially leading to punitive actions against Vietnam. Consequently, Hanoi has sought to reassure Beijing that its Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) with Washington is not a security alliance against China. In recent high-level meetings between Chinese and Vietnamese officials, Vietnam emphasized its positive bilateral relations with China and its “Four No’s” defense policy.

Vietnam has effectively managed its great power relations by balancing assurance, hedging, and deterrence, as demonstrated by recent constructive engagements with both China and the United States. However, the evolving geopolitical landscape will present challenges, requiring Vietnam to continuously adapt and recalibrate its strategies.

Philippines: Striving for Modernization

Within the Philippines’ 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the Second Thomas Shoal of the Spratly Islands remains a flashpoint in the nation’s ongoing conflict with China. To assert its claims in what it calls the West Philippine Sea, the Philippines intentionally grounded the BRP Sierra Madre in 1999. Since then, this vessel has become a symbol of the territorial dispute, with the Philippine Coast Guard conducting regular resupply missions to support military personnel stationed there. In 2023, these missions faced increasing interference from Chinese Coast Guard vessels, intensifying regional tensions.

Amid rising hostilities, the Philippines has increased its alliances with other Indo-Pacific nations. President Marcos has signed agreements with the United States to expand arms exports, joint training exercises, and base access. The Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the United States and the Philippines, which ensures mutual support in case of armed attacks, was reaffirmed by U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at multiple instances in 2024. Additionally, Japan has strengthened its role in regional security by providing military hardware to the Philippines.

The BRP Sierra Madre, grounded at Second Thomas Shoal, symbolizes the Philippines’ commitment to asserting its territorial claims. Despite its age and challenging conditions, it remains a strategic outpost for the Philippine Coast Guard. Regular resupply missions by the Philippine Coast Guard are crucial for maintaining the military presence on the BRP Sierra Madre, demonstrating the nation’s resolve to uphold its sovereignty. Chinese Coast Guard vessels have increasingly interfered with these missions, using risky tactics that heighten tensions and increase the sensitivity of territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Other ASEAN States

Thailand: Strengthening Naval Capabilities

Thailand aims to enhance its maritime knowledge, reinforce deterrence, and better restrict unlawful marine operations by modernizing its naval assets. Already possessing one of the most powerful navies in Southeast Asia, Thailand continues to acquire advanced naval warfare capabilities from a variety of foreign partners, though the current capacity still falls short of government aspirations. To reduce reliance on imports amid global uncertainty, Thailand is concurrently developing a domestic shipbuilding sector.

As a non-claimant state in the South China Sea with friendly relations with all major nations, Thailand does not face an existential threat from direct conflict with a great power. However, the potential for an attack cannot be entirely dismissed, given the constantly evolving non-state challenges it faces. Strong naval presences on both national coasts are crucial to ensure maximum security and resilience. The absence of a maritime shortcut between the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand further limits Thailand’s defense flexibility, making robust coastal defenses even more essential.

Singapore: Advanced and Self-Reliant Naval Force

Singapore’s Navy, while purchasing missiles, torpedoes, and submarines from overseas, primarily relies on domestic businesses to meet its needs. Most of the fleet, including platform landing ships, multipurpose auxiliary vessels, and offshore patrol boats, is built by regional companies. The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) commands a highly developed naval force with two Challenger-class (Sjöormen-class) and two Archer-class (Västergotland-class) submarines. As part of its broader initiative to enhance fleet flexibility and incorporate unmanned technologies, Singapore has engaged ST Engineering to modernize its Formidable-class frigates. This strategic approach ensures that Singapore maintains a robust and self-reliant naval force capable of addressing contemporary maritime challenges.

Malaysia: Strengthening Maritime Security

As a maritime nation, Malaysia places great importance on maritime security, serving as a crucial hub for global trade and commerce due to its strategic location in Southeast Asia. This advantageous position, however, also exposes the country to various maritime security threats. In response, Malaysia has made significant investments to enhance its naval power, focusing on acquiring advanced and modern warships. The Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) has added sophisticated vessels to its fleet, including Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), Littoral Mission Ships (LMS), and Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), all designed to efficiently monitor and protect Malaysia’s waterways. Equipped with advanced radar and surveillance systems, these ships are capable of detecting and tracking suspicious vessels in the area.

To further enhance its maritime security capabilities, Malaysia actively participates in regional and global maritime security cooperation. The nation engages in numerous cooperative maritime exercises with countries such as the United States, Australia, and Singapore. Additionally, the RMN conducts joint patrols with foreign fleets to improve its capabilities and gain a deeper understanding of the regional maritime security landscape. Malaysia also takes part in the Malacca Straits Patrol (MSP), a collaborative initiative with Indonesia and Singapore aimed at enhancing maritime security in the vital Malacca Strait.

Myanmar: Developing Naval and Coast Guard Capabilities

Myanmar, a military-run country in Southeast Asia, has limited naval capabilities. Recently, it hosted its first-ever cooperative naval drill with Russia, a significant ally and supplier of weaponry to Myanmar’s military regime, which took power in February 2021 after overthrowing Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratic administration. The Myanmar Coast Guard is trying to play a crucial role in protecting the country’s maritime interests. It operates in a constabulary manner, assisting with search and rescue operations, promoting marine environmental conservation, and monitoring various activities both above and below the water in Myanmar’s waters.

The foundation for the Coast Guard was laid by the Aung San Suu Kyi-led NLD government in 2018. Now under the Ministry of Defense, the Myanmar Coast Guard collaborates closely with the Myanmar Police Force, the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development, the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries, and Rural Development, and the Myanmar Navy. Its mission is to protect Myanmar’s territorial seas, which encompass 23,070 square kilometers and approximately 1,000 islands, as well as its 1,930 kilometers of coastline. Through these efforts, Myanmar aims to enhance its maritime security and safeguard its extensive maritime domain.

Cambodia: Maritime Developments

Although Cambodia is not landlocked, it has limited coastline along the Gulf of Thailand. This coastal area is crucial for its maritime interests. In a significant move towards enhancing its maritime capabilities, the official “modernization” of the Ream Naval Base was marked by a ceremony attended by the Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia, Wang Wentian, and Cambodia’s Defense Minister, along with other officials. During the event, they symbolically turned over shovels full of soil, signaling the start of this strategic development. This modernization effort reflects Cambodia’s growing cooperation with China in bolstering its naval infrastructure.

Brunei: Limited Naval Capabilities

The Royal Brunei Navy (RBN) operates with a small fleet of patrol boats and coastal defense units. Brunei’s limited naval capacity is partly due to its small size and economic focus on other sectors, particularly energy, such as oil and gas. As a result, the nation prioritizes investments in these lucrative industries over significant naval expansion. Despite its modest maritime force, Brunei maintains a focus on safeguarding its coastal waters and supporting regional security initiatives.

End Note

In examining the naval capabilities and strategic maritime priorities of ASEAN nations, it becomes evident that each country adopts unique approaches tailored to its geographical and geopolitical context. Indonesia stands out as a maritime giant with a formidable fleet, while Vietnam rapidly modernizes to enhance its naval power. The Philippines navigates complex territorial disputes with a focus on alliances, Thailand bolsters its capabilities to address non-state threats, and Singapore maintains a highly advanced and self-reliant navy. Malaysia emphasizes regional cooperation, Myanmar develops its nascent naval forces, Cambodia modernizes with Chinese support, and Brunei prioritizes coastal defense. Together, these varied strategies highlight the critical importance of maritime security in ensuring regional stability and economic prosperity in Southeast Asia.

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