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Geo-Politics

What upcoming US elections mean for South East Asia?

What upcoming US elections mean for South East Asia

This year, over 80 countries, including some of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nations and the most populous, autocratic, and unstable ones, will be allowed to vote.

It appears that this year will put even the most resilient democracies to the test and give those in positions of authority more power.

How the presidential and legislative elections turned out will significantly impact human rights, economics, international relations, and the likelihood of peace in a volatile world spanning Russia, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom to India, El Salvador, and South Africa. Many votes will put democracy to the test, while others will be rubber-stamped. Some will be boycotted by the opposition or harmed by government crackdowns on the media and dissenters.

Welcome back to our channel, folks! Join us as we brainstorm the plausible impacts of the upcoming US elections on the political landscape in Southeast Asia. Don’t forget to support the channel by hitting the follow button.

In 2023, the United States achieved considerable gains in Asia by strengthening its Asian alliances and developing closer ties with key allies such as India, Indonesia, and Vietnam. The Biden administration also strengthened diplomatic contacts with China. Nonetheless, internal political polarization within the United States, global conflicts, and upcoming US elections pose hurdles to maintaining American momentum in Asia by 2024.

A significant concern heading into 2024 is whether the Biden administration can preserve US progress in Asia. It will confront significant obstacles in doing so. The first challenge is the diplomatic calendar. None of the big annual meetings US officials typically attend will provide a tailwind for the country’s regional policy. With President Biden campaigning for re-election in 2024, it seems likely that he will spend little time in Asia until the US presidential election in November 2024.

Washington will also have to deal with the consequences of developments beyond Asia. Suppose the Biden administration fails to continue helping Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression. In that case, Beijing will have the opportunity to sell a narrative across Asia that the US is absent and untrustworthy. If the crisis between Israel and Hamas worsens or deepens, US leadership will face further pressure. Developments outside Asia may exert downward pressure on US leadership in Asia.

President of the United States, Joe Biden, often characterizes contemporary international politics as a “battle between democracy and autocracy,” referring to a variety of topics like China’s rivalry, Russia’s conflict in Ukraine, and even Israel’s conflict with Hamas.

As the election cycle heats up, knowing how the presidential contenders would handle foreign policy is crucial, given that the US has become involved in several significant issues worldwide. Though Americans typically worry more about the economy than foreign policy, Biden and Trump might find that their proposals for overseas US involvement have the potential to make a difference. In February, the foreign policy community assembled for a roundtable discussion titled “Reimagining US Grand Strategy” to explore the proposition that foreign policy will be included on the ballot this year. In addition to discussing foreign policy topics that are most likely to impact the election, the debate included instances from previous presidential elections where foreign policy was a significant factor. Most of the group agreed that voters are interested in the Gaza War, immigration, and growing tensions with China. There was also consensus that the Ukrainian conflict was becoming less critical. Regarding the potential impact of the significant foreign policy issues on the election, opinions were more divergent.

This year’s election may also be heavily influenced by foreign policy. A recent AP/NORC survey found that, up from 18% a year earlier, 38% of Americans cited foreign policy as one of the top five concerns the US government should focus on in 2024. An evident international crisis and distinct foreign policy positions held by the rival candidates are typically requirements for foreign policy to impact an election.

If Biden and Trump face off in this year’s election, both candidates might be involved in a few concerns. If Trump returns to the White House, Southeast Asian countries may face more pressure to take sides in geopolitical disputes. There is no middle ground for ASEAN or its member states. The true challenge is to see an authoritarian US president ruling the most powerful democracy, which has gradually declined. Worryingly, this phenomenon may provide ammunition to authoritarian regimes across Asia, straining ASEAN’s internal dynamics and exterior interactions.

A formidable contender in the current context would be someone who challenges America’s mindless backing of Israel as it keeps detaining, murdering, and starving Palestinians in Gaza. Many others chose to vote for someone other than Biden in states without a write-in option, not because they supported the other candidate but rather to express their displeasure with Biden’s stance on Israel. In other words, electors can see that the construction of a makeshift port in Gaza after airdrops of humanitarian supplies to Rafah and the circumvention of Congress to arm Israel despite its war crimes are not displays of “strength” but relatively consistent dishonesty.

Moreover, another obstacle is the ongoing debate within the United States regarding its global position. The American populace is flirting with another round of isolationism. Whereas 65% of liberals believe it is ideal for the United States to be involved globally, only 30% of conservatives and 43% of moderates concur. The gap between conservative and liberal perspectives on the United States’ position worldwide has widened from 17% in 2020 to 35% in 2023. This growing ideological polarization may limit the Biden administration’s political flexibility during an election year. These limits will be most noticeable in trade. The Biden administration’s biggest failure has been the need for a realistic trade and economic program for Asia. Political and national security imperatives will continue shaping the US trade approach. Do not anticipate the Biden administration to be very creative or courageous on trade in 2024.

There will be flashpoints and hazards that must be managed consistently. These include North Korea’s predicted saber-rattling, China’s reaction to Taiwan’s January 2024 election, and issues in the South China Sea. Both the United States and China will work to mitigate vulnerabilities caused by their dependency. They will concentrate on addressing their internal issues and limitations while also seeking partners to serve as a buffer against competition from one another. US partners would likely withhold their backing for additional competitive steps against China until they are confident in the direction of US strategy after 2024.

In addition to the churning in Asia’s political pools, there are concerning economic tides. China’s economy desperately needs a boost, but foreign corporations are scared of Beijing; meanwhile, Southeast Asia’s “scamdemic” is genuinely a global issue. Afghanistan remains impoverished and hungry while the international community disputes how to deal with the Taliban regime, while Pakistan’s economy oscillates between recovery and crisis.

Numerous unresolved conflicts are brewing across Asia, spanning from the South China Sea to Myanmar. Notably, the Philippines finds itself in a prominent standoff with China. Meanwhile, ongoing crises in the Middle East and Europe serve as distractions, diverting American focus and disrupting broader global dynamics.

The United States, despite being the world’s most powerful nation, faces significant challenges in adapting to a rapidly changing global landscape. Big decisions are looming. The next US president, whether Biden or Trump is elected again, will probably face a more challenging external environment, which includes an increasingly assertive and assertive Russia that has turned the European security architecture upside down, a Middle East that continues to be unstable, and an increasingly dangerous and unstable Asia. Perhaps most importantly, the next president will be able to decide whether the United States will essentially go it alone, using its influence to advance a fundamentally transactional foreign policy, or whether it will collaborate with long-standing partners and cultivate new relationships in support of an international order in which might not always equal right. The globe will be significantly impacted by what occurs in November. However, who wins the White House may be substantially influenced by events happening in the rest of the world. All the world can do is observe and wait.

Asia

Can the Philippines’ Navy Counter Harassment in the West Philippine Sea?

Can the Philippines' Navy Counter Harassment in the West Philippine Sea

The Philippines has recently expressed grave concern regarding the reported harassment of its fishing vessels by two Chinese coastguard ships within the contentious South China Sea. This incident took place within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, specifically at the Iroquois Reef, on April 4th.

This event doesn’t come as a surprise, given the history of Chinese activity in the South China Sea. In recent months, a series of maritime incidents have occurred between the Philippines and China, often involving the deployment of water cannons. These encounters frequently occur near the contested reefs within the expansive and resource-abundant South China Sea.

The question remains: Can the Philippine Navy respond to this harassment? Join us for some brainstorming and show your support by subscribing.

An Unfounded Claim

In a statement issued by Jay Tarriela, spokesperson for the Philippine Coast Guard, strong condemnation was directed towards the actions of the Chinese coastguard, which were characterized as intimidation tactics. Tarriela outlined that the coastguard vessels allegedly engaged in provocative maneuvers, including the simulation of activating their water cannons, thereby posing a direct threat to Filipino fishermen operating in the vicinity.

Tarriela articulated the Philippine perspective, attributing this perceived aggression to what he described as China’s “greed” and “unfounded claim” over the disputed maritime territory. He underscored the preposterous nature of China’s claim, labeling it an “imaginary dashed line” that encroaches upon the sovereign rights of the Philippines within its exclusive economic zone.

Tarriela further emphasized that Rozul Reef, known by its Filipino designation, falls distinctly within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, situated approximately 128 nautical miles off the coast of Palawan. Additionally, he highlighted the Philippines’ customary reference to the South China Sea area within its EEZ as the West Philippine Sea.

In the wake of these serious allegations, there has been no immediate response from China, the nation asserting extensive sovereignty claims over nearly the entire expanse of the South China Sea. The absence of a formal rejoinder from Beijing leaves the matter fraught with tension and uncertainty, underscoring the intricate geopolitical dynamics at play in the region.

Philippines’ Countermeasures

Since assuming office in 2022, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines has actively pursued warmer relations with the United States and other Western nations while adopting a firm stance against what he perceives as Chinese aggression.

In a notable statement last month, President Marcos Jr. declared that the Philippines would undertake appropriate countermeasures in response to China’s actions, particularly following the latest altercation that resulted in injuries to Filipino servicemen and damage to vessels. This resolute stance highlights Philippines’ commitment to safeguarding its territorial integrity and asserting its rights in the face of perceived threats in the region.

In a bold move aimed at countering China’s increasing assertiveness in the region, the Philippines is conducting joint naval and air drills with key allies, including the U.S., Japan, and Australia, in the disputed area. This decision shows the Philippines’ commitment to strengthening ties with its partners as a strategic response to regional challenges.

Defense chiefs from the four nations expressed their collective dedication to reinforcing regional and international cooperation in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific. The upcoming drills serve as a tangible demonstration of this commitment, showcasing the unity and resolve of the participating countries. Moreover, Japan’s embassy in Manila indicated that the exercises would encompass “anti-submarine warfare training,” highlighting the strategic importance of the Balikatan exercises.

Strength of the Philippines’ Armed Forces

With repeated encounters with China in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and the construction of military bases on artificial islands, the Armed Forces of the Philippines grapple with the challenge of being underequipped, according to experts. The Philippine Navy has lagged behind many of its Southeast Asian peers for decades. The 2012 Scarborough Shoal Incident, which saw China effectively occupy a feature within the Philippine EEZ, spurred Manila to revive its military modernization efforts. The new Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Act aimed to bolster the country’s capabilities and deter further encroachment in the South China Sea. However, funding shortages and the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the Navy’s procurement plans, leaving crucial modernization initiatives incomplete. In response to rising tensions, Manila has embarked on a comprehensive revision of its defense strategy, placing a renewed emphasis on naval and air forces. The new strategy envisions the AFP operating offshore in the EEZ and beyond, with the Philippine Navy tasked with securing the country’s vast maritime domain. From patrols in the EEZ to acquiring high-end anti-air and submarine warfare capabilities, the Philippine Navy stands poised to defend the nation’s sovereignty and protect its interests in the face of external threats.

Upcoming Procurements

As the Philippines navigates these challenging waters, the path forward involves a mix of strategic investments and international cooperation to safeguard its maritime interests.

The upcoming procurements are vital to bolstering the Philippines’ ability to secure its waters and surrounding seas. Integration of these acquisitions into the overarching maritime strategy is paramount. Other maritime security organizations, like the Philippine Coast Guard, can alleviate some of the pressure on the Philippine Navy, allowing it to focus on conventional warfighting. Equipped with modern patrol vessels from Japan and France, the Philippine Coast Guard plays a crucial role in protecting Filipino fishermen and enforcing maritime laws. The Philippine Navy’s procurement plans include submarines, frigates, and offshore patrol vessels to bolster its maritime capabilities. Amidst growing tensions in the region, there’s a renewed focus on modernization and strategic alignment with allies like the United States. With a ‘good enough’ defense plan, the Philippines can leverage its partnership with the U.S. under the Mutual Defense Treaty, allowing for a more comprehensive approach to regional security.

The military expansion planned by the Filipino administration is probably the biggest in their history. This can be worrisome for the Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea. Deploying military assets in these waters not only serves the defense purposes of the country but also provides other strategic gains.

Can China Stand Against These Alliances?

China’s naval prowess has reached unprecedented heights, boasting the world’s largest fleet with over 340 warships. Once perceived as a Greenwater Navy confined to coastal waters, Beijing’s recent shipbuilding endeavors have unveiled grander ambitions. In recent years, China has rolled out formidable assets, including guided missile destroyers, amphibious assault ships, and aircraft carriers capable of projecting power across vast distances, thousands of miles from Beijing. Western marine security experts, alongside the Philippines and the United States, have sounded the alarm over China’s maritime militia. Allegedly comprising hundreds of vessels, this militia serves as an unofficial force advancing Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and beyond. Most concerning is China’s concentrated military buildup along the Spratly and Paracel Island chains. Through extensive land reclamation efforts, Beijing has significantly expanded its presence, adding over 3,200 acres of land to its occupied outposts. These outposts, equipped with airfields, berthing areas, and resupply facilities, facilitate persistent Chinese military and paramilitary activities in the region. Beijing’s military construction spree began in earnest in 2014, with massive dredging operations transforming reefs into fortified military bases. According to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, China’s fortified outposts, boasting military-grade airfields and advanced weaponry, pose a significant threat to free movement in the area. As tensions escalate, the U.S. and its allies remain vigilant, wary of the potential for these outposts to serve as strategic chokepoints, undermining regional stability.

Should We Expect a War?

Amidst the chaos in the South China Sea, insights from a Chinese think tank shed light on the potential for armed conflict between China and the Philippines. According to the think tank’s analysis, the risk of immediate war remains low due to several critical factors. The Philippines lacks the capability to confront China alone, and the U.S. has shown reluctance to directly intervene in South China Sea disputes. Another Beijing think tank reinforces this stance, emphasizing that the conflict in the South China Sea is unlikely in the foreseeable future. China recognizes the formidable alliances that are arrayed against it, including the United States and its allies, such as Japan, Australia, and the Philippines. China understands the risks of engaging in a war with the U.S. and its allies, considering the military capabilities and collective strength they possess.” As tensions persist, diplomatic efforts remain crucial in navigating the complex geopolitical landscape of the South China Sea.

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Geo-Politics

Philippines, US Launch Mid Range Missile System in Balikatan

Philippines, US Launch Mid Range Missile System in Balikatan

Introduction

Against the backdrop of escalating tensions in the South China Sea, the US and the Philippines have initiated massive joint military exercises, Balikatan, involving thousands of military personnel over a three-week period. This exercise showcases the Philippines’ advanced military systems, including missile frigates, fighter jets, support aircraft, and Black Hawk helicopters. Notably, the naval segment extends beyond the 12-nautical-mile limit into the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, signaling a strategic expansion in operational scope. Concurrently, the deployment of the Mid-Range Capability (MRC) missile system by the US to the Indo-Pacific theater, specifically during the Balikatan drills, has elicited strong condemnation from China. The integration of offensive capabilities into joint military exercises highlight broader geopolitical dynamics in the Indo-Pacific region. Let us delve deep into the issue to analyze its broader implications.

Deployment Details

China has condemned the United States for what it perceives as an escalation of military tension by deploying a powerful missile launcher capable of firing missiles up to 1,600 kilometers in range to exercises in the Philippines. The US Army’s Mid-Range Capability (MRC) ground-based missile system, known as the Typhon system, arrives in the wake of heightened tensions following confrontations between Chinese and Philippine vessels in the South China Sea involving water cannons injuring Filipino sailors.

This deployment of the MRC missile system to the Indo-Pacific theater, marking its first-ever appearance in the region, coincides with a series of joint military exercises between the US and the Philippines, including the Balikatan drills. The duration of the Typhon system’s stay in the Philippines has not been disclosed by the US Army, but analysts view its involvement as a strategic signal that offensive weaponry is now positioned within striking distance of Chinese installations in the South China Sea and along the Taiwan Strait.

In response to the deployment, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian expressed concern over increased risks of “misjudgment and miscalculation,” accusing the US of pursuing a “unilateral military advantage” and undermining regional peace and stability. Lin urged the US to respect other countries’ security concerns and refrain from escalating confrontation.

The Standard Missile 6 (SM-6) is an advanced missile system developed by the United States, primarily intended for deployment on US Navy ships. This versatile system is designed for dual-use, capable of engaging both air and surface targets effectively. It holds an extended range compared to its predecessors and utilizes an active radar seeker to track and intercept targets with precision. The SM-6 is equipped to intercept incoming enemy aircraft, including drones and cruise missiles. Furthermore, it can engage surface vessels. Benefitting from networked guidance information, the SM-6 delivers enhanced accuracy, making it a vital asset for naval forces seeking versatile and reliable defense capabilities. The Typhon system is equipped to launch the Standard Missile 6 (SM-6), a ballistic missile defense munition with a range of 370 kilometers (230 miles), and the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile, a cruise missile capable of reaching targets up to 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) away, as per the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

On the other hand, the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) is a long-range cruise missile employed by the US Navy and allied forces for land-based target strikes. Operating at subsonic speeds, the TLAM maintains a low radar cross-section, enhancing its survivability and stealth capabilities. It employs GPS guidance for precise navigation, enabling it to hit specific targets with high accuracy. The TLAM is available in various variants, including nuclear and conventional versions, catering to different operational requirements. Renowned for its effectiveness in long-range strikes, the TLAM has played a pivotal role in various conflicts.

The deployment of the Mid-Range Capability (MRC) missile system to the Indo-Pacific theater represents a historic development, marking the first deployment of this advanced system in the region.

From China’s perspective, the deployment of the MRC system represents a direct challenge to its military capabilities and territorial claims. The presence of land-attack missiles capable of reaching Chinese installations raises Chinese concerns. China has expressed displeasure and accused the US of exacerbating military confrontation in the region through such actions.

Operationally, the system provides a versatile and potent capability for both defensive operations, such as intercepting incoming threats, and offensive operations, including precision strikes against designated targets.

Diplomatically, the deployment of the MRC system has triggered reactions from various regional players. China’s vocal opposition reflects broader concerns about escalating military tensions, while other countries in the region are closely monitoring developments and assessing the potential implications for regional stability.

Increased Risks

China’s response to the deployment of the Mid-Range Capability (MRC) missile system by the United States has been characterized by accusations of “stoking military confrontation.” Beijing has voiced strong opposition to the presence of advanced missile systems in the Indo-Pacific region, viewing them as a provocative move that escalates tensions and undermines regional stability. China perceives such deployments as a direct challenge to its security interests and strategic posture in the South China Sea and surrounding areas.

Firstly, the deployment of offensive weapons capable of reaching Chinese installations raises the stakes and intensifies military competition in the region. This creates a scenario where any perceived provocation or misunderstanding could lead to unintended escalation and conflict. Additionally, the use of advanced missile systems introduces complexities in decision-making during crises, potentially leading to rapid and unforeseen developments that can spiral out of control.

Recent incidents involving dangerous encounters between Chinese and Philippine vessels, including the targeting of Philippine ships with water cannons, pinpoints the volatile nature of maritime disputes in the region. The presence of advanced military capabilities like the MRC system further exacerbates these tensions.

Strategic Significance

The deployment of the Mid-Range Capability (MRC) missile system by the United States to the Philippines holds significant strategic implications, particularly due to the presence of offensive weaponry within striking distance of Chinese installations in the South China Sea and surrounding areas. This deployment signifies a tangible shift in the balance of power and military posture in the region, as it enables the US to project offensive capabilities closer to Chinese territories and maritime claims.

The presence of land-attack missiles such as the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) within striking distance of Chinese installations raises concerns as these missiles have the capability to strike targets on land with precision and effectiveness, posing a direct threat to Chinese military assets and facilities in the South China Sea and beyond.

In the context of joint US-Philippine military exercises, such as the Balikatan drills, the deployment of the MRC missile system assumes added significance. These exercises demonstrate a deepening of defense cooperation between the US and the Philippines, aimed at enhancing their combined military capabilities and interoperability. The Balikatan exercises serve as a platform for joint training and readiness activities, reinforcing the defense posture of both countries and sending a clear signal of deterrence to potential adversaries, including China.

Conclusion

Amidst tensions in the South China Sea, US-Philippines joint exercises, Balikatan, have begun, showcasing advanced military systems and extending naval operations into the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. Simultaneously, US deployment of the MRC missile system, with SM-6 and TLAM, has drawn China’s ire, escalating regional tensions.

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Asia

North Korea Conducted ‘Super-Large Warhead’ Test

North Korea Conducted 'Super-Large Warhead' Test

North Korea’s recent power test for a “super-large warhead” in a cruise missile and the launch of a new anti-aircraft missile have raised concerns and drawn international attention. The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported the developments, highlighting North Korea’s continued focus on advancing its military capabilities. North Korea’s missile tests serve as a reminder of the persistent challenges in the region’s security landscape.

The Tests

The Missile Administration conducted a warhead test on the Hwasal-1 Ra-3 strategic cruise missile and test-fired the new Pyoljji-1-2 in the Yellow Sea. These activities are part of routine efforts aimed at technological advancement, according to KCNA. The tests are unrelated to the current situation, the report emphasized, indicating that North Korea views them as necessary steps in its military development. By conducting these tests, North Korea aims to showcase its technological prowess and deter potential adversaries, reinforcing its position as a regional military power.

Strategic Implications

The significance of North Korea’s latest tests extends beyond the immediate military capabilities demonstrated. The country’s continued pursuit of advanced missile technology raises concerns among neighboring countries and the international community. The tests highlight North Korea’s commitment to bolstering its military arsenal despite diplomatic efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. Moreover, the tests serve as a signal to the United States and its allies that North Korea remains capable and determined to defend its interests, further complicating efforts to achieve lasting peace and stability in the region.

Regional Dynamics

As North Korea continues to enhance its military capabilities, neighboring countries are compelled to reassess their defense strategies and strengthen cooperation to maintain stability in the region. Furthermore, the tests may lead to increased military expenditures and arms build-up in the region, further exacerbating security dilemmas and undermining efforts for peaceful coexistence.

Domestic Considerations

The timing and nature of North Korea’s missile tests also carry domestic implications. Leader Kim Jong Un’s regime often employs displays of military strength to rally public support. By showcasing advancements in missile technology, North Korea seeks to project strength and resilience, reinforcing its position domestically amid economic challenges and international isolation. Moreover, the military’s role in North Korean society is deeply entrenched, with significant resources allocated to the development of weapons programs at the expense of other sectors. Thus, the missile tests serve as a reminder of the regime’s prioritization of military capabilities over the well-being of its citizens.

End Note

North Korea’s recent tests of a “super-large warhead” and a new anti-aircraft missile highlight its determination to bolster its military capabilities. While the tests may serve domestic and strategic objectives for North Korea, they also contribute to regional tensions and pose challenges to international security efforts. The international community must remain vigilant and explore diplomatic avenues to address North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and beyond. Moreover, concerted efforts are needed to address the root causes of North Korea’s security concerns and engage the country in constructive dialogue to achieve lasting peace in the region.

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