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Geo-Strategy

What is the Strategic Message Behind US Missile Deployment in the Balikatan?

On April 11, 2024, the United States made a calculated move that likely unsettled Beijing. The US deployed a potent land-attack missile system, the Mid-Range Capability (MRC) launcher, to the Philippines. This is the first potential deployment of missiles with such a range since the expiration of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019. While framed as a military exercise, this move carries deep strategic implications as tensions in the South China Sea continue to simmer.

Understanding the Weapons

MRC

The MRC system, with its ability to strike targets up to 1,600 kilometers away, puts vital Chinese installations within range.

Typhon System

Flexible and potent, the Typhon can be armed with anti-ship SM-6 missiles or land-attack Tomahawks, making it a major threat to China’s naval and land-based assets in the region1.

The South China Sea: A Contested Flashpoint

China’s increasingly assertive behavior in the South China Sea, including the building of artificial islands and militarization, has long alarmed its neighbors and the U.S. The deployment of US missiles comes amid repeated incidents between Chinese vessels and those of the Philippines and other regional nations.

Strategic Implications

Shifting Balance

This deployment marks a significant change in the Indo-Pacific’s power balance. By positioning offensive capabilities close to China’s doorstep, the US seeks to deter aggression and reassure allies like the Philippines.

Calculated Risk

While a bold move, it’s not without risks. China may perceive this as a major escalation, potentially leading to heightened tensions and even retaliatory actions.

China’s Response and Regional Concerns

China’s condemnation of the deployment on April 19, 2024, labeling it a destabilizing act, reflects Beijing’s displeasure and concerns about its ability to project power unchallenged. Regional states like Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia, all with claims in the South China Sea, will be watching closely.

Analyst’s Perspective: Deterrence vs. Provocation

Expert opinions are indeed divided on the deployment of the US Mid-Range Capability (MRC) launcher to the Philippines. The crux of the debate lies in the dichotomy of deterrence versus provocation.

Deterrence

Some analysts see this move as a necessary step to counterbalance Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea. They argue that the deployment of the MRC system enhances the deterrence capabilities of the US and its allies in the region. As Mark Cancian, a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, puts it, “Chinese missiles would threaten the US [naval] bases in the western Pacific. The United States needs a similar capability so it can strike Chinese bases without risking ships or aircraft.”

Provocation

On the other hand, some experts warn that this move could fuel a dangerous arms race in the region. They argue that the deployment of such a potent missile system could be perceived as a major escalation by China, potentially leading to heightened tensions and even retaliatory actions. Joseph Matthews, a senior professor at the BELTEI International University in Phnom Penh, warned that “allowing the US army to deploy missiles in the Philippines posed a serious threat and danger to the peace and stability in the region. It would not help resolve any regional dispute, but exacerbate the lingering tensions in the South China Sea.”

Balancing Act

The deployment of the MRC system in the Philippines represents a delicate balancing act between deterrence and provocation. While it aims to counterbalance Chinese assertiveness in the region, it also runs the risk of escalating tensions and potentially sparking an arms race. As Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, puts it, “Allies may be open to rotational deployments in crises, but this is very much dependent on future political dynamics.”

Economic Ripples

China has a history of using economic levers as a form of retaliation in response to geopolitical tensions. In the past, China has imposed bans on agricultural products, particularly bananas, from the Philippines. This had significant implications for the Philippine economy, given that China is one of its largest trading partners.

In addition to trade restrictions, China has also discouraged its citizens from visiting the Philippines citing “security concerns”. This has potential implications for the tourism industry in the Philippines, which relies heavily on Chinese tourists.

The deployment of the US missile system could potentially trigger similar economic retaliations from China. While the immediate impact might be mitigated by the temporary nature of the deployment, the long-term economic implications could be significant. The uncertainty surrounding China’s potential response adds another layer of complexity to the already tense geopolitical situation.

Conclusion

The US missile deployment in the Philippines is a high-stakes gamble. It signals resolve but risks ratcheting up tensions. The long-term consequences are yet unknown— will it lead to greater stability or set the stage for more dangerous confrontations in a hotly contested region?

As Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, puts it, “Allies may be open to rotational deployments in crises, but this is very much dependent on future political dynamics.”

Asia

What happens if China, Russia and North Korea join forces against the US Indo-Pacific allies?

The solidarity displayed by China, Russia, and North Korea in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine poses significant risks to the strategic interests of the United States and its allies. China and North Korea supported Russia’s actions by providing crucial economic and military assistance, with Beijing increasing bilateral trade to offset international sanctions against Russia and Pyongyang supplying artillery ammunition and missiles to aid Russia’s military operations in Ukraine. This alignment reflects a growing convergence of interests among these authoritarian nations, challenging the stability and security of the international community. Let us explore, what happens if China, Russia and North Korea join forces against the United States in the Indo pacific region?

1. Military Collaboration and Exercises:

China and Russia have been increasingly demonstrating their military cooperation through joint exercises in recent years. One significant example is the Northern Interaction 2023 exercise conducted in July 2023, where China and Russia collaborated in a four-day maritime and airpower drill in the East China Sea (also known as the Sea of Japan). This exercise depicted the commitment of both nations to strengthen naval cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region.

The proposal for three-way naval exercises involving Russia, North Korea, and China in the Indo-Pacific was revealed by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service. The offer was allegedly made by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu during his meeting with North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un in July 2023. While North Korea’s acceptance of this proposal remains uncertain, if realized, it would mark North Korea’s large-scale drills since the Korean War in the 1950s.

Observers view the potential risks to neighboring states from these joint naval exercises as minimal. Rather than preparations for war, such exercises are seen more as diplomatic gestures and strategic posturing. This proposed collaboration represents a convergence of interests among states, particularly North Korea and Russia, which are facing increasingly limited international alliances. The implications of these naval exercises could extend further towards establishing a formal united front against the United States and its allies in the Indo-Pacific region.

The joint naval exercises among Russia, North Korea, and China could represent a substantial shift in regional military dynamics. These exercises, if realized, would not only demonstrate a show of unity but also potentially enhance collective military capabilities in the Indo-Pacific. While North Korea’s naval capabilities historically have been limited, the inclusion of such exercises could indicate a strategic alignment aimed at countering U.S. and allied presence and influence in the region.

2. Geopolitical Counterbalance:

The Chinese, Russian, and North Korean alliance would likely emerge as a strategic counterbalance to U.S. led security arrangements in the Indo-Pacific, such as the trilateral defence alliance between the U.S., Japan, and South Korea. This collective alignment reflects broader geopolitical competition and realignments in the region.

By forming a united front, China, Russia, and North Korea could challenge and undermine U.S. initiatives and policies, reshaping regional power dynamics and influencing the behaviour of other regional actors.

3. Impact on Regional Stability:

The establishment of such an alliance could introduce complexities and uncertainties to the Indo-Pacific security landscape. This collaboration could inadvertently escalate tensions or prompt other regional actors to take sides, potentially leading to heightened instability.

It may also compel neighbouring countries to reassess their strategic positions and alignments, causing a ripple effect across the broader Asia-Pacific region.

4. Diplomatic and Strategic Significance:

Beyond military exercises, this alliance would carry significant diplomatic and strategic implications. It signifies a convergence of interests among China, Russia, and North Korea, potentially influencing global perceptions and strategic calculations.

The alliance’s formation would send a strong message to the international community about shifting power dynamics and strategic alignments in the Indo-Pacific.

5. Challenges to U.S. Indo-Pacific Policy:

A unified front comprising China, Russia, and North Korea would pose substantial challenges to U.S. interests and policies in the region. It could compel the U.S. and its allies to recalibrate their strategic approach, alliances, and partnerships to effectively respond to this evolving security environment.

This development could impact various aspects of U.S. Indo-Pacific policy, including security cooperation, trade agreements, diplomatic engagements, and regional influence.

6. Potential for Expanded Cooperation:

Over time, the alliance may evolve beyond military exercises to encompass broader cooperation across diplomatic, economic, and technological domains. This expanded collaboration would further reshape power dynamics, impacting not only regional stability but also global geopolitical balance.

In essence, a China-Russia-North Korea alliance against U.S. Indo-Pacific policy would represent a significant geopolitical development with far-reaching implications. It would necessitate strategic recalibrations from all affected stakeholders to navigate and respond effectively to the evolving dynamics in the Indo-Pacific region. The outcomes of such an alliance would shape the trajectory of regional security and global power dynamics for the foreseeable future.

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Analysis

What if, Vietnam allows US bases on its soil?

What if, Vietnam allows US bases on its soil

Introduction

If Vietnam were to allow US bases on its soil, it would represent a significant deepening of the security relationship between the two countries, in times of heightened tensions with China over maritime disputes. The prospect of US military presence in Vietnam would signal a strategic shift, reflecting both parties’ desire to enhance cooperation and address shared security concerns in the region. However, Vietnam’s cautious approach, driven by a need to balance between foreign partners and its concerns about its larger neighbor, China, could shape the extent and nature of this security relationship with the United States.

A Historical Context

During the Vietnam War from 1965 to 1973, American troops were deployed in South Vietnam to assist in its defence against communist forces. However, the conflict highlighted the limitations of American military might in the face of determined guerilla tactics and political complexities. U.S. policymakers aimed to support a non-communist government in Vietnam, but encountered challenges as their ambitious goals collided with the harsh realities of combat and nation-building efforts. The decision of American involvement in Vietnam remained highly contentious within the annals of twentieth-century foreign policy, marking a pivotal and controversial era in American military history.

Vietnam’s historical resistance against external aggression extends beyond the Vietnam War. Notably, in 1979, China launched a punitive invasion of Vietnam due to its involvement in Cambodia. Despite intense fighting, Vietnamese troops remained in Cambodia until 1989, illustrating Vietnam’s resilience and commitment to defending its interests against formidable adversaries.

The Vietnam War profoundly impacted American society, fostering what was termed the “Vietnam Syndrome” by President Richard Nixon. This concept encapsulates the war’s enduring influence on U.S. foreign and military policy, leading to increased caution among policymakers about deploying forces into conflicts. Moreover, the conflict sparked significant domestic opposition, with graphic war coverage on television fuelling widespread anti-war sentiment. Iconic protests, such as those outside the Pentagon, reflected a broader societal disillusionment with the war effort.

At its peak, the U.S. had approximately 82,000 combat troops stationed in Vietnam, with military leaders advocating for an additional 175,000 troops by the end of 1965 to reinforce the struggling South Vietnamese army. The war left deep scars on both Vietnam and the United States, shaping their trajectories in ways that continue to reverberate today. In contemporary era, the currents of time are shifting once more, and Vietnam must decide whether to oppose this tide or ride along with it. Let us take an in depth look at the situation being faced by Vietnam again.

What if, Vietnam allows US bases on its soil?

If Vietnam were to consider allowing U.S. bases on its soil, this situation would represent a significant shift in the strategic landscape of the South China Sea region, with implications for U.S.-Vietnam relations and the broader Indo-Pacific balance of power. Such a decision would likely be influenced by Vietnam’s growing concerns over China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea and the broader Indo-Pacific region.

Firstly, Vietnam’s willingness to host U.S. bases would signal a deepening of security cooperation and alignment with American strategic interests. It would suggest that Hanoi views U.S. military presence as a critical deterrent against Chinese maritime expansionism and coercive tactics in disputed waters. This move could potentially enable closer coordination between U.S. and Vietnamese forces, enhancing maritime domain awareness and strengthening Vietnam’s defense capabilities.

Secondly, allowing U.S. bases on its soil would likely face internal political challenges within Vietnam. The decision would need a reassessment of Vietnam’s longstanding policy of avoiding military alliances and foreign bases on its territory. Therefore, any move towards hosting U.S. bases would require careful domestic deliberation and potentially a shift in Vietnam’s defense posture, which traditionally emphasizes self-reliance and non-alignment.

Thirdly, from the U.S. perspective, the establishment of bases in Vietnam would offer strategic advantages, providing closer proximity to key maritime routes and potential areas of contention in the South China Sea. It would enhance U.S. operational flexibility and responsiveness in the region, enabling more effective support for regional allies and partners in deterring Chinese aggression.

However, the decision would undoubtedly be a complex and sensitive one, with implications for regional stability and great power competition for leverage in the South China Sea.

Potential implications, if Vietnam were to allow US troops

If Vietnam were to consider allowing US troops on its soil, the potential implications would be far-reaching across multiple dimensions, encompassing strategic, geopolitical, socio-economic, legal, and environmental aspects.

Strategically, Vietnam would need to carefully manage its relations between the US and China, as hosting US troops could signal a closer alignment with the US-led security framework in the region, potentially altering Vietnam’s position vis-à-vis China. This move might raise grave concerns in Beijing, viewing any US military presence as a direct challenge to its regional influence.

From a geopolitical perspective, the presence of US troops could contribute to regional stability by deterring aggression and fostering cooperation. However, it could also strain Vietnam’s relations within ASEAN, potentially impacting the organization’s unity and collective security efforts.

Legally and politically, Vietnam would face negotiations involving bilateral agreements when determining the terms of hosting US troops. This would include considerations around foreign troop presence, legal frameworks, and constitutional processes, with significant implications for domestic politics and public opinion.

Economically, hosting US troops could stimulate infrastructure development, spurring economic growth through construction projects and job creation.

Socially and environmentally, Vietnam’s historical context, including legacies from the Vietnam War such as environmental issues stemming from Agent Orange, would influence public perceptions and debates surrounding any foreign troop presence.

Militarily, allowing US bases could provide Vietnam access to advanced military technologies, training, and intelligence sharing, potentially enhancing defense capabilities through joint exercises and cooperation.

The integration of US troops into Vietnam’s military landscape would necessitate a reassessment of Vietnam’s military doctrine and strategic planning, particularly in addressing challenges in the South China Sea in the wake of China’s growing military assertiveness. This would likely lead to increase transparency and public discourse on defense matters, prompting Vietnam’s Ministry of National Defense to engage in more open discussions and provide clearer information on military strategy.

Ultimately, this decision would require deft diplomacy to maintain strategic autonomy and navigate the complexities of major power rivalries.

Balancing Against China

Vietnam has adeptly managed its relationships with major powers like the United States and China by employing a strategic framework that balances deterrence, assurance, and hedging strategies. Amid escalating geopolitical tensions and challenges such as disputes in the South China Sea, Vietnam has demonstrated diplomatic agility and strategic autonomy, advocating for a rules-based international order to safeguard its sovereignty and mitigate the risk of conflict.

The elevation of the US-Vietnam relationship to a ‘comprehensive strategic partnership’ in September 2023 was anticipated to provoke a backlash from China. However, Beijing’s response was relatively restrained, with Chinese President Xi Jinping subsequently visiting Vietnam soon after US President Joe Biden. Chinese press coverage of Xi’s visit indicated that China-Vietnam relations remain positive, highlighting Vietnam’s skillful management of its ties with both great powers.

Vietnam’s historical experience of repelling invasions has shaped its approach to great power relations. Recognizing the importance of maintaining robust national defense capabilities for deterrence, Vietnam has prioritized modernizing its military, particularly focusing on maritime capabilities given the ongoing risks in the South China Sea. Deterrence, while not foolproof against determined adversaries, serves to deter opportunistic acts of aggression.

However, deterrence alone is insufficient to ensure peace. Vietnam emphasizes assurance through diplomatic channels to signal its commitment to mutually beneficial cooperation with great powers without compromising security or interests. By framing partnerships like the one with the United States as oriented towards peace, cooperation, and sustainable development, Vietnam seeks to assuage concerns and avoid miscalculations.

In addition to deterrence and assurance, Vietnam employs active hedging to counterbalance risks associated with great power dynamics. Learning from US-China rapprochement, Vietnam actively diversifies its foreign relations, engaging with middle powers like Japan, India, South Korea, and Australia. This approach prevents over-reliance on any single power while expanding diplomatic leverage and accessing diverse economic, military, and technological benefits.

Vietnam’s foreign policy signifies the importance of ASEAN in maintaining peace and stability in Southeast Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region. By working closely with like-minded partners, Vietnam enhances collective agency amid major power competition.

In the context of balancing against China’s expanding presence in the South China Sea, such a decision would necessitate a reevaluation and potential adjustment of Vietnam’s military doctrine to accommodate the presence of foreign forces on its territory. The concept of “people’s war” would likely evolve to encompass the collaborative efforts of Vietnamese and US forces in protecting the nation’s interests, including defending against external threats in the South China Sea.

To navigate this complex environment, a proactive yet principled approach can safeguard Vietnamese sovereignty and stability, ensuring peace while steering clear of conflict.

Strategic Considerations

Hosting US troops in Vietnam offers significant potential benefits and risks that must be carefully considered within the broader context of regional geopolitics. On one hand, Vietnam stands to gain access to advanced military technology, equipment, and training by hosting US troops, which could greatly enhance its defense capabilities and modernize its armed forces. Additionally, cooperation with the US military would enable intelligence sharing, a critical component in addressing security threats in the region effectively. However, this strategic partnership comes with inherent risks, particularly in relation to Vietnam’s complex relationship with China.

China perceives any US military presence in the region as a challenge to its influence and could respond with diplomatic or economic pressure, potentially straining Vietnam’s relations with its powerful neighbor and escalating tensions in the region.

Ultimately, Vietnam’s decision regarding hosting US troops requires a balanced evaluation of current strategic priorities and regional dynamics. While the benefits of enhanced defense capabilities and intelligence cooperation are compelling, Vietnam will have to carefully assess and mitigate the potential risks, especially in managing its delicate relationship with China.

Regional Dynamics

Vietnam’s potential decision to host US troops is situated within a broader context of regional alliances and historical legacies. Examining examples from neighboring countries highlights the strategic importance of US military presence in the Asia-Pacific. South Korea’s alliance with the US involves hosting a significant number of troops at bases like Camp Humphreys and Osan Air Base, is important for regional security and deterrence against North Korea. Similarly, Australia hosts US Marines in Darwin, enhancing interoperability and reinforcing US engagement in the Indo-Pacific. Thailand, historically a key US ally during the Vietnam War era, continues to engage with the US through joint exercises and security dialogues, even after the closure of major bases.

Vietnam’s decision to potentially host US troops carries significant geopolitical implications, particularly in the context of US-China relations and ASEAN unity. China closely monitors US military activities in the region, and Vietnam’s stance could influence China’s behavior and perceptions of regional power dynamics. Within ASEAN, Vietnam’s decision would impact the bloc’s unity, with member states balancing between neutrality and closer alignment with major powers. Additionally, economic considerations play a crucial role, given Vietnam’s substantial economic ties with both the US and China. Balancing security interests with economic cooperation presents a challenge, with potential benefits such as infrastructure development and economic opportunities stemming from hosting US troops.

End Note

In essence, Vietnam’s decision on hosting US troops involves carefully considering the current global situation, understanding its history, and thinking about how it affects stability in the region. The mix of alliances, long-standing effects of past wars, and economic needs make Vietnam’s position complex within the Asia-Pacific region. This decision could upset the balance of power in Southeast Asia and impact relations between the US and China, especially given the disputes over territory in the South China Sea. While it might help keep the region stable by deterring conflict and promoting cooperation, Vietnam’s choice could also increase tensions with China, leading to wider and unprecedented consequences.

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Geo-Politics

How Do Major Powers Perceive the South China sea tensions?

How Do Major Powers Perceive the South China sea tensions

Introduction

Imagine the South China Sea as a modern-day amphitheater where the dramas of history, power, and diplomacy unfold on a global stage. This vast maritime expanse, steeped in centuries of territorial disputes and navigational heritage, has become a focal point of contemporary geopolitical debates. From ancient maritime trade routes that connected empires to present-day clashes over sovereignty and strategic interests, the South China Sea encapsulates the complexities of our interconnected world. Today, as China asserts historical claims through modern means, neighboring nations, major global powers like the United States, and international institutions scrutinize China’s ambitions. This deep analysis will explore the multifaceted perspectives surrounding the South China Sea issue, shedding light on its significance for global security, trade, and the evolving norms of international relations.

China’s Expanding Influence

China’s evolving posture in the South China Sea, marked by heightened assertiveness over territorial claims and maritime rights, has challenged the existing status quo and intensified friction among rival claimant states. This assertiveness is particularly notable in contrast to the reactions of other ASEAN claimants like Vietnam and the Philippines.

The strategic interests driving China’s actions in the South China Sea are deeply intertwined with economic, energy, and national security concerns. China’s rapid economic growth has heightened its energy demand, making energy security a top priority. As the world’s largest oil importer, China seeks to secure its energy supplies by diversifying routes and reducing dependence on traditional channels like the Strait of Malacca. Control over the South China Sea plays a crucial role in this strategy, enabling China to safeguard vital sea routes and assert dominance over the region’s energy resources.

China’s sovereignty claims in the South China Sea are grounded in historical perspectives, including the ‘Dash line’ doctrine, symbolizing expansive claims over the area. Despite international skepticism, China has consolidated control through measures like fishing bans, patrols, and construction activities on disputed islands. These actions, combined with China’s strategic investments and military presence, have triggered reactions from neighboring countries and drawn scrutiny from global powers like the United States. Geopolitically, the South China Sea has become a focal point of rivalry between China and the U.S., with both countries seeking to assert influence and advance their strategic agendas.

China’s efforts to establish control over the South China Sea are seen by major powers as part of a broader challenge to the established international order. From China’s perspective, the U.S. military presence in East Asia is perceived as a containment strategy, prompting China to assert sovereignty to limit American power projection and consolidate its own regional influence. As China’s economic and military ascendancy continues, its pursuit of core national interests in the South China Sea will remain a defining feature of regional dynamics, shaping international relations and global stability.

European Union’s Position

Examining the European Union’s (EU) perspective on the South China Sea issue reveals the region’s importance for the EU’s economic prosperity, diplomatic standing, and adherence to core normative values. The South China Sea constitutes one of the world’s busiest sea lanes, crucial for global supply chains. As reported by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, over one-fifth of global trade transited through these waters in 2016 and continues to do so today. Additionally, the South China Sea holds extensive marine and hydrocarbon resources, essential for both regional and global interests.

The positioning of the South China Sea as a “strategic flashpoint” presents potential conflicts involving claimant countries and major global powers like China and the United States. This directly impacts the EU, which heavily relies on stable sea lanes for its trade, encompassing goods such as cars, machinery, and luxury items. Instability in this region poses a serious threat to supply chains, carrying economic implications that both the EU and its Southeast Asian counterpart ASEAN cannot afford.

Prominent EU members like Germany, France, and the Netherlands have substantial strategic and economic interests in Southeast Asia, particularly in major regional economies such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam. Beyond economic concerns, the EU upholds normative values, advocating for a rules-based international order anchored in international laws like the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). China’s unilateral actions in the South China Sea, including the construction and militarization of artificial islands, challenge these fundamental values, is endangering the global liberal international order.

The EU’s Indo-Pacific Strategy aligns with ASEAN’s Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, emphasizing “ASEAN centrality.” This strategic partnership between the EU and ASEAN, established in 2020 and furthered by summit-level dialogues, presents opportunities for cooperation. The EU is an active participant in the Regional Forums, demonstrating its commitment to multilateralism and consultation processes aimed at addressing global challenges.

Both the EU’s Maritime Security Strategy and the ASEAN Maritime Outlook highlight the significance of international maritime law, particularly UNCLOS. Maritime capacity building stands as a shared priority, with the EU and ASEAN focused on enhancing maritime capabilities through education, training, and technical assistance.

The recent adoption of the Treaty of the High Seas by the U.N. represents a notable achievement for the EU and its member states, establishing a legal framework for the protection and utilization of maritime resources globally. This milestone is expected to enhance cooperation between the EU and ASEAN in shaping the Indo-Pacific region, reflecting the EU’s commitment to upholding international norms and addressing challenges posed by the recent flaring developments in the South China Sea.

India’s defence policy viz a viz South China Sea

India’s defense policy, particularly its maritime strategy, is increasingly viewed through the lens of major powers’ perceptions of the South China Sea issue. Traditionally focused on land borders with Pakistan and China, India’s evolving global ambitions are now prominently displayed through its naval capabilities in international waters. Notably, India actively engages in anti-piracy patrols and deploys naval assets near the Red Sea during conflicts, such as Israel’s war with Hamas, highlight its proactive stance in international maritime security. In light of disruptions caused by Yemen-based Houthi rebels targeting ships, India’s swift deployment of guided missile destroyers and reconnaissance aircraft highlighted its role as a contributor to international maritime stability.

India’s naval initiatives also serve as a strategic signal to counter China’s expanding maritime presence in the Indian Ocean, driven primarily by energy supply considerations. With China boasting the world’s largest navy, India closely observe Beijing’s deepening engagements in neighboring countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives through infrastructure deals. Instances such as the Maldives allowing a Chinese research ship to dock and similar port calls in Sri Lanka raise concerns, prompting India to enhance its maritime capabilities in response to China’s growing naval influence in the region.

India’s participation in the Quad—a strategic alliance with the United States, Australia, and Japan—aims to counter China’s assertiveness, particularly in the South China Sea and broader Indo-Pacific arena. This alliance signifies shared concerns over China’s maritime activities and territorial claims, further emphasizing India’s pivotal role in the regional security calculus.

Furthermore, India’s deepening defense ties with Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, support for the Philippines in South China Sea disputes, and arms contracts with Vietnam are crucial efforts to counterbalance China’s influence. Major powers closely monitor India’s strategic engagements, noting shifts from emphasizing soft power to becoming a reliable security and strategic partner in Southeast Asia. This evolving role, epitomized by engagements such as the ASEAN-India Maritime Exercise, signals India’s proactive approach in strengthening regional security against the concerns regarding the South China Sea issue.

Russia’s Viewpoint

Russia’s approach to the South China Sea issue is characterized by a balancing act, particularly concerning its energy stakes and broader political standing in the region. Over the past decade, Russia’s energy cooperation with China has significantly strengthened, reflecting its strategic imperative to diversify energy exports beyond Europe, where political tensions and resource depletion pose challenges. Exporting energy to the Asia-Pacific market, including China, has become a priority for Russia due to the critical role energy plays in its economy and federal budget.

The strategic diversification toward China provides Moscow with leverage over the European Union, enabling it to negotiate better terms and maintain economic and political influence on the global stage. Geopolitically, Russia shares common interests with China in promoting a multi-polar world as an alternative to the U.S.-dominated unipolar order. The rapid economic growth of China and its increasing energy demand are crucial for Russia’s development plans in Eastern Siberia and the Far East, aligning with its recent foreign policy strategy of “pivoting towards the East.”

Despite its economic and strategic interests in the region, Russia maintains a neutral stance on sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea. It refrains from taking sides in these disputes and seeks to uphold its close ties with the South East Asian nations. Russia’s engagement in the South China Sea potentially impacts its economic situation, especially if Moscow becomes overly dependent on China, which could potentially compromise its stance on regional issues.

While Russia’s direct stakes in the region may be limited compared to other major players, its energy cooperation with China and broader geopolitical considerations contribute to its engagement and strategic positioning in the Asia-Pacific.

Why South China Sea matters?

The South China Sea is viewed by major powers as a critical nexus of geopolitical dynamics and competition among regional players. Its abundant fishery resources, contributing to 12% of the world’s total fish catch, and substantial reserves of oil and natural gas are seen as vital for sustaining livelihoods and economic growth in the region. Beyond its economic significance, the South China Sea serves as a crucial global maritime thoroughfare, facilitating over one-third of international maritime traffic valued more than $3 trillion annually. This strategic position connects major economies across Asia with markets in Europe, Africa, and the Americas, making it a focal point for competing territorial claims and overlapping maritime jurisdictions.

Historical disputes over sovereignty among countries like China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan have added layers of complexity to the South China Sea’s geopolitical landscape. These disputes, rooted in centuries of historical interpretations and national pride, have created a web of tensions intertwined with strategic advantages.

Recent incidents, like the confrontation between a Chinese coast guard vessel and a Philippine ship, signifies the persistent strain and unpredictability in the South China Sea. This episode highlights the close ties between the Chinese armed forces and maritime militia, revealing China’s strategic orientation and the heightened risks in the maritime domain.

In assessing the likelihood of conflict between the South China Sea and Taiwan, major powers recognize distinct dynamics within East Asian geopolitics. The Taiwan issue, characterized by cautious diplomacy and strategic restraint aimed at maintaining a status quo, contrasts with the South China Sea’s more volatile and unpredictable scenario. The overlapping territorial claims, strategic interests, and China’s assertive military actions contribute to a tense and complex environment prone to escalation, as evidenced by recent incidents like the confrontation between China and the Philippines.

Complicating the situation are various interests and alliances, including treaty obligations like the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951 with the Philippines, which further complicate dynamics in the South China Sea and heighten the risk of accidental escalation or deliberate provocation. Major powers acknowledge that while the Taiwan issue has been managed through strategic restraint and international pressure, the South China Sea, with its diverse actors and conflicting interests, presents a higher likelihood of conflict.

Given the high stakes involved, major powers emphasize the imperative of preventive measures. These should include diplomatic engagement, confidence-building measures to enhance transparency and communication, adherence to international norms like the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and strengthened regional collaboration to encourage peaceful dispute resolution.

Additionally, from a U.S. perspective, the South China Sea is vital across three key areas: economic, defense ties with allies, and implications for the global power balance. Economically, the sea-lanes passing through the South China Sea are critical for global shipping and significant trade. Defensively, the U.S. maintains alliances and security partnerships with key Asian nations, with regular naval patrols in the region. Most importantly, the South China Sea represents a crucial test of the rules-based international order supported by U.S. power. The contest over the South China Sea represents a critical battleground for competing geopolitical paradigms that will significantly shape the trajectory of the 21st-century world.

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