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Wary US ‘conquers’ Asia-Pacific waters

 | August 12, 2012

Russia and China have formed a close political partnership in recent years that reflects 'shared understandings' in relation to the United States.

FEATURE

With America intensifying its ‘conquest’ of Asia-Pacific waters, Beijing announced it will be more vigilant but will not lash back at the United States (US) for sending most of its warships in the region.

Currently, the US fleet is almost evenly split between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

The US plans to have most of its war armada in the Asia-Pacific region (more than 60% ) by 2020.

It has already started its moves but it will not be alone in this long term exercise termed ‘the encircling’ of China by some Chinese military elements.

China fears a ‘suffocation’ of its vital sea routes by Washington and its allies, Japan and South Korea.

The US Navy has a fleet of 282 ships as of March. That is expected to slip to about 276 over the next two years before beginning to rise again towards the goal of a 300-ship fleet, according to a 30-year Navy projection released in March this year.

Beijing has long been wary of US intentions, with more hawkish voices in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) saying that Washington is bent on encircling China and frustrating its rise.

PLA Lieutenant General Ren Haiquan, who is a vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences, which helps shape PLA strategy, said Beijing would not be complacent about US moves, noted a Reuters report recently.

“The second sentence (of my response) is that we should not treat this indifferently,” Ren had said.

The Chinese apparent reluctance to deal with the US ‘invasion’ of the seas is probably due to major developments in the curtailing of the ‘economic’ importance of the Asia-Pacific seas.

Russia and China are busy rebuilding the Russian Far East region which is washed by the Pacific Ocean waters from the Russia-Chinese border, by-passing Kamchatka and the Anadyr region in Russia.

However, Ren added: “We must see that we’re facing extremely complex and one could sometimes even say quite serious developments, and we must raise our awareness of peril, and prepare to cope with all kinds of complex and serious circumstances.”

China’s fast-modernising navy has stirred worries among neighbours, including in southeast Asia, where several countries are in dispute with Beijing over rival territorial claims in the South China Sea, Reuters stated.

Vital sea routes

Japan’s armed forces has had its navy upgraded with the latest anti-missile weapons from the US including the Aegis missiles and the Japanese Defense Ministry was ready early this year to test China’s resolve by sending these war ships near the North Korean seas.

A blockade of North Korea is equal to a blockade of China’s vital sea route altogether.

In the South China Sea, Washington beefed-up the marine defences of the Philippines and Vietnam, clearly supporting Manilla and the Vietnamese in their conflict with China on the Spratly Islands.

This move is seen by China as an attempt to limit its access to the South China Sea itself.

Now the Americans are bent on getting more of their ships into the Asia-Pacific waters with the aim of containing China despite claims by Washington and the Pentagon that it is a normal decision for the ‘protection’ of the United States.

The sole enemy of the US in the Pacific today could be considered to be China and North Korea. The Americans are in alliances with Japan and South Korea.

The only other reason why the US is targeting the Asia-Pacific region – besides containing China – is that it is insecure of the ‘legitimacy’ of the support it currently receives from the nations in this region.

Washington could be weary of Russia’s rise in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) and the Asia Pacific basin itself.

Russia has opened its arms to assist the countries in the region in terms of economic and security matters, while the US is barely interested in the Apec.

Russia’s Far East

A market potential of US$200 billion and another access route to the EU via the Russian Siberian hinterland in what could be a major economic shift in Asia is what the Asean states for example, should expect with the Apec 2012 in Russia.

The Asean nations are not entirely under the spell of the US and the split in the Asean movement over the Philippines attempt to mention the Scarborough Shoal or Scarborough Reef – a rocky outcrop in the sea – during their recent meet had Cambodia rejecting the idea outright.

Russia offers immense transit capabilities with great economic appeal not only to the Asean but also to all in the Apec and to China indeed.

The ‘Cooperation within Apec to promote and upgrade the Russian transportation system in the Russian Far East will undoubtedly gain economic benefits to member states but it will also curtail US powers in the Asia-Pacific region.

The reason why the US could be losing more in this aspect is because the US is insisting it is trying to ‘protect’ its commerce routes with its huge naval moves.

At the moment, a major part – if not a large majority – of the freight between the East and West goes by the sea.

The dominant or near monopoly position of marine shipping companies (supposed to be protected by the US) means shippers cannot expect a reduction of their transport costs.

Rail transport on the contrary offers a reasonable economical alternative to shipment by sea. And this is where the Russian Far East plays a vital role.

Could it be that the US is more worried of the development in the Russian Far East and that is why it is moving more of its naval capacity to the Asia-Pacific?

Russia’s modernising agenda in its far east has proceeded along two main tracks.

The first involves increased state intervention in the economy of the territories, and the second involves pursuit of closer regional integration with the fast-growing economies of the Asia-Pacific region (APR), especially China.

As is known, Russia and China have formed a close political partnership in recent years that reflects shared understandings vis-à-vis the United States and the West (opposition to perceived Western “domination” in local affairs) and alignments on contentious issues such as Iran sanctions, Syria, and Nato expansion.

The countries have shored up their relations by resolving long-standing border disputes, promising “to build the border into where everlasting peace and friendship prevail”.

KL-based Amir Ali works for an Indonesian NGO called the Warisan Melayu Riau, which is based in Bengkalis, Riau.


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