New Aid for South-East Asia

  15-Aug-2018 15:23:32

USSouth-East Asia China

United States’ Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on 4 August 2018 $300 million in funding for security cooperation within the Indo-Pacific region. He told this on the sidelines of 10- member ASEAN (Association of South- East Asian Nations) foreign ministers’ meeting in Singapore when talking to the media. The United States has also announced recently to invest $113 million in technology, energy, and infrastructure initiatives in emerging Asia. This investment is being called “a down payment on a new era of U.S. economic commitment to the region”. This security funding is coming at the time when China is increasing its influence as part of its Belt and Road plan to boost its trade ties with nations in Indo- Pacific region, mainly south-east Asia.

Indo- Pacific, as described by Wikipedia, is ‘a biogeographic region of Earth's seas, comprising the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean, the western and central Pacific Ocean, and the seas connecting the two in the general area of Indonesia’. It majorly consists nations of south-east Asia. Southeast Asia is the region surrounded by East Asia to the north, South Asia and Bay of Bengal to the west, Oceania and the Pacific Ocean to the east, and Australia and the Indian Ocean to the south. This region is south of China, east of India, west of New Guinea and north of Australia. The region is the only part of Asia that lies partly within the Southern Hemisphere, although the majority of it is in the Northern Hemisphere. The countries of south-east Asia are further divided into two groups. Mainland Southeast Asia includes parts of Eastern India (India stretches from South Asia to Southeast Asia), Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and West Malaysia. Maritime Southeast Asia comprising the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India, Indonesia, East Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, East Timor, Brunei, Christmas Island, and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Sometimes, Taiwan is also considered to be the part of the latter group by some anthropologists. Mainland south-east Asia was also known as Indochina in earlier times. Similarly, Maritime south-east Asia was called as the East Indies and the Malay Archipelago.

China is constantly trying to increase its influence in this region. It uses various tactics to assert its influence. One such act was claiming the whole South China sea an integral part of China. It has even built island bases on submerged reefs of this region. The reason behind this conflict is that it carries tremendous strategic importance; one-third of the world's shipping passes through it carrying over $3 trillion in trade each year, it contains lucrative fisheries that are crucial for the food security of millions in Southeast Asia, and huge oil and gas reserves are believed to lie beneath its seabed. The South China Sea disputes involve both island and maritime claims among several sovereign states within the region, namely Brunei, the People's Republic of China (PRC), Republic of China (Taiwan), Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. An estimated US$5 trillion worth of global trade passes through the South China Sea and many non-claimant states want the South China Sea to remain international waters. To promote this, several states, including the United States, conduct "freedom of navigation" operations. The disputes include the islands, reefs, banks, and other features of the South China Sea. Claimant states are interested in retaining or acquiring the rights to fishing areas, the exploration and potential exploitation of crude oil and natural gas in the seabed of various parts of the South China Sea, and the strategic control of important shipping lanes.

Another tactic is its Belt and Road model. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road is a development strategy. It is proposed by the government of China which aims at connectivity and cooperation between Eurasian countries, primarily the People's Republic of China (PRC), the land-based Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) and the ocean-going Maritime Silk Road (MSR). The Chinese government calls the initiative "a bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future". Others see it as a push by China to take a larger role in global affairs with a China-centered trading network.

Apart from ‘China things’, a humanitarian crisis in Rakhine states of Myanmar is also a security issue. Rohingyas in Myanmar were facing sporadic massacres. Hence, they started fleeing from Myanmar to other south-east Asian countries. This has imposed a security issue.

This security funding is declared due to a reason. Analysts believe that the ongoing trade dispute between Beijing and Washington (trade war) could also ramp up tensions over other regional hot spots, such as the South China Sea. Therefore, this funding will help in avoiding any security related error in the countries. China may feel a boulder in its way to gain importance. But, money alone will do no good until the will is accompanied by it. A strong will is necessary and once it is reached, then money will help in maintaining the safety. So, this fund will surely help these countries to enhance their safety from external threats but only if they have a strong will.


Abhimanyu Mertiya