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Changing security paradigms

Rodion Ebbighausen / shsMay 28, 2015

A three-day security conference will be held in Singapore on May 29. German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen will attend the meeting to discuss the most pressing issues that East and Southeast Asia are facing.

US marines of 1st Battalion, 8th Marines Regiment sit on their Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAV) while waiting for a go signal to roll into the water facing the South China Sea during the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Philippines 2014, a U.S.-Philippines military exercise, at San Antonio, Zambales north of Manila June 30, 2014 (Photo: REUTERS/Erik De Castro)
Image: Reuters

According to the Institute for International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), which is organizing the Shangri-La Dialogue, the participants of the conference will discuss new security challenges encountered by East and Southeast Asia's smaller states and the potential of an increased arms race in the region.

More importantly, the focus of the meeting will be on Sino-US ties, particularly in relation to the territorial conflicts in the East and South China Sea, and their implications for the countries in the region.

'Active defense'

China's massive economic boom has allowed Beijing to revamp and modernize its armed forces. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), China's military budget had increased by 170 percent between 2002 and 2013.

In 2012, the Chinese government re-formulated the country's National Military Strategic Guidelines. Under the slogan of "active defense," China is boosting its sea defense and enhancing capabilities to safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights, said Carl Thayer, a security expert at the University of New South Wales, Australia.

On Tuesday, May 26, just days before the Shangri-La Dialogue, Chinese authorities published a White Paper reiterating its intensified offensive militaristic orientation.

According to Chinese President Xi Jinping, 2014 was a year that ushered in a new era of relations between the big world powers. What he meant by that was that the global powers had to recognize and respect each other's "core interests" in the region, which include a claim over Tibet and Taiwan - something which is not accepted by the US.

Infografik Chinas Raketenschirm Englisch

Perceived threats

Strategically, China aims to neutralize potential threats as much as possible. As former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd noted in a recently plublished study on Sino-US ties, Beijing considers the US their biggest threat. Chinese politicians are convinced that the US wants to isolate China, as well as weaken and divide it internally.

To counter this perceived threat, China is realigning and massively modernizing its navy. An example of this are the Dong Feng 21D missiles, which the US Department of Defense says will be capable of making precise attacks on aircraft carriers at sea.

Additionally, in November 2013, China announced the launch of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea and construct artificial islands in the South China Sea.

US' Asia pivot

In 2012, Washington responded to China's territorial aggression in the region by coming up with a new national strategy, which the then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaimed as an "Asia Pivot." To implement the new strategy, the US reinforced diplomatic, economic and military involvement in the Asia Pacific, and boosted ties with its regional allies, particularly with Japan and the Philippines.

In 2013, the Pentagon outlined in a new study how the growing Chinese defense in the Asia-Pacific region could be tackled. As analyst Carl Thayer explained, the strategy mainly deals with the relocation and expansion of high-tech military equipment in the region to counter China's new military capabilities.

Japan's more active role

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Washington in April highlighted the significance of US-Japan ties in relation to a new Asian paradigm. The defense cooperation between the two countries aims at safeguarding the interests of both nations.

While the US will be in the frontline during the possible combat operations, Japan will be involved more than ever in dealing with logistics, missile defense, and intelligence-sharing, as explained by James L. Schoff, an expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "The new guidelines are a result of the US demands for a stronger security commitment from Japan," Schoff told DW.

Vietnam and the Philippines

Vietnam and the Philippines have also reacted strongly to China's expansionist moves in the South China Sea.

In August last year, Japan sold six vessels to Vietnam, which will be used to patrol the South China Sea. The dispute over the Paracel and Spratly islands between China and Vietnam sparked violent reactions in Vietnam against Chinese businesses. More recently, the construction of artificial islands in the disputed area has incensed Vietnam.

Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force's destroyers Harusame (DD-102) and Amagiri (rear DD-154) sail side by side with Philippine warship BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF 16) as they make a formation during their joint naval drill in the South China Sea, in this handout photo taken May 12, 2015 and released by the Maritime Staff Office of the Defense Ministry of Japan on May 13, 2015 (Photo: REUTERS/Maritime Staff Office of the Defense Ministry of Japan/Handout via Reuters)
The smaller countries in the region are moving closer to Washington to deal with China's expansionist movesImage: Reuters/Maritime Staff Office of the Defense Ministry of Japan

"The Philippines and Vietnam are moving increasingly towards the US," Gerhard Will, an expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), told DW, adding that the two countries hoped that an increased cooperation with the US would help keep China at bay.

New security architecture needed

According to Will, previous actions to deal with the changing security paradigms in the region did not yield positive results, and this is why a viable security framework is needed. "At present, it is all free-floating, unstable and dangerous in the long run."

The meeting in Singapore can certainly contribute something to resolve the conflicts. But there is a danger that the regional players will once again fail to take any concrete measures. The Shangri-La Dialogue, at worst, could prove to simply hide the unpleasant facts.