- Australia expands its footprint in the Pacific: Australian PM Scott Morrison announced a USD2.2bn package aimed at the island nations of the south Pacific in an attempt to buttress Australia’s influence in what it sees as its backyard. A series of security and political initiatives are planned, along with funds for infrastructure development and export financing to bump up investment in the region.
- Canadian frigate joins naval exercise: Canadian frigate HMCS Calgary joined vessels from the US and Japan in a military exercise in the western Pacific. This has come on top of Britain and France boosting their presence in the South China Sea in recent months. The entry of western powers could set the stage for a clash – accidental or otherwise – in the increasingly crowded waterways and disputed territories.
- Refurbished warships from the US to shore up Taiwanese defences: The inauguration of two former US Perry-class warships to boost Taiwan’s shore defences will certainly invoke the ire of China. President Tsai Ing-wen vowed to not give in to Chinese threats.
- Amid all these, China unveils state-of-the-art weaponry: Amid pushback from US and its allies, China gave the world a glimpse of its sophisticated weaponry – the 609 intelligence radar and CM-401 anti-ship missile – for the first time at the Zhuhai air show. Impressively, these weapons stemmed from the successful nurturing of indigenous capabilities to develop cutting-edge technology and produce military hardware. More advanced weapon systems will go a long way in buffing up China’s military deterrent in maritime disputes in the region.
Assessment: Making for a more fraught geopolitical environment for smaller Asian nations
The new normal for smaller Asian nations is continued jostling for hegemony between the US and China across various theatres in Asia. The US is proving to be formidable and can further strengthen its presence by calling upon its allies.
These developments make for a more fraught situation in Asia. The US and its allies are signalling to China that they will not allow the status quo China has created in the South China Sea with its occupation of territories seized from its neighbours to go unchallenged. While a military clash between China and Western powers remains unlikely, the risk of an accidental clash has risen.
The reassuring presence of US and allied forces in disputed waters and busy maritime channels provide some reprieve for Asian countries, serving as an effective counterbalance to growing Chinese influence and assertiveness. However, the should smaller Asian nations be forced to pick sides, the geopolitical calculations will be manifestly complex.