Sunday, 28 February 2021
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Asia Pacific

28th May: South Korea sends the findings of the international inquiry into the sinking of the Cheonan to China. Defence Minister Kim Tae-young also commented on conflicting government statements about the disappearance of two North Korean submarines from the South's radars around the time of the attack. At first the government said there was no connection with the sinking, but a later statement indicated that those were the submarines responsible for the attack on the Cheonan. Initially South Korea made a judgement based on its own intelligence data. However additional information was eventually obtained from the international investigation team.

1st June:North Korea's National Defence Commission held a press conference to discredit evidence that it was responsible for the attack on the Cheonan. For the South, the press conference confirmed that the members of the National Defence Commission had in the past been involved in previous inter-Korean meetings.

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The UK Defence Forum has just published the above Regional Study, written by Adam Dempsey, Research Associate.

Vietnam's full integration into the international system has allowed the country's armed forces to embark upon a programme of modernisation. This has seen Vietnam rejuvenate arms transfer partnerships with traditional allies as well as cultivating relationships with old foes. Also underpinning recent procurement programmes is a commitment to improve Vietnam's parlous defence-industrial base. Modernisation on all fronts is deemed crucial to Vietnamese efforts to contend with the growing influence of China. Yet until such programmes reach maturation, Vietnam will use its newly-forged partnerships for geopolitical leverage.

The full study can be read here.


By Peter Zeihan

The global system is undergoing profound change. Three powers Germany, China and Iran face challenges forcing them to refashion the way they interact with their regions and the world. We are exploring each of these three states in detail in three geopolitical weeklies, highlighting how STRATFOR's assessments of these states are evolving. First we examined Germany. We now examine China.

U.S.-Chinese relations have become tenser in recent months, with the United States threatening to impose tariffs unless China agrees to revalue its currency and, ideally, allow it to become convertible like the yen or euro. China now follows Japan and Germany as one of the three major economies after the United States. Unlike the other two, it controls its currency's value, allowing it to decrease the price of its exports and giving it an advantage not only over other exporters to the United States but also over domestic American manufacturers. The same is true in other regions that receive Chinese exports, such as Europe.

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By Jennifer Richmond and Roger Baker

China's National People's Congress (NPC) remains in session. As usual, the meeting has provided Beijing an opportunity to highlight the past year's successes and lay out the problems that lie ahead. On the surface at least, China has shown remarkable resilience in the face of global economic crisis. It has posted enviable gross domestic product (GDP) growth rates while keeping factories running (if at a loss) and workers employed. But the economic crisis has exposed the inefficiencies of China's export-dependent economic model, and the government has had to pump money into a major investment stimulus package to make up for the net drain the export sector currently is exacting on the economy.

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by Brad Glosserman

The United States has scaled back plans to deploy a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. While that decision reflects a new assessment of the Iranian threat to Europe, most attention is being paid to its impact on relations with Russia. But the decision has equally important implications for Asia. It underscores two critical facts: first, the notion of discrete "theaters" is a fiction; second, the U.S. has to closely engage its Asian allies as it develops its strategic doctrine.

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In a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine, Niall Ferguson, Lawrence A Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and the author of "War of the World" and "The scent of money" made the following predictions:

Just as the Great Depression led to global political crises, so could the latest financial crisis. He argues that three factors made for lethal organised violence in the last century: ethnic disintegration; empires in decline: and economic volatility.

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By Tom French

With the recent apparent concessions by the Iranian government over death by stoning in the face of western pressure, this seeming victory for 'soft power', begs the question whether similar policies might work on North Korea (DPRK).

The EU seems to think so, having recently passed a resolution on human rights in North Korea, which included the appointment of a special representative and calls on the DPRK to 'abolish the death penalty and end to the ongoing grave, widespread and systematic human rights violations, public executions and extra-judicial executions'.

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By Adam Dempsey, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum

In an article in The Washington Times retired Admiral James A. Lyons suggests that with China's influence on the rise in the South China Sea, the United States should reinvigorate military ties with the Philippines. After the U.S. left the islands in 1991, China began laying claim to and occupying contested islands in the region. In 1995 China built a facility on Mischief Reef, a region recognised as within the Philippines' economic zone. According to Lyons, the Clinton administration's failure to effectively respond to China's illegal actions began fifteen years of regional policy inertia. Yet at the recent Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Hanoi, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton signalled a change in U.S. policy. In a challenge to China's bilateral approach to addressing territorial claims, the Secretary of State emphasised that Washington wished to see disputes resolved through collaborative diplomacy. Yet in the case of the Philippines, Lyons suggests the United States should be doing more.

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By Adam Dempsey, Research Associate in residence for the UK Defence Forum

On the 28th September, 2010, Indonesia's House of Representatives unanimously approved the appointment of Navy Vice Admiral Agus Suhartono as the new Chief of the Indonesian Armed Forces (Tentara Nasional Indonesia, TNI). Suhartono is now at the helm one of the world's largest armed forces and responsible for securing over 17,000 islands scattered over a distance comparable with London to Baghdad. Yet the TNI remains beset by some familiar problems. Suhartono's brief is to overcome a number of problems, starting with the integration of the three forces under a single line of command. But while force integration may shape the TNI into a more effective organisation this should not be Suhartono's first priority.

Whilst systemic reform of the TNI has been underway since the late 1990s emphasis was initially placed on depoliticising the military rather than changing its strategic outlook. This altered in 2002 with the passage of Law No.3/2002 on National Defence. Law No.3/2002 states that Indonesia's future defence planning should prioritise maritime security. This was expanded in 2007 when the Department of Defence (DoD) published a planning document analysing the TNI's force structure. The document identified the protection of Indonesia's sea lanes of communication (SLOC) as the TNI's main strategic consideration. This mainly focuses upon safeguarding SLOCs around the Malacca Sunda, Lombok and Makassar Straits.

Underpinning the DoD's strategy is the development of Defence Area Commands (KODAHAN) administered by a joint command structure. Implementing KODAHAN will inevitably mean that the TNI will have to increase naval and air capabilities at the expense of its traditional strategic approach. Since independence Indonesia has experienced significant challenges to domestic security. This has included separatist movements in Aceh, Papua and Maluku as well as sporadic communal violence throughout the islands. As a result, Indonesia's armed forces developed a hybrid strategy combining conventional and guerrilla warfare to gather intelligence and fight counterinsurgency campaigns. This prompted the development of territorial commands that disperse army units throughout Indonesia.

Yet despite increasing emphasis on the importance of Indonesia's maritime security, the TNI has shown little appetite for dismantling its territorial structures. This is because the TNI see territorial commands as fundamental to preserving Negara Kesatuan Republik Indonesia (Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia, NKRI). As the ultimate guarantor of Indonesian identity, the 'idea' of the NKRI is in the eyes of the TNI a non-negotiable concept. The territorial command structure also has the support of the incumbent President, Army General (Ret.) Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. According to President Yudhoyono territorial commands form part of the 'People's Defence and Security System' (Sishankamrata).

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