Monday, June 05, 2017

Lost Horizon, The Sequel: Point-To-Point Navigation

Hands Finding hands. Original photo via AFP

Absent and Absent-Minded Adults at the Shangri-La Dialogue Mean the Older Siblings Have To Take Over. At Least Marawi Got Their Attention

"US allies in Asia dismayed by ‘America First’," Financial Times, 4 June 

Ben Schreer, an Asia expert at Macquarie University in Sydney, said: “America First is incompatible with a leadership model that allies and partners can follow.” “If the United States, the president, continues to primarily see [relationships with] allies as transactional, that’s going to put stress on these relationships.” After Mr Mattis addressed the forum, he was asked by a security expert whether the world faced the “destruction” of the global order the US has traditionally maintained. “Bear with us, once we’ve exhausted all possible alternatives, the Americans will do the right thing,” Mr Mattis said in response.

"Malcolm Turnbull on Asia’s times and Trump’s Hunger Games,"ASPI Strategist 3 June

Australia’s Prime Minister has given a big Asia speech that attacked China directly while aiming indirect attacks at Donald Trump’s world view. 
Malcolm Turnbull didn’t say one critical word about Trump. Instead, Turnbull dumped implicit acid on US policies, while only twice mentioning Trump (relatively positively) by name. 
The problem for Turnbull’s Singapore oration was that all big foreign policy speeches are hostage to the times and the troubles. And Turnbull’s Asia moment was ambushed by Trump’s context.

"Japan defence minister Tomomi Inada echoes calls for rules-based international order in salvo against China," Straits Times 3 June

Speaking at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, Ms Inada repeated what has turned into the annual high-level security forum's buzz phrase this year: rules-based order. 
"Now is the protect the rules-based order," Ms Inada told Asia-Pacific defence and security leaders gathered at the Shangri-La Hotel. 
She called for nations to build an "inclusive world" in which "all countries are equal before rules" and there are "shared expectations on how other countries conduct themselves without fear of intimidation".

"The Truth About Trump's Asia Commitment Problem," The Diplomat, 1 June the extent that uncertainties remain with respect to U.S. commitment to the region under Trump, they are largely not on the Pentagon’s end, which makes the search for reassurance in Mattis’s speech even more curious. In fact, the defense side has arguably witnessed the most continuity of the various aspects of U.S. policy when you look at metrics such as the expansion of U.S. exercises, even though they often go unnoticed (See: “US, Singapore, and Thailand Launch First Trilateral Exercise in the South China Sea”). 
Indeed, beyond this point, which Mattis will likely touch on in his speech, Trump’s commitments to a more robust defense budget and to end sequestration, if they are followed through on, could also help alleviate anxieties about U.S. staying power. Though forecasts of U.S. decline are vastly overstated – as they have been nearly once every past decade or two – the fiscal irresponsibility and political dysfunction in Washington have nonetheless fed into perceptions about the unsustainability of America’s long-term military power. 
The real issue for Asia policy is how the Trump White House will employ American military power and balance it with other instruments of statecraft with respect to various areas, which are both beyond Mattis’s direct control.

"Asian nations band together to hedge against China threat," Reuters, 5 June 

Regional officials said they were worried by US President Donald Trump’s unpredictability and concerned that his warm praise of Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) after their first summit meeting in April would influence decisions on Asia. 
“We trust Mattis and we trust [US Pacific Commander Admiral Harry] Harris but at the very top? The trust gap is very wide,” one senior Asian military officer said. “Our fear is driven by the reality that it is only the US that is powerful enough to set red lines with China.”

"Respect to India for maintaining stable security in Indian Ocean: US Defence Secy," The Asian Age, 4 June

"For example, we recognise India, the most populous democracy in the world, as a major defence partner. We did so in part out of respect for India's indispensable role in maintaining stability in the Indian Ocean region," he said according to a Defence Department transcript.
Mattis called upon all countries to contribute sufficiently to their own security.
"At the same time, we encourage them to actively seek out opportunities and partnerships with other like-minded nations as we do the same to sustain and maintain peace. We will continue to engage closely with our partners, building on recent progress," he said.

"No ministerial participation from India at the Shangri-La Dialogue," Times of India, 2 June

All this has invited criticism from certain quarters that India does not give adequate importance to military diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific region, especially since SLD is a "Track-1" security forum that allows world leaders to discuss and fashion policy. "India should ensure ministerial participation at the SLD on a regular basis," said an expert.

"Why China sent a lower-ranking delegation to Singapore security summit this year," South China Morning Post 2 June

“Chinese military reform is at a critical juncture. The PLA’s four general headquarters will be reorganised into 15 units. Military officials are busy working now to ensure a better operational start when the reforms are over. So it’s not surprising that there’s no high-ranking official to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue.” 
Another source close to the military said the upcoming Communist Party Congress in Beijing this autumn was another reason China had sent a lower-ranking group to the forum. The enclave will oversee changes to China’s top leadership. 
China’s Singapore delegation is led by Lieutenant General He Lei, vice-president of the PLA Academy of Military Science. He will not give a keynote speech, but will speak during a session on security cooperation, according to an agenda released by forum organisers.
Meanwhile, the People’s Liberation Army has promised to send a higher ranking delegation to the summit next year.

"Singapore must play its part in the war against terror: Ng Eng Hen," TODAY, 4 June

“They (the militants) will start attacking Kuala Lumpur, they will start attacking Singapore, and they will start attacking Jakarta. They won’t just limit themselves to the Philippines and Mindanao,” he added, referring to the ongoing battle in the southern Philippines between government forces and terrorists aligned with the Islamic State (IS) who are attempting to take over Marawi City. 
Dr Ng said this was one of the reasons Singapore had contributed to an international coalition against IS in the Middle East, even though the problem is “far away”.

“If we don’t disrupt this sooner or later, and often sooner, Singaporeans here will be at risk,” he said.
The Republic has renewed its offer to Manila in terms of intelligence sharing and other areas to tackle the crisis in Mindanao.

"Joint patrols off Mindanao to fight militants – Malaysia," Borneo Post 4 June

“If you talk about Sulu Straits (it) … would involve Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines,” Hishammuddin told delegates to Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual security summit. “So within Asean, we decided at least these three countries, to avoid being accused of doing nothing, the three of us took the initiative to have the joint patrol… initiatives in the Sulu Straits,” he added, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. 

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