This article will explore the need for specialise ASEAN think tank on South China Sea dispute for two reasons. First, is to ensure a credible production of knowledge on South China Sea dispute. Second, a think tank at ASEAN level – may assist the region in charting its own strategic direction.
The study on South China Sea dispute is multidimensional. The scope goes beyond the aspect of legal, military or the issue of historical waters. It broadly covers the logic of Geostrategic, International Relations, Socio-Political studies and even South East Asia maritime history. Thus to produce a holistic understanding of the South China Sea dispute – a form of combined studies ideally should be explored.
On the contrary, a piecemeal approach may not provide a complete and intellectually balanced discourse. Online discussions on the South China Sea is scattered with various writers offering differing perspective, speculations or at times contradicting views.
Upon establishing, ASEAN Think Tank for South China Sea issue should aim to strategize on two fronts.
FIRST – is to organise a coherent SCS discourse with interrelated clusters. In this context, specialise think tanks on the South China Sea should consist of various sub-discipline headed by experts.
Maritime legal scholar, oceanographers, Chinese and SEA historians, China’s and ASEAN political analysts, diplomats and of course political appointees. Ideally, experts are expected to analyse and brainstorm SCS dispute from various angles. This initiative is done with a final aim of producing an integrated and well synthesise understanding.
This form of arrangement can prepare a think-tank to be at the credible position to advise the ‘best course of action’ for ASEAN. On a side note, given a Think-tank relative independence, experts involved in such institution may offer candid views. Foreign Ministries are at times constraint in making direct commentaries due to diplomatic and protocol constraints.
SECOND – upon instituting, SCS Think Tank must get into advocacy programs. Advocacy initiatives should involve, meeting with key experts, the organising of public foras or the production of journals. By this approach – specialised Think-Tank can play a role in advocating the importance of the issue to the public including their collective rights to the waters.
It is worth noting that, from a recent poll done by Institute of China Studies, Universiti Malaya (UM), only 38 % of Malaysians are aware of the South China Sea dispute. Those who are not aware totalled to 56%. In this context – what would the statistics be for the broader ASEAN?
It with a hope that this short article shall be the catalyst for further thinking amongst the academic and policy-maker to explore all the possibilities broached.
Thailand and the Philippines have agreed to emphasise freedom of navigation in the disputed the South China Sea as a core value in securing peace and prosperity in the region.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte shared the same stance on the maritime territorial disputes in the area during a joint press conference at Government House Tuesday, 21 March.
They also agreed to push for the completion of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in 2017.
“Maintaining peace, stability, and security as well as respecting freedom of navigation and over-flight in the South China Sea are in the interests of all countries, within and outside the region, as they are fundamental conditions for growth, development and prosperity,” Mr. Duterte said.
Meanwhile, Gen Prayut said Thailand believes the ultimate goal should be for the South China Sea to be the “sea of peace, stability and sustainable development” in order to benefit the region and its people.
The issue of the South China Sea and the bilateral relations between Thailand and Philippines is a complex play.
Thailand last year in September stated that it supports China’s work to “promote peace and stability” in the South China Sea. The statement is considered controversial as it was done hours after the Philippines made public images that it said show China preparing to begin island construction activities on the Scarborough Shoal.
The latest stand made between Duterte and Prayut, however, suggest that Thailand may slightly be inching towards a middle-ground policy on the South China Sea dispute.
Though much is left to be seen. Thailand’s true stand largely depends on its action pertinently in pushing for the completion of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties (DOC) as soon.
The arms race amongst the South China Sea (SCS) claimants will be seeing an increase. Report by IHS Analytics estimated that SCS coastal nations’ collective defense spending could likely jump between $435 billion in 2015 to around $533 billion by 2020. China’s increased assertiveness in the waters of South China Sea has largely sparked this security dilemma. Other claimants may need to develop the capabilities that will allow them to at least, defend their territorial claims in the region.
The source of arms imports varies. Though the US may be the leading provider in the region, there are other emerging arm suppliers.
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report showed that Russia may account for 93 percent of the deliveries to the Southeast Asian nation, which included eight combat aircraft, four fast attack craft and four submarines armed with land-attack missiles.
Interestingly, however, archived web-based reports from 2008 to 2016 suggested – Israel may have already joined the list of arms suppliers to the region. This is worth further deliberation.
In 2014 – Philippines news outlet PhilStar Global reported the agreement by Philippines Government to purchase three ELTA air radar from Israel Aerospace Industries worth PH2.6 billion. The air radar will be utilized to monitor naval activities in the South China Sea waters.The following year in November 2015, Israel Defense, a credible Defense portal reported that – EXTRA (Extended Range Artillery Rocket) missile system has been purchased by the Philippines naval force since early 2015. Manufactured by Israel Military Industries (IMI systems), the rocket is reported to be highly accurate within a 150 km range. The system is placed within the contested waters of South China Sea.
In February 2016, SIPRI reports also showed the purchase of 20 Israel’s EXTRA by Vietnam. The whole system as reported by Reuters in August 2016 has been moved to 5 bases within Vietnam’s Spratley Islands.
Narrowing this into China-Israel defense cooperation – it is worth knowing Israel’s sales to China from the late 80’s up to the early millennium reached close to USD4billion.(atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/FL21Ak01.html). Israel is China’s second-largest foreign supplier of arms (after Russia). China has purchased a broad array of military equipment and technology, including communications satellites.
One of the prime outcomes from Israel-China defense relations is China’s PLA fighter jet Chengdu J10 (Vigorous Dragon). J-10 is reverse engineered after Lavi jet fighter with the help of Israel’s Aerospace Industries (IAI) engineers. Both fighter jets share many similar avionic elements. With nearly 240 J-10 aircraft in active service, the aircraft has been utilised extensively in the South China Sea.
For the record, Israel’s Aerospace Industries (IAI) is owned by the Israel government through its Ministry of Defense. Shimon Peres, which is the former President of Israel, is the founder of IAI in 1953 (http://www.iai.co.il/).
The same is for Israel Military Industries Systems (IMI systems), which is fully owned by the Israeli Government through its Ministry of Defense. Production of military equipment is channelled largely to Israel Defense Force (www.imi-israel.com).
This proxy involvement of Israel Government in the South China Sea through its military sales raises four areas of concern and perhaps potential discourse in the future.
First and foremost is the provision of weapons by Israel, which has been questioned morally for its military activities. Israel has for decades flout international condemnation and demand to cease its land grabbing policies in Palestine.
Second is – Israel provision of weapons to the biggest recipients in the region, which has the audacity to ignore international norms and escalate the SCS conflict. China, which is the obvious recipient, has benefited much from IAI’s Lavi to J-10 technology transfer efforts and – ever since, has also been operating the aircraft actively in the controversial waters of SCS.
June this year, two J-10 as reported by Reuters has been involved in an unsafe air maneuver with a U.S. Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance plane over the East China Sea.
The third factor that needed to be considered is the moralistic and humanitarian issue. What is the moral stand of other ASEAN countries to Israel indiscriminate use of military technology in the Middle East? As food for thought, the Israel military technology utilised by certain ASEAN members might possibly be used against innocent women and children in Gaza.
In this context, ASEAN Secretariat through its ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights needs to raise this issue with the respective members that have and might plan to purchase military technology from Israel.
The fourth and perhaps a potent factor to contemplate is the reaction of Muslim countries in the South East Asia region. Malaysia and Indonesia are traditionally the two strongest Israel critics on the latter’s military policies in the Middle East.
In this circumstance, what would the hypothetical reaction be, once these facts become common knowledge in these respective countries? Specifically – the use of Israel’s military enhanced equipment both air and sea by China to assert its already perceived unfair demands in SCS?
Admittedly, these areas of discourse are still preliminary, and will take years for it to be widely discussed. Singapore possesses Israel’s technology for decades and the political reactionary to such knowledge has been quiet.
Hence it largely depends on how grass root leaders frame or think tanks urgently broach the abovementioned information into political sentiment or a form of discussion-worthy issue. However what is worth to be reminded, when it comes to this stage of complex entwinement of Israel, South China Sea, and Human Rights issue – diplomatic sensitivities should be practice sparingly by ASEAN.
Not too long ago in 2012, ASEAN former Secretary-General, Dr. Surin Pitsuwan warned the South China Sea disputes might risk into becoming the next ‘Palestine of Asia’. This statement may hold some water at this contemporary time– and hence deserves a little more attention now.
This article also appeared at The Palestine Chronicle (a Washington based Palestine Advocacy News) http://www.palestinechronicle.com/israels-proxy-south-china-sea/