In China's Zone of Influence (I)

BRUNEI/BANGKOK/BERLIN |

BRUNEI/BANGKOK/BERLIN (Own report) - The German foreign minister hopes to use his visit to Southeast Asia to reinforce Berlin's standing with countries on the periphery of China. Over the past few years, a booming People's Republic of China has significantly enhanced its political power and its economic influence in the ASEAN Alliance countries. The United States, which, like Europe, is economically losing ground, seeks to better its position through military cooperation with countries, like Vietnam and the Philippines. According to voices in Washington, an "American Pacific Century" is in the making, meaning the focus of US global political orientation is being shifted to Asia for a power struggle with China. Not to be sidelined, Berlin and Brussels are also focusing on closer relations with ASEAN. The agenda of today's EU-ASEAN foreign minister summit, also attended by the German foreign minister, is focusing on the intensification of cooperation in "security policy." EU measures for interventions in armed conflicts in Southern Thailand and the Philippines are under consideration. Military contacts are also being strengthened at national levels. The Bundeswehr is broadening its training programs for Southeast Asian soldiers and German arms producers are exporting more combat material to the region.

Calculated Confrontation

Recently, in a publication of the Bundeswehr, a scholar at the "Stockholm International Peace Research Institute" (SIPRI) described the crucial factors of the current situation in Southeast Asia.[1] According to this analysis, over the past few years, a booming China has been able to significantly enhance its economic standing in the region. Today, China has become "a primary business partner for the countries of the region." In fact, China's foreign trade with ASEAN nations [2] has not only surpassed that of Japan and the USA, but also that of the EU. The Free Trade Agreement between China and ASEAN - which became effective January 1, 2010 - has been advantageous. Only in investments is the People's Republic lagging behind, but is gaining ground. A growing political influence is flanking the rapidly consolidating economic ties. Europe and the USA are falling behind, but are reinforcing their efforts to catch up. The USA, in particular, is currently making high waves with its efforts. The SIPRI expert notes that the United States is banking on "a calculated confrontation with China" as a means of making itself indispensable. Disputes between Beijing and various ASEAN countries are being exploited so that the US can pose as the latter's indispensable ally against China. Territorial conflicts in the South China Sea could provide a pretext.

Anti-China Maneuvers

China, as a matter of fact, has disputes with several ASEAN countries over property rights to various groups of islands in the South China Sea, islands that are of great significance because of large deposits of raw materials suspected to be under the sea. These are old conflicts, existing even between ASEAN member countries themselves. Beijing has been seeking diplomatic solutions to these conflicts since the 1990s,[3] and in 2002 signed a common declaration with ASEAN on the implementation of a "code of conduct" for the South China Sea.[4] In November 2011, the Chinese Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao announced the creation of a three billion Yuan (US $475 million) China - ASEAN Fund for the expansion of maritime cooperation. Two ASEAN members, in particular - The Philippines and Vietnam - have accepted Washington's offer of an anti-Beijing alliance and are reinforcing bilateral military ties to the USA. A five-day maneuver in the South China Sea, with 1,400 US troops with Vietnamese military units, ends this Friday. Just previously, US forces had staged joint training exercises with Philippine forces. This "confrontation course" is certainly not uncontested among the ASEAN member countries. The SIPRI expert explains that it has already ostentatiously "provoked frowns."[5]

Crisis Management

In the context of the expansion of Chinese influence and of the USA's reorientation of its global policy focus ("America's Pacific Century" [6]), Berlin and Brussels are seeking not to lose out. The EU is clearly stumbling along behind China. The negotiations of an EU - ASEAN Free Trade Agreement collapsed back in 2009. Brussels now seeks to reach a similar agreement, at least with the most important ASEAN countries, and has initiated talks with Singapore, Malaysia and with Vietnam. EU Trade Commissioner, Karel De Gucht, is reported to have said that by sowing dissention among the negotiating counterpart, obstacles to an EU - ASEAN Free Trade Agreement could finally be overcome.[7] Besides an expansion of economic contacts, the EU-ASEAN foreign minister summit, ending Friday, is particularly pursuing the objective of strengthening '"security policy" cooperation. There will be discussions on a common "crisis management," announced the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton.[8] Media organs speculate that EU projects for settling armed conflicts in the Philippines [9] and in Southern Thailand will be under consideration. With its intervention in Indonesia's Aceh, Brussels has already paved the way for this years ago. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[10])

Military Cooperation

In Berlin and Brussels, more "security policy" activities, regardless of the type, are considered absolutely essential for reinforcing the German-European position vis à vis the economic superpower, China, in its own Southeast Asian "back yard." Therefore, the Bundeswehr has been intensifying its cooperation with certain ASEAN countries, since some time. One of these is Vietnam, where, the German military alleges, Germany is the "ideal candidate for an even more intensive cooperation with the West."[11] The cooperation with Singapore is also being expanded. Singapore is not only Southeast Asia's commercial intersection, being situated at the Straits of Malacca, one of the most important maritime trade routes in the world, it is also of great geostrategic importance. Having equipped its cavalry with German Leopard 2 battle tanks, since 2009, Singapore sends around 350 soldiers per year to Germany for training, not only for the technical use of the tanks, but also for comprehensive combat training. Singapore has been among the biggest buyers of German arms exports for years. Between 2005 and 2010, its purchases of German weaponry amounted to more than 900 million Euros. In 2009, the Sultanate Brunei, host of the current EU - ASEAN foreign minister summit meeting, ranked fourth among the customers of German war products. It bought nearly a half billion Euros worth of German patrol boats.[12] Brunei has a conflict with China over a group of islands in the South China Sea. This is an example of how Berlin's arms exports serves countries, whose territorial claims are supported by the USA against the People's Republic of China.

A Relaxed Putsch

Thailand is one of the ASEAN countries, Berlin is seeking - at least potentially - to set up against China, with its arms exports and military training programs. For years Thailand, the next stop for German Foreign Minister Westerwelle, after he leaves the ASEAN foreign minister summit, has been buying arms products from Germany - ranging from firearms, and munitions, armored personnel carriers, to fighter planes. The purchase of four decommissioned submarines from the German Navy was stopped last March - not because Berlin had misgivings, but rather because the Thai government decided against it. In addition, the Bundeswehr is providing the country's armed forces with military training. Approximately two years ago, Berlin came under criticism for its support for the Thai military. At the time, Thai repressive forces fired on mass protests in opposition to the regime in Bangkok. Putschists had helped install that regime. That regime had been given special support from Foreign Minister Westerwelle's FDP-affiliated Friedrich Nauman Foundation. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[13]) Today, democratically elected forces are in power in Bangkok. They are opposed to the putschists and the putschist installed regime, and they had been brutally fought by the partners of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. The FDP has, at least, adapted to this new situation. Just a few years ago, its party affiliated foundation had praised the Thai putsch as a "relaxed and comfortable" putsch.[14] Today, its minister explicitly confirms that he will promote a "democratic development" in Bangkok.[15]

[1] Bernt Berger: Dominanz oder Kooperation im "pazifischen Zeitalter"? Die USA und China zwischen militärischen und politischen Sicherheitsstrukturen; www.readersipo.de 26.01.2012
[2] ASEAN gehören Brunei, Indonesien, Kambodscha, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, die Philippinen, Singapur, Thailand und Vietnam an.
[3] Andreas Ufen: Die ASEAN - ein südostasiatischer Modellfall regionaler Kooperation?, in: Dirk Nabers, Andreas Ufen (Hg.): Regionale Integration - Neue Dynamiken in Afrika, Asien und Lateinamerika, Hamburg 2005
[4] ASEAN and China sign declaration on the code of conduct in the South China Sea; www.aseansec.org 04.11.2002
[5] Bernt Berger: Dominanz oder Kooperation im "pazifischen Zeitalter"? Die USA und China zwischen militärischen und politischen Sicherheitsstrukturen; www.readersipo.de 26.01.2012
[6] see also Das pazirische Jahrhundert
[7] EU Trade Chief Stresses Importance of Asia Trade; online.wsj.com 01.04.2012
[8] Catherine Ashton: An expanding partnership for ASEAN-EU; www.phnompenhpost.com 26.04.2012
[9] see also Auf nach Asien! (III)
[10] see also In the Shadow of Disaster, Long Term Operation and Vorauskommando
[11] Zu Gast beim Vietnamesischen Sanitätsdienst; www.sanitaetsdienst-bundeswehr.de 08.10.2010. See also Verbündete gegen Beijing (I)
[12] see also A Ring of Fire around China
[13] see also Friends of the Monarchy, Das Netzwerk Monarchie, After the Bloodbath and Notwendige Übel
[14] see also A Relaxed and Comfortable Putsch
[15] Enge Zusammenarbeit mit Südostasien; www.auswaertiges-amt.de 26.04.2012