|China Defense Budget Sparks Regional Arms Race?|
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As is the case with China, some countries in Southeast Asia have hard-to-quantify military budgets. "In countries such as Myanmar [Burma] and Vietnam, we cannot know for sure what the real level of spending is," says Tim Huxley of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore.
Such a lack of transparency engenders distrust, says Wezeman, whose organization publishes an authoritative annual survey of arms transfers around the world. As arms buying increases across the region, the lack of clarity regarding some countries "makes other Southeast Asian countries nervous and easy to react to worst-case scenarios," he says.
Burma will again spend a quarter of its annual budget on the military, and this month will receive the first of 20 MiG-29s ordered under a roughly €400 million ($553 million) deal, part of a doubling of the country's MiG-29 capacity.
Details published in the official Burmese Government Gazette revealed that almost one-quarter of the 7.6 trillion kyat ($8.45 billion) national budget for 2011 will be allocated to defense. In contrast, education will get a 4.3 percent share, and health 1.3 percent.
Concerns have been raised about Burmese collaboration with North Korea, both on nuclear technology and conventional military assistance. With regard to the latter, Burmese purchases of Russian or Chinese hardware should be of more concern to Burma's neighbors than whatever Pyongyang can provide, says Wezeman, who adds that "North Korean weaponry is not terribly advanced, to say the least."
The latest Burmese MiG-29 purchase is based on an order placed in 2009, a seemingly common trend in regional arms procurement, with delivery of purchased goods coming after a substantial time-lag. Thailand recently received 6 Swedish-made SAAB Gripen fighter aircraft, with more due to arrive in 2012 and 2013.
Overall, defense spending by Bangkok has doubled to $5.5 billion since a 2006 coup, even though that military regime was soon replaced by an elected government. Arms buying in Southeast Asia can sometimes be driven by domestic issues not related to external threats—what Richard Bitzinger of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies calls "other nonstrategic factors" across countries in the region, "such as bribery and bureaucratic politics." Some see providing such "toys for the boys" as key to ensuring Indonesia's army's reduced role since the country started its transition to democracy back in 1998.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao vowed on Saturday that China would continue building a "powerful" military, one day after Beijing announced a return to double-digit percentage hikes in defence spending.
"Strengthening national defence and building a powerful people's army are important guarantees for safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests," Wen said in a speech opening the nation's legislature.
"We will energetically yet prudently press ahead with reform of national defence and the military," he said.
A spokesman for the National People's Congress said on Friday that China's defence budget would rise 12.7 percent in 2011 to 601.1 billion yuan ($91.7 billion). A multi-year trend of double-digit percentage increases was broken in 2010 when the budget rose just 7.5 percent.
China has upgraded the People's Liberation Army's capabilities over the past three decades, developing advanced weaponry like its first stealth fighter jet, revealed in January. The campaign has alarmed the United States, Japan, and others in the region and raised fears a more assertive China would seek to project its power overseas.
"It is an extremely high ratio for defence spending," Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara told reporters on Friday.
"We cannot help worrying about what all the money is used for."
Wen said "great progress was made in the modernisation of national defence and the army" in the past five years.
Indonesia has called for more synergy of ASEAN defense forces chiefs to respond various challenges and threats to regional stability.
"Defense forces chiefs must be more synergic and productive to be able to respond to various challenges and threats that could endanger regional security," Indonesia`s defense forces commander Admiral Agus Suhartono said when meeting with defense attaches of the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations here on Wednesday.
He said the issue would be one of the topics of discussion to be focused at the 8th ASEAN Chief of Defense Forces Informal Meeting from March 30 to April 1 2011 in Indonesia.
e concerns of China’s neighbors are also evident in the sustained military buildups some of them have begun. According to arms transfer data released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the value of the major conventional weapons systems delivered to Southeast Asian countries almost doubled between 2005 and 2009. Malaysia, which contests Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea, imported an astounding 722 percent more arms during this period than it did during the previous five years. For Singapore, the increase was 146 percent, while for Indonesia it was 84 percent. The large volume of weapons purchased by Singapore has, in fact, resulted in that country becoming the first state in Southeast Asia to rank among the world’s top ten arms importers since the Vietnam War ended in 1975.
The ASEAN countries cannot hope to balance China militarily, of course. Even with the buildup, the PRC significantly outmatches the combined weight of ASEAN members in manpower, equipment, and spending. A Center for Strategic and International Studies report on the military balance in Asia estimated Chinese military personnel in 2010 at 2,170,000. In contrast, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, and the Philippines combined only have 1,472,000 in uniform. Moreover, the ASEAN militaries have shown little interest in pooling their defense resources and developing a collective military force.
The ASEAN states also have extensive and mutually beneficial economic ties with Beijing that they do not want to jeopardize by directly confronting China over its maritime claims. They would prefer that some other external balancer such as the United States assume that role, with ASEAN providing indirect support. Unlike South Korea, Japan, or Australia, the Southeast Asian states lack bilateral defense treaties with the United States. Nonetheless, some ASEAN officials have been privately pressing Washington to intervene on the South China Sea issue to discourage Chinese adventurism. Unsurprisingly, it has been the Vietnamese who have most eagerly sought to work with their former adversary to balance the regional colossus.
It was therefore probably not an accident that, at the July 2010 ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Hanoi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton broke with precedent and offered to help launch multilateral talks on disputed South China Sea territories within the ASEAN framework. She also reaffirmed standard US opposition to the use of coercion or threats of force to settle conflicting claims. Clinton justified her statement of concern on this occasion by explaining that “The United States, like every nation, has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea.”
At the May 2010 Shangri-La Dialogue, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates called the South China Sea “not only vital to those directly bordering it, but to all nations with economic and security interests in Asia.” Alluding to alleged PRC threats against American and other international oil companies considering cooperation with Vietnam, Gates said, “We object to any effort to intimidate US corporations or those of any nation engaged in legitimate economic activity.” When he visited the Philippines in August 2010, the commander of US forces in the Pacific, Admiral Robert Willard, affirmed the American commitment to guarantee free navigation in the South China Sea.
Taken together, these statements by US officials constituted a bold move designed to redirect the PRC from its increasingly aggressive stance by underscoring American unwillingness to allow the region to become an uncontested sphere of influence. The United States has traditionally sought to avoid taking a public position on East Asian sovereignty disputes, but the recent aggressive moves by China, combined with the quiet pleadings of some prominent ASEAN leaders, has galvanized the Obama administration into action.
The Defense Ministry is currently building a Four in One Military Training Center in a 260-hectare area in Sentul, Bogor, West Java. The location will be used to train peace-corps, disaster-alert, anti-terrorist and armed troops.
“ This will become a source of pride for Indonesia. In 2011, one stage will hopefully be completed, ” said defense strategy director general Maj. Gen. Puguh Santoso, in a press release yesterday.
According to Puguh, the training center is projected to be finished before the end of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ’ s term in 2014. The project will be funded by the Defense Ministry.
Puguh said the training center could also be used by ASEAN countries sending troops to UN peace missions. The antiterrorism teams will be trained by the US and the disaster-alert troop will be prepared 24 hours a day to go to disaster areas.
PT Garuda CEO, Emirsyah Satar, yesterday handed over two 737/400 airplanes to the Indonesian Air Force at the Halim Perdana Kusuma Air Base, Jakarta. The two used planes with a 130-passenger capacity will add to the fleet, comprising Hercules, Fokker 28, and B-737/200. According to the Indonesian Air Force chief of staff, Marshall Imam Sufaat, the planes are big enough and can be used for carrying troops.
The government reaffirmed on Monday its commitment to support the domestic weapons industry by setting up programs for the Defense Industry Policy Committee (KKIP) to be implemented this year.
“This year’s programs include evaluating the performance of defense state-owned enterprises,” Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro told a press conference after a KKIP plenary meeting at the Defense Ministry.
“There are already plenty of funds for us to procure domestic-made weapons,” he said without giving exact numbers.
The one-day meeting also evaluated KKIP’s programs in 2010. Purnomo, who heads the KKIP, said the government was also encouraging state defense companies to enter the ASEAN’s US$20 billion defense market.
Also at the meeting were State-Owned Enterprises Minister and KKIP vice chairman Mustafa Abubakar, Industry Minister MS Hidayat, Research and Technology Minister Suharna Surapranata, Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Adm. Agus Suhartono, National Police chief Gen. Timur Pradopo and Defense Deputy Minister and KKIP secretary Lt. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin. Executives from defense SOEs and other stakeholders also attended the meeting. Mustafa said the state should empower defense SOEs, adding that a commercial approach would not be sufficient.
“We still have problems from the past, such as debts, which need to be resolved.
“Defense SOEs may need their organizations restructured, financial assistance and marketing drives,”
Mustafa said that multi-year contracts had been awarded to defense SOEs to add and replace the TNI’s aging weapon systems.
“Defense companies have also received orders from foreign countries.They have received plenty of orders although have not yet reached an economy of scale or the break even point.”
Malaysia has asked the Singapore Navy for cooperation in monitoring security in the Gulf of Aden to ensure the safety of merchant ships plying the waters near Somalia for mutual benefit.
Defence Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the matter was conveyed to Singapore Navy chief, Rear Admiral Chew Men Leong, who paid a courtesy call on him at Wisma Pertahanan here Monday, as the minister felt that such cooperation could strengthen security operations against piracy in the area.
"We are inviting the Singapore Navy to be involved in our operations as it will be part of an international team and not just representing its own country.
"This is apt as Malaysia and Singapore will be jointly protecting the merchant ships from Southeast Asian countries against piracy," he said after the visit by the Singapore Navy delegation led by Chew.
The USS Blue Ridge, the command ship of the United States Seventh Fleet, has docked at Port Klang as part of its scheduled visit to Malaysia.Fleet commander Vice-Admiral Scott R. van Buskirk said the three-day visit was to enhance military ties between the US and Malaysia.
“The USS Blue Ridge made its last port of call to Malaysia in 2009 and we are happy to be back again,” he said after hosting a dinner reception for Malaysian dignitaries and members of the media on board here last night.
Also present were US Ambassador to Malaysia Paul W. Jones and Royal Malaysian Navy chief Admiral Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Jaafa
THE military said Monday it will install radar equipment on nine islands in the disputed Spratlys to monitor intrusions even as the Coast Guard said it deployed three patrol vessels to secure a government oil survey ship reportedly harassed by two Chinese boats in the South China Sea.“With the available resources that we have right now, all we can do is to react,” Western Command chief Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban said in an interview in Camp Aguinaldo.
“But we will be installing radars in all our claimed islands for fast monitoring.”
On March 2, two Chinese Navy patrol vessels harassed an Energy Department survey ship, the m/v Veritas Voyager, in the Reed Bank, but left after the Navy and Air Force sent aircraft to the area.Seismic testing for gas by an Anglo-Filipino consortium had been halted after an incident in which Manila says two Chinese boats threatened to ram a survey ship, the government said.
Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras said the seismic tests would resume after the Philippines and China held talks to resolve the dispute. Manila would send maritime affairs experts to Beijing later this week for negotiations.
“They had to pack up and reconstitute everything,” Almendras told reporters, saying it would take a few days to restart the tests. “We have to wait, but we hope to resume.”
The Philippines has already filed a diplomatic protest with the Chinese government over the incident, but Beijing has yet to respond to it.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Sunday appointed an experienced fighter pilot as the country's new military chief, hoping restore credibility to an institution facing corruption allegations.Lieutenant-General Eduardo Oban replaces General Ricardo David who will retire on Monday.
Oban takes on his role after lawmakers uncovered large-scale corruption in the armed forces involving some retired generals who were found to have acquired properties in the United States and siphoned off military funds earmarked for soldiers' training and salaries to their personal bank accounts.The scandals have affected the morale of soldiers fighting two long-running insurgencies that have killed 160,000 people, displaced 2 million and stunted growth in this poor but resource-rich Southeast Asian nation.
Addressing graduates of the Philippine Military Academy at the northern mountain resort city of Baguio, Aquino also promised to punish corrupt generals and push more resources to soldiers fighting Maoist and Muslim rebels.
"There will be no sacred cows," Aquino told 196 new ensigns and lieutenants joining the 130,000-member armed forces, saying his government will not tolerate corruption and judiciously use military funds to buy new boots and guns for frontline soldiers.
"We will correct the past mistakes and straighten the crooked policies. We will hold accountable all the thieves and all their accomplices."
Oban, who graduated from the same academy in 1979, is widely respected among younger officers. He played a key role in ending an army mutiny in 2003 when 300 junior officers took over a high-rise apartment in Manila's business district.Oban has promised to reform the military's personnel, logistics and financial system to stop corruption and focus on upgrading the army and navy's capabilities.
Thailand is in the process of drafting a new defence white paper for 2012 to 2016 that lays out the military’s likely strategic response to threats. The Thai military has traditionally used the white paper to restate its dominant national security role and to legitimise its position in politics.The white paper is expected to focus on three immediate tasks: managing the rise in political violence; defending national sovereignty and territorial integrity; and protecting the monarchy as a central Thai institution.
Seen in a different light, one key objective is to construct the face of the future enemy. Some of these enemies are real, some are fabricated. Once the enemies are identified, the military’s mission is seen to be legitimate.Since the 2006 coup that ousted the elected government of Thaksin Shinawatra, the military has returned to the political limelight. This time, security concerns from outside the country have been perceived as secondary, with the military’s focus limited to Thailand’s immediate neighbourhood.
To the defence establishment, armed conflict with Cambodia has emerged as a real and present danger for Thailand. Last month, the Thai army clashed with Cambodian troops, leading to a number of casualties on both sides.Myanmar remains another source of concern, as it has been for decades. Threats from Myanmar include the influx of drugs, illegal weapons, illegal immigrants, human trafficking and ethnic insurgencies.
At present, however, the primary dangers confronting Thailand are internal, with the unrelenting domestic crisis and the insurgency in the south posing the greatest threats. More so than in any other period in Thailand’s modern history, internal factors have come to determine its defence policy and its perspectives on regional security.
The notion of national security is now tightly bound with the legitimacy of the ruling elite. Accordingly, the military did not hesitate to launch brutal crackdowns last May against red-shirted demonstrators. Similarly, Thailand showed little interest in promoting a working relationship with Cambodia but was content to adopt a military option to deal with border tensions.
The Asia Times reported that in this year’s fiscal budget, the military plans to modernise its forces by buying assault rifles, machine guns, artillery pieces, surface-to-air missiles, tanks and Blackhawk and Cobra attack helicopters.
Officers claim the purchases will be necessary to bring its capabilities to a level comparable with its neighbours’. They also cite the renewed security threat in the southernmost regions. Quite simply, the military grasped an opportunity that came with the coup, and its mounting influence in politics, to enlarge its defence budget.
There have been calls for new recruits to join the state’s security forces. Meanwhile, it is apparent that the annual defence budget has increased progressively since the military coup of 2006. According the Asian Defence Journal, Thailand’s defence budget stood at US$3.2 billion in 2006, 3.6 in 2007, 4.1 in 2008, 4.5 in 2009, and 5.1 in 2010. The Thai Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon earlier refuted the allegation that the military was rewarded for its role in leading the crackdowns and containing the riots in May 2010 with a larger budget in the coming year.
The Asia Times reported that in the 2011 fiscal budget, the military plans to modernise its force structure by purchasing assault rifles, machine guns, artillery pieces, surface-to-air missiles, trucks, engineering vehicles, armoured personnel carriers, tanks, and Blackhawk and Cobra attack helicopters. Funds have also been earmarked for upgrading and repairing old equipment, including the army’s aging UH-1 Huey helicopters.
Military officers claim that the purchases will be necessary to replace outdated equipment and bring its capabilities to a level comparable with its neighbours. They also cite the renewed security threat of the Muslim insurgency in the country’s southernmost regions. Quite simply, the military quickly grasped an opportunity that came with the coup and its mounting influence in politics to enlarge its defence budget.
What will this lead Thailand too? A less tolerable state vis-à-vis mass demonstrations? A more aggressive neighbour to both Cambodia and Myanmar? While the modernisation of the Thai army may indicate the growing strength of the Thai nation, it also inevitably reveals a perceptible sense of insecurity on the part of the regime.