Skip to content

The U.S. Pivot to Southeast Asia: Prospects and Pitfalls II.

1100–1230, Saturday 16 April 2016, L2

Alfred Gerstl
University of Vienna

Alfred Gerstl
University of Vienna

Alfred Gerstl
University of Vienna

The term “pivot to Asia” started to appear in the official U.S. discourse after 2011, after then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had published her article “America’s Pacific Century” in the Foreign Policy magazine. Since then, the Asia-Pacific has become a strategic priority of the U.S. administration. As time passed, the rather vague term “pivot” has acquired more concrete contours and terms such as “rebalance” or “counterbalance” of a rising China started to dominate the debate. With this shift, the region of Southeast Asia, where China has become a key economic and military player, has gained a greater significance in the U.S. strategic thinking. The U.S. pivot encompasses five key components, i.e. the military redeployment to the region, strengthening old alliances and building new ones, the active U.S. participation in building a strategic architecture, economic resurgence and ideological assertion (the promotion of human rights and democracy). However, these lofty objectives, on one hand, and so far meagre tangible outcomes, on the other, have become a theme of much scrutiny and debate. Thus, the objective of this panel is to analyze the prospects and limitations of the U.S. pivot to Southeast Asia, with a special emphasis on regional and bilateral relations of ASEAN states with the U.S, especially in the security sphere (e.g. in the South China Sea), its impacts on the cohesion of ASEAN economic cooperation, the expansion of U.S. economic stakes via the Trans Pacific Partnership and the prospects for the promotion of human rights and democracy in the region.

Paper 1: The US Strategic “Rebalance” to Asia: Building a Closer Strategic Partnership with Singapore

Alica Kizekova
Bond University

The United States (US) “rebalance” to Asia has gradually picked up more momentum since the Pentagon called for alliances of mutual security to confront China’s activities towards “land reclamation” in the South China Sea. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly clear that the US is building its strategy in the region on the premise of “places-not-bases” which enables the access to military facilities on a rotational basis and deeper security and defense cooperation without much direct interference in sensitive sovereignty issues. In this quest, Singapore has become an important security partner by allowing the US Navy to station its littoral combat ships in its facilities. In addition, the Singapore Air Force (SAF) has secured long-term training opportunities in the US and Singaporean military units have deployed to Afghanistan within the US-led coalition forces. As much as Singapore embraces the increased US role and presence in the region, the bilateral relationship is far from a clear-cut alliance. Singapore’s leadership has voiced on several occasions that anti-China rhetoric was counterproductive and that Singapore would aim for close multifaceted ties with China in order to preserve peace and order in the neighborhood. SAF soldiers even conducted artillery and tank drills alongside their counterparts from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). This presentation deals with Singapore’s relations with the US and argues that the city state supports a hedging strategy when it comes to positioning between the US and China, because it would not want to choose sides should Washington and Beijing find themselves in an open conflict.

Paper 2: The Philippines’ Call for Justice in Insular Anarchy

Padraig Lysaght
Eurasia-Pacific Uninet / Confucius-Institute

The South China Sea (SCS) presents one of the most intriguing conflicts in South East Asia today. In addition, since 2007 the mounting tension in the region has been caused by growing nationalism in claimant states; competition over resources; militarization of the conflict and last but not the least, strengthening of sovereignty and jurisdictional claims by disputing states either through national legislation or by making submissions to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). Especially the Philippines have called to the International Court of Justice for a ruling on the territorial disputes in the SCS. While China takes on the role of an emerging Leviathan in the waters of the SCS, the Philippines struggle to gain an advantage in a situation that might best be called as “Insular Anarchy”. The major partner in this endeavor for the Philippines should be the U.S. As a former colonial power and outgoing? hegemon in the region today the U.S. plays a pivotal role for both the future of the Philippines ambitions and the SCS issue. This paper examines the Philippines position in the SCS case and further explores the “Insular Anarchy” concept based on the English School and Global Studies theories.
Paper 3: From foe to friend: the U.S.- Vietnam Converging Interests in Southeast Asia

Maria Strasakova
Metropolitan University Prague

Since the normalization of relations in 1995 the cooperation between the U.S. and Vietnam has been developing at a surprising pace. The U.S. is now the leading source of foreign direct investment in Vietnam, as well as Vietnam’s largest export market. Furthermore, both countries have expanded not only people-to-people ties; but also cooperation in the cultural, educational, public health field and have signed a number of agreements ranging from cooperation in nuclear power, civil aviation, to combating transnational crime. In addition, Washington’s “pivot” to Asia has created a wider platform for the enhancement of U.S. – Vietnam relations, culminating in the establishment of the bilateral comprehensive partnership in July 2013. In addition, in 2015 both countries celebrated the twentieth anniversary of normalization of relations, which has provided yet another opportunity for both countries to deepen their ties in the changing geo-strategic landscape. At present, both countries share a wide range of interests, however, the single most unifying factor are worries over the long-term ambitions of China, as its economic growth, rising confidence in the international arena, as well as its rapid military modernization have created not only new challenges, but also convergent (if not congruent) interests of both the countries. Thus, the objective of this paper is twofold: first, to shed light on the incentives of both countries to cooperate, secondly, to scrutinize the limitations of such cooperation, as Vietnam is aware that it needs to tread lightly in order not to alienate itself from Beijing.


Paper 4: The PRC´s Reaction to the U.S. Pivot: Dangerous Reefs of its Maritime Silk Road

Petra Andelova
Metropolitan University Prague

China´s rise in Southeast Asia has been one of the most visible and at the same time most controversial phenomena. On one hand, a strong and prosperous China is an opportunity for band-wagonning. On the other hand, China´s hunger for resources and outlet markets has brought along a need for new security patterns not only in Southeast Asia. China wants to have its trade roads safe – the more it depends on them, the more safety is important. However, especially in Southeast Asia Chinese relations with certain key maritime states have been highly strung for a long time, especially with Vietnam and the Philippines due to friction in the South China Sea (SCS) – one of the world´s most important trade crossroads. The U.S. Pivot to Southeast Asia has been seen as an effort to contain China and the Chinese response has been the “Maritime Silk Road” as a protected network of maritime routes. The Chinese navy build-up and its constructing activities in the SCS are only one side of the coin. The other one is a “diplomatic offensive”. China is apparently not willing to be considered as a “partial power” in its backyard of the SCS and does not want to play along the rules imposed by foreign powers. And it is also clear that U.S. is not willing to hand over the helm of navigation (not even partly in the SCS) to China. Thus, the objective of this paper is to analyze the prospects of the “new power equilibrium” in the SCS in the near future.

The U.S. Pivot to Southeast Asia: Prospects and Pitfalls (I)