Expert calls on ASEAN to boost maritime strength
AS chair of ASEAN next year, Thailand needs to push for a strong initiative on the Code of Conduct to show the regional bloc’s maritime strength, a Japanese security expert said on Monday.
“Freedom of navigation is a vital interest for all the region. We wish to see freedom of navigation firmly embeded in future maritime concerns,” Ken Jimbo, a professor of policy management at Keio University, said.
The presence of the US Navy in the South China Sea will continue to act as a buffer helping ASEAN resist coercion from China, he said.
Conclusion of the code is a key step in ensuring maritime peace and stability in the region, Jimbo said, and the US-Japan alliance needs to be upgraded and Washington’s commitment to Asia strengthened.
Tokyo is ready to assist ASEAN’s maritime capacity in dealing with Chinese aggression, he added.
“Having a sophisticated, capable maritime coastguard is very important in keeping a lid on the tension and preventing an escalation of conflict. That will make the region more resilient and more confident in dealing with China,” he said. He said the bloc is an important strategic platform for Japan.
Jimbo made the remarks ahead of a forum, “Japan’s Indo-Pacific Strategy: Concepts, Opportunities and Challenges,” at Thammasat University.
He said Tokyo has stepped up its presence in the region and is seeking a free and open Indo-Pacific strategy to help balance the shift in power.
The strategy comprises promoting the rule of law; freedom of navigation, free trade, and pursuing economic prosperity through improved connectivity between Asia, the Middle East and Africa via ports and railways; and a commitment to peace and stability.
Essentially, it aims to connect Asia and Africa, as well as the Pacific and Indian oceans. It wants to develop a free and open maritime order in the Indo-Pacific and secure peace and prosperity in the region, Jimbo said.
Thailand and Asean can find ways to capitalise on the competitive nature of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Indo-Pacific strategy.
“The strategy is essentially the promotion of quality growth and infrastructure, a quality investment scheme, and maintaining a liberal international order,” the academic said.
He added that with the US reluctant to engage with the region, Japan cannot stay silent any longer but must address local concerns. Otherwise, China will continue to exert its economic dominance.
“Even though the BRI and IndoPacific strategy are competitive, there are areas where we can collaborate,” Jimbo said.
“If Japan and China can cooperate on a scheme here in Thailand, they can do it elsewhere, too,” he said.
China’s BRI often places a burden on the recipient countries and plays to Beijing’s advantages while ignoring liberal values, he added.