HANOI: The nations of Southeast Asia have launched an arms race, to “counterbalance” the expansionism of China and the political and economic dominance of Beijing in the Pacific region and internationally.
Recent reports on the international network of the arms trade have described an “expansion” in trade, which sees Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia in the forefront of the race to buy weapons. The objective of governments, according to well-informed sources, is not to openly “challenge” Beijing “militarily,” but to create a “strategic deterrent” that will force the Land of the Dragon to “think long and hard” before embarking on a conflict of regional scale. Among the issues at the centre of recent controversy and the source of a possible military confrontation, are territorial claims in the South China Sea and East Africa.
Recently, Hanoi secured two Russian-made submarines, asked for help from technical experts from New Delhi to train Vietnamese soldiers. The Philippines instead is looking to the sky, with Manila ready to sign the purchase of a squadron of jet fighters from South Korea and three helicopters from Italy. This race is explained by experts in military matters as an “international” strategic plan, which exceeds the territorial disputes in the Pacific. South-East Asia remains an “open market” compared to the restrictions in the Middle East.
In this arms race, Vietnam is looking in the direction of Moscow, its mentor and protector during the Cold War, for the purchase of jets and warships. It is seeking anti-missile batteries from India, while talks are under way with several European countries - including France - for ships and radar. Despite the tensions over a possible war, the government is also in touch with the United States and hopes that Washington will soon loosen restrictions on arms sales.
The same applies to the Philippines, who had long ignored the need to modernize its forces, relying on the protection and support - including material - of the United States. However, since his rise to power President Aquino Benin has increased funding for the army. Hence the agreement (to the tune of almost 500 million dollars) with Seoul for some light combat aircraft, also a perfect training platform for more advanced F-16s from the US - another deal in the frame. Added to this, are 10 coastguards vessels from Japan, but Moscow seems to have discovered the business opportunity and may soon sign a deal with Manila.
Finally, Indonesia, the largest among the nations of Southeast Asia, is also looking to expand its military. Jakarta has bought South Korean submarines, Chinese missiles, US F16s and Russian jets. In the past decade the defence budget has grown by 200 per cent, hitting six billion dollars, and is in the running to become the best equipped country in the region in terms of weapons. -- AsiaNews