Stratfor.com Transcript: Chinese military assertiveness
By: Rodger Baker, Stratfor.comNovember 19, 2010
Vice President of Strategic Intelligence Rodger Baker examines how Chinese military assertiveness in the South China Sea and Russia's renewed interest in the Asia-Pacific region has Japan and Southeast Asia concerned.

Editor's Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

While G-20 leaders in Seoul haggle over currencies and coordinated economic growth, significant power shifts are talking place in the epicenter of the world economy-the Asia-Pacific.

Welcome to Agenda and joining me this week is Rodger Baker. Rodger the move of economic power to the Asia-Pacific region has become a bit of a cliché, but what about strategic and military power?

Well certainly everyone has raised the concern that China is an emerging power not only in its economic strength but in political influence regionally and in becoming more assertive particular in the past few years ah militarily. But China is not the only growing military power in the region we've seen changes in the behavior of the Japanese we see Vietnam starting to stand up and more recently we've seen Russia which has largely settled its position in the in the West start to look east again and become more involved in the Asia-Pacific.

To what extent is Russia actually rebalancing its focus towards the Pacific?

For the Russians the end of the Cold War really drew most of Moscow's attention over to European Russia and the country didn't do a whole lot in the Far East it maintain certain contacts in Vietnam and maintain some economic contacts in the China, arms sales into China and the like, but it didn't focus a lot of attention on Siberia on on its Far East and on it's Pacific front. In the past few years we've seen the Russians moved from a rhetorical shift to saying that they need to rebalance to more action we've seen them actually make progress on pipelines we've seen them ramp up of military production testing training readjusting the the military basing of bringing more submarines into the region and in becoming what would be certainly not on the level of the Chinese activity or the Japanese activities but certainly a more active Russia than we've seen in many years.

Are you able to quantify for me the growing muscle of Russia in East Asia?

It may not really be quantifiable at the moment it's still in its early stages but some of its things that we look at are of course its energy we look at the movement of military equipment we look at the uptick in test flights, in training activities in the Far East and in the Russian starting to reach out for additional economic connections we've seen the Russians obviously for years active in Vietnam we seem to become active or more active in places like Malaysia Indonesia and in so it's not yet at a point state where we can say while the Russians have have been in economic influence or or political influence matching those of the bigger powers in the region but certainly we are seeing that's steps to to bring the Russians back into the Pacific.

China is the fastest growing big power in the region, and its recent assertiveness has worried many other countries.

Certainly from the view of the archipelagic nations of Asia the expansion of China as is disconcerting. The Chinese if you look at them are somewhat constrained geographically there held in very tight in the East China Sea that they're surrounded by Korea by Japan there, in the island's southern Japanese islands running down to Taiwan there there constraint in the South China Sea as you look at Southeast Asia run through there all the way to the Straight of Malaca and it's very difficult for the Chinese they feel that they really need to push out of these constraints but doing so of course comes into the territory of these other countries and these other countries don't necessarily see this as a defensive action by the Chinese but they perceive it as something that could threaten their own interest. And so we do have this right it's a sense of tension in the region. The United States is starting to be drawn back into East Asia both of its own volition and not of concerns by its allies calling it an invite by even by Southeast Asia so we've seen the United States reengage with ASEAN, we see the United States working with Indonesia with Vietnam, Cambodia countries that are going to allow the US to step up its economic connection step up its security and political connections and now we've seen the Russians also step in and where the United States coming in appears to be in many ways seen as a way to counter China and whether that's 100% accurate or not matters at less than how the Chinese perceive it but the Russians are coming in a much quieter manner they're supporting the Chinese and so they don't seem to be coming into to put back against the Chinese. Where the biggest concern on the Russian front it is the Japanese and Japan is going to be the country really to watch as we see the shifting dynamics and Asia particular security dynamics because Japan finds itself squeezed between a China that is pushing out and a Russia that is starting to become more active in the region again and that leaves Japan pinched.

Will Japan will see Russia's move as good bringing some kind of balance to the region, or will they fear it?

Conceptually a return of Russia to the region should help to balance things but the Russian actions thus far don't seem to be leaning in that manner the Russian sort of backed up the Chinese view on the ChonAn incident in South Korea the Russians backed up the Chinese view on the Chinese/Japanese spat over islands and was the Russians are coming back we see them becoming more active with military overflights even into Japanese airspace and from the Japanese perspective the visit to the Northern Territories by Medvedev was was a very aggressive move from Tokyo's view and a move that suggests a Tokyo that not only is Russia pushing back in the region but Russia is not going to deal with Japan and an add-on that Russia is pushing out to the Kamchatka Peninsula for submarine basing and that puts them on the outside of Japan and now Tokyo looks at Russia and in his wondering about how does it balance its restructuring of defensive forces. So Tokyo had been looking to finally break away from the Cold War structure where most of its defense posture must raise a north towards Russia and instead has been looking at moving forces to the south to be able to defend against ultimately China now it's got the Russians coming back on the northern border.

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