CURRENT MARITIME ISSUES/CONFLICT IN ASIA PACIFIC REGION
This research paper outlines and discusses the major maritime issues and potential armed conflicts in the Asia Pacific region, their implications and the outlook for regional peace and security, with particular relevance to ASEAN nations. The ASEAN nations now include Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
1. Arms Race and Growth in Chinese Naval Power
The Asia Pacific region is one of the most heavily armed regions of the world. The United States is the world's leading military superpower. China (the PRC) has had nuclear weapons since the 1960s and the largest army in the world. Japan could easily become a nuclear power and its Self-Defense forces, particularly its air force and navy, are formidable. The military presence of the Russians in the region has considerably receded since 1990, but they are a major source of high technology weaponry for the PRC. North Korea has a heavily armed standing army of over one million and is an incipient nuclear power. South Korea has strong conventional forces. Taiwan has been arming in self-defense as have the smaller ASEAN nations.
As they pursued the modernization of the Chinese economy and its opening to Western trade and technology, Chinese leaders under Deng Xiaoping and his successors reduced the size of the Peoples' Liberation Army (PLA) from five million men in 1980 to roughly 2.9 million today (Bracken, 1999, December, p. 418). The PLA has been largely preoccupied with maintaining internal order, but its influence within the government is still very strong. Since the mid-1980s, as China's economy has expanded so have expenditures on the PLA, the rate of increase which Bernstein and Munro (1997) estimated was about 160 percent between 1986 and 1994 and 12.7 percent in 1996-1997 (pp. 70 and xviii). Most of that increase has been devoted to the modernization and expansion of nava...