Indonesia, ASEAN Must Stay Away From Regional Arms Race

27 December, 2011 | Source: The Jakarta Post

Japan’s reported plan to pick the US-made F-35 Lightning II stealth jet as its next frontline fighter has been seen by observers here as another indication of escalating tensions that might trigger an arms race among big powers in the region.

The media in Japan reported on Monday that the purchase is potentially worth US$8 billion, and will put Japan a step ahead of China, which earlier introduced the Chengdu J-20, a purportedly fifth-generation, stealth-fighter aircraft prototype expected to be operational between 2017 and 2019.

The report came less than a month after US President Barack Obama announced a plan to deploy 2,500 US marines in the Australian city of Darwin, which international observers have seen as a move to counter China’s growing power in the Asia Pacific region.

“Japan’s decision [on the F-35 purchase] indicates the unstable conditions in the region. It is Japan’s strategic response to China’s [growing military power], and it is possible we might observe from here a regional arms race,” Indonesia Defense University lecturer Bantarto Bandoro said on Tuesday in Jakarta.

“If we fail to control these heated conditions, the situation might escalate. It might trigger North Korea to carry out more serious actions than it has hitherto been doing, and China will follow suit,” he added.

Bantarto especially attributed the heated situation to the US’ Darwin plan.

“[The plan] is a response to China’s growing military power in the South China Sea; but [the tension] is made even more serious with the US military presence in Darwin,” he said in a phone interview with The Jakarta Post.

Separately, Parahyangan University’s School of International Relations dean I Nyoman Sudira said he agreed there was indeed escalating tension and an upcoming, if not already ongoing, arms race in the region.

He added, however, that the race would involve only the big powers, namely China, the US, Japan and Australia, with smaller countries in the region unlikely to take part.

“Some ASEAN countries do have disputes with China over the South China Sea, but I think they will concentrate more on their own domestic issues; consolidating their national politics and strengthening regional economic cooperation,” Nyoman said.

Both Nyoman and Bantarto played down recent reports suggesting that Singapore and the Philippines at least, two member states of ASEAN, were likely preparing their military for the rising tensions in the region.

Singapore is reportedly planning to spend $23 billion on purchases of aircraft, helicopters and other military equipment by 2015; while the newly installed Philippines military chief, Lt. Gen. Jessie Delosa, has vowed to bolster his country’s external defense to adequately respond to “untoward incidents” in the South China Sea.

“ASEAN won’t participate in the military and armory race, and Indonesia, as part of the ASEAN, will not also. There is no need for Indonesia to take part in the arms race,” Nyoman said.

Bantarto, meanwhile, commented, “Indonesia must be able to hold itself apart from joining the arms race, unless we’re in a critical or urgent situation. ASEAN must keep on playing a stabilizing role in the region. We don’t want a repeat of the Cold War era here.”

 

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