(First of three parts)
Southeast Asia caught greater attention from the U.S. after the latter launched its “war on terror” in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attacks. Southeast Asia, most especially the Philippines, provided U.S. Pres. George W. Bush with a venue to project the “global war on terror”. And Philippine Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo offered the U.S. with a “less complicated” venue.
BY BENJIE OLIVEROS
Fellow, Center for Anti-Imperialist Studies
Posted by Bulatlat.com
U.S. military presence has been traditionally heavy in the Northeast. U.S. bases in Japan and Korea are the biggest in Asia. It is described as the “critical component of U.S. deterrent and rapid response strategy in Asia.”
But Southeast Asia caught greater attention from the U.S. after the latter launched its “war on terror” in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attacks. Southeast Asia, most especially the Philippines, provided U.S. Pres. George W. Bush with a venue to project the “global war on terror”. And Philippine Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo offered the U.S. with a “less complicated” venue.
On September 12, Philippine President Arroyo wrote U.S. President Bush, “We extend whatever support we can muster…We will help in whatever way we can to strengthen the global effort to crush those responsible for this barbaric act.” When U.S. President Bush declared, on September 20, the protracted and borderless “war on terror”, President Arroyo, on September 26, wholeheartedly and unqualifiedly offered Philippine airspace for over flight by U.S. warplanes, and the country’s airfields and naval facilities for the transit, staging and refueling of U.S. planes and warships.
In the course of President Arroyo’s visit to the U.S. in November 2001, she agreed to launch Operation Balikatan (Shoulder to shoulder), joint military exercises of U.S. and Filipino forces, in Basilan on January, 2002 and to push for an access agreement later announced as the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement. In exchange, the U.S. sent her home with $92.3 million in military equipment, including two C-130 military transport plane, a naval patrol boat, Huey helicopters and 30,000 M-16 rifles plus ammunition.
Agence Presse-France called the Balikatan joint exercises as the “Southeast Asian Phase of the U.S. campaign on terrorism.” Aside from the U.S. military build-up in the Middle East, the Philippines, through Balikatan, has seen the second biggest U.S. military deployment since Afghanistan.
U.S. interests in Southeast Asia
The Southeast Asian region is strategically located. To the north of the region is Korea, China, and Japan. The U.S. has been in a constant state of war footing against North Korea since after World War II. China is considered as a major political and military rival to the U.S. The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review reflects the U.S.’ assessment of China. It states, “Of the major and emerging powers, China has the greatest potential to compete militarily with the U.S. and field disruptive military technologies that could over time offset traditional U.S. military advantages absent U.S. counter strategies.”
Japan, while being a major U.S. ally is likewise an economic competitor.
Militarily, Southeast Asia is an important transit point for U.S. troops if war breaks out in Korea or China. Second, it may be used as launching site for U.S. “mobile expeditionary operations” not only in the southeast but also in other parts of Asia and the Middle East.
To the east is the Indian sub-continent and the oil-rich Middle East. To the south is Australia, another major U.S. ally. The sea lanes of the region are critical to the movement of U.S. forces from the Western Pacific to the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf.
A high proportion of the trade of Japan, Republic of Korea, Taiwan, and Australia passes through the straits of Malacca, Sumba, or Lomboc or the straits of East Timor.
Aside from its geopolitical importance, Southeast Asia is home to 500 million people and a wealth of natural resources. Indonesia is the fourth most populous nation and the biggest Muslim country.
From 1993-97, the region was second only to Japan in terms of U.S. exports to the Pacific rim. It is also an important destination for U.S. investments, surpassing Japan and Brazil by 1997.
The region is also a source of natural gas and oil. The largest deposits of oil and gas in Asia could lie in the region. Gas and oil exploration activities are in full swing.
Brunei is a net energy exporter. It exports 141,000 bpd of oil and 287 bcf of natural gas. It has 1.4 billion barrels of oil reserves and produces 191.000 bbl/d of oil and 22,000 bbl/d of liquid gas.
Indonesia and Malaysia are also exporting oil at 431,500 bpd and 230,200 bpd respectively. Malaysia has oil reserves of 3.1 billion bbl and 2.124 trillion cubic meters of gas reserves. Indonesia has 4.6 bbl oil reserves and 2.557 trillion cubic meters of gas. Thailand has 583 million bbl of oil and 377.7 billion cubic meters of gas.
The Philippines is estimated to have 106.8 billion cubic meters of proven natural gas reserves and 152 million bbl of oil reserves. The Malampaya offshore field, the largest natural gas development in Philippine history, was discovered off Palawan by Shell Philippines Exploration. Many other oil and gas corporations have investments in the country.
Oil and gas explorations are also taking place in Vietnam and Myanmar.
U.S. strategy for Southeast Asia can be summed up in the following statement from the March 2006 National Security Strategy paper of the U.S., “The U.S. is a Pacific nation, with extensive interests throughout East and Southeast Asia. The region’s stability and prosperity depend on our sustained engagement: maintaining robust partnerships supported by a forward defense posture supporting economic integration through expanded trade and investment and promoting democracy and human rights.”