Year-starter: FNI, FACTS Asia, & ARS hold inaugural webinar series "The Strategic Situationer"
The Foundation for the National Interest (FNI), F.A.C.T.S. Asia (FACTS*) and Amador Research Services (ARS), conducted a webinar titled, “Setting the Stage: 2022 Regional Security Outlook” on 28 January 2022, 10:30 - 11:50 AM (PST) via Zoom.
The webinar assessed the regional security outlook for 2022 based on recent past events in the domestic and international fronts of key states that have accumulated, interacted and influenced security developments in the region. It identified primary security considerations that will inform emerging trends and influence the strategic responses and policy settings of major powers, middle powers, and key regional actors (e.g. ASEAN instruments and mechanisms and security arrangements) towards competition, coexistence and management of disputes.
Gen. Emmanuel Bautista AFP RET, FNI Trustee, set the tone of the discussion by citing significant events particularly the leadership assumption of US President Joe Biden heralding a diverging direction in the US foreign and defence policy. He drew focus on heightening regional flashpoints, mainly Taiwan and the South China Sea, where China continues to display aggressive behaviour. Gen. Bautista then posed the question, “Will the trajectories remain consistent, or will they shift?” emphasizing that examining developments and trends allows us to understand the policy settings of states and institutions and helps us anticipate and prepare for their strategic actions.
Three esteemed regional security experts provided insights on the subject: Dr Thomas Wilkins, Senior Research Fellow at the Japan Institute for International Affairs, Dr Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, Director at the Center for Security, Strategy & Technology, Observer Research Foundation, and Dr Prashanth Parameswaran, Fellow at the Wilson Center.
Dr. Wilkins shared an overview of current regional strategic security trend, noting that among them, the biggest and most concerning remained to be the rise of China and its increasingly assertive behaviour in maritime disputes and military expansions in the South China and East China Sea, and relatedly, the Sino-US rivalry particularly reflected in the ongoing tension in the Taiwan Strait.
He highlighted a more recent trend catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic wherein economic issues have become part of the bigger nexus of security and strategic competition. A case in point was China’s actions of weaponizing trade in diplomatic disputes. He stated, “The economics has really come up alongside the more traditional military strategic competition to make it a lot more of a complex landscape. These two things are no longer divided - trade and security - they flow together.”
Dr. Wilkins also put premium on the rise of ‘minilaterals’ or action-focused, small-group security partnerships such as the AUKUS and the QUAD, which stands between the traditional bilateral and regional alliances. He concluded that “There is little bit of de-emphasis on alliances and more emphasis on a much more complex and much more versatile range of security cooperation mechanisms.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Rajagopalan explored the effectiveness of regional security partnerships and how even on mutually beneficial issues such as climate change and new technologies, partnerships are becoming a lot more challenging due to great power competition and rivalry. “This growing security competition and rivalry is also giving way to new security blocks, new alliances, new partnerships, which will only further create more divisions in the region that is already bifurcated in a sense,” Dr. Rajagopalan stated.
While noting that the new coalitions take some time for partners to work well together, she also recognized that the QUAD and other partnerships that emerged in the region are “a good beginning.” For instance, she remarked that India’s membership in the QUAD is a surprising yet welcome development. Traditionally, India has generally adopted G21’s preference for legally binding mechanisms. As such, Dr. Rajagopalan indicated that while some of India’s actions are confusing, it has become more committed and serious about its Indo-Pacific strategy.
Finally, Dr. Parameswaran discussed two key points: the issue on the extent of clarity or messiness in the region, and sectoralization. On the first point, Dr. Parameswaran referred to “localization dynamics” by which countries find themselves challenged in their own sub-regions, not just in their overall region. He cited Vietnam as an example of a country doubling down not just on its external relationships with Japan and the United States, but also on its relationships with neighbouring countries like Cambodia and Laos where Vietnam’s economic relationship has been increasingly securitized. “The point is that these countries are having to actually deal with the China challenge not just far away in terms of the geopolitical competition, but actually very close to their individual neighbourhoods. And that dynamic is something that I think US policymakers could and should pay a lot more attention to, rather than being carried away by the overall US-China dynamic,” Dr. Parameswaran stated.
As to sectoralization, Dr. Parameswaran surmised that the countries’ preferences are “being sliced up into individual segments, or what is an aggregate choice is just being dismantled into a series of smaller and smaller choices.” He noted that the risk of making these small choices along the way is that countries inadvertently choose between the US and China in the long-term. He opined that countries should distinguish early on which sectors they would align with the US, China, or work with other partners through diversification.
The closing statement of Amb. Alarilla, “We are experiencing an existential threat of erosion of our rules-based order not only in the region but in the international community,” captured the essence of the lively exchanges. Stressing the value of discussions not only of experts, but also of think tanks and members of civil society, Amb. Alarilla’s encouragement for these discussions to reach a wider segment of citizens is a timely and important reminder for us to continue to engage different sectors of society to popularize these issues.
This event is the first installment of a new webinar series, The Strategic Situationer, which depicts a broader discourse platform on strategic and security issues. Over 150 participants from government agencies, think tanks, the diplomatic community, and academic institutions nationwide attended the event.
Screenshots of the event found below.
*FACTS Asia, inspired by the Philippines Strategic Forum, is a non-stock, non-profit organization registered in the Securities and Exchange Commission Philippines. With rampant misinformation campaigns and propaganda in the ever evolving Indo-Pacific environment, FACTS seeks to be the go-to platform for critical analysis, fact-based research and relevant information for experts, stakeholders, and policymakers on various topics such as politics, economics, business, law, security, technology, international relations and society relevant to public policy. FACTS Asia's website is live and may be visited at: factsasia.org.