ALTHOUGH Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda firmly rejected the United States' request that it join the Proliferation Security Initiatives (PSI) during the visit of the US Secretary of State to Indonesia last March, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is having second thoughts.
After the US Defence Secretary visited Jakarta on June 6, Susilo asked the Defence Minister, the Foreign Minister and the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs to study the possibility of Indonesia joining the PSI.
Since the Sept 11 terrorist attacks in New York, the United States has promoted regional maritime security in a number of ways, including promoting anti-terrorism that focused cooperation in South-East Asia. Two such initiatives are the Container Security Initiative and the PSI.
PSI supposedly has the support of more than 70 countries, but its political support in the Asia-Pacific region is relatively weak. Only Singapore and Japan have publicly endorsed it.
Many Asian countries remain reluctant to be openly associated with the programme, fearing it may override national sovereignty and freedom of navigation, and not wanting to be tied to the United States.
The main reason Washington wants to expand the PSI in the Asia-Pacific region is the Straits of Malacca, one of the most dangerous stretches of water in the world, but also its busiest with thousands of ships crossing every day.
The biggest issues in the straits are the threat to maritime security posed by piracy and possibly terrorism, and any (assumed) nexus between the two activities.
Such a nexus remains unproved, but South-East Asian guerilla and terrorist groups like Jemaah Islamiah and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are said to possess maritime capabilities in the region since 2000.
They reportedly use the sea to transport weapons, move forces and raise funds, and they have become a sufficiently clear threat for the United States to initiate the PSI and attempt to control movement in the Straits of Malacca.
The United States also hopes that the PSI will have an effect on the balance of power in the region, such that it will contain China's influence in South-East Asia.
Since the mid-1990s, China's attitude to maritime security cooperation has moved away from a belligerent position characterised by an immovable stance and absolute sovereignty, towards a posture more favourable to discussion and dispute management.
In order to strengthen its defence and extend support for its new policy, Beijing in March 2004 announced it would increase its defence spending by 11.6%.
China's reorientation has mostly been driven by its rapid economic development. Since 1993, China has imported large volumes of crude to satisfy local demand, particularly from industry.
The International Energy Agency estimated that China's fuel consumption in 2030 will be equal to that of the United States today. Some 58% of China's oil will be imported from West Asia, and will have to pass through the Malacca Straits.
Given its importance to China's economic survival, Beijing's willingness to protect shipping routes and sea lanes is hardly surprising.
China's rapid economic growth and increasing defence capabilities place it in a position to challenge US hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region. This latent competition is likely to prompt the United States to adopt a strategy to contain China.
This would include controlling the sea-lines of communication and strategic maritime checkpoints such as the Straits of Malacca, and thus indirectly enable Washington to control the movement of raw materials and goods to China.
Thus, the real reason the United States wants to bolster its presence in the region, and specifically in the Straits of Malacca, is to limit China's access to oil, raw materials, technology and industrial equipment, as well as to contain Chinese influence in the region.
To achieve this, using the threat of terrorism and piracy to strengthen the PSI is the most likely strategy. – The Jakarta Post / Asia News Network
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