Joe Biden Wraps-up Asia-Pacific Trip: Rebalancing Policy Going Strong (II)
Andrei AKULOV | 11.12.2013 | WORLD

Joe Biden Wraps-up Asia-Pacific Trip: Rebalancing Policy Going Strong (II)

Part I

What US rebalancing is about

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is the centerpiece of America’s economic rebalance to Asia. The US and its future TPP partners had set a deadline of the end of 2013 for reaching agreement on the text of the treaty. There are no signs that this deadline will be met. ASEAN is likely to be preoccupied next year with putting all the pieces in place to launch its free trade zone by the beginning of 2015. The best-case scenario for the TPP at this point is that the draft text is finalized in time for President Obama’s trip to the region in April, and that the White House can get a lame duck Congress to ratify it after the November elections. To that end, Biden called on Asian countries to open their economies, drop trade barriers, create opportunities for women and cooperate on environmental protection. He called for Asia to adopt a single set of rules to govern relations between nations in a neighborhood where many of the most powerful nations are bitterly feuding. The Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP) excludes China and Russia no matter they are the biggest economies in the region. «With this growth have come new tensions, above and beyond the enduring threats that we face», Biden said. «The rules and norms that help advance security and prosperity are still evolving to keep pace with the remarkable changes of the 21st century».

The US economic goals are strongly supported by military efforts

The Second Island Chain is a series of island groups stretching from northern Japan to the Bonin and Marianas islands. The island of Saipan will be reconstructed as a military base to build a «divert airfield» on an old World War Two airbase there in case of a potential missile attack by the People’s Liberation Army over the Chain, according to John Reed, a US military analyst, in an article written for the website of the Foreign Policy magazine. It will be able to accommodate cargo, fighter, and tanker aircraft along with up to 700 support personnel. According to Reed, it is the second defense line of the United States to prevent the expansion of China’s maritime power in the Eastern Pacific after the First Island Chain, which extends from Alaska to the Philippines. Meanwhile, Guam is currently the most important US military base in the Western Pacific with the Apra Harbor and Andersen Air Force Base. If a conflict were occur, China would likely attack the naval base at Guam with its newly developed DF-21D anti-shipping missiles, Reed said. He added that other islands within the area such as Saipan and Tinian should be used as support bases to the US Air Force and Navy under the Pentagon’s Air-Sea Battle concept. He said that if the main base at Guam is destroyed, the US can still disperse its force into those small, bare bones bases in the Pacific. Saipan’s new air force base will be used for periodic divert landings, joint military exercises, and joint and combined humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts, according to US Air Force documents.

According to Island Business, the United States has other plans that involve setting up live-fire training ranges and divert airfield on tiny islands in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). The U.S. Department of Defense is proposing to increase its joint military training capabilities by developing live-fire ranges and training areas on Tinian and Pagan, some three-quarters of the way between Hawaii and the Philippines. Tinian and Pagan’s use will address the U.S. military’s unit-level and combined-level training deficiencies in the Western Pacific. Training areas in Guam, also a U.S. territory, are already being used to capacity. The U.S. Air Force is also planning to build a «divert» or alternative airfield on Saipan, CNMI’s capital island. This will be used in case the U.S. military’s main bases in Guam, for example, cannot be accessed such as when they are targeted by the enemy’s ballistic missiles. Tiny island as ‘target’ Pagan, a beautiful 10-mile long and up to 4-mile wide island and an ancient home to Chamorro people, would be used for «live fire training» if the military plan pans out. Pagan’s beaches could also support amphibious operations training. Some environmentalists fear the tiny island of Pagan would become uninhabitable - not because of the volcanic activity there that forced residents to flee the island but because of damage caused by bombs, rockets and torpedoes.

In the CNMI, the U.S. military has already been using another tiny island called Farallon de Mendinilla or FDM for live fire training since 1976, pursuant to a lease agreement between the U.S. and CNMI governments. The lease is for 50 years with a possible 50-year extension. And a proposal to increase restricted areas surrounding FDM is already sounding the alarm. 

2,500 Marines are to be deployed to Australia by 2016. According to the DOD strategic guidance of January 2012 the Pentagon is shifting weapons like the B-1 and B-52 long-range bombers, MV-22 Ospreys and Global Hawk drones to the Pacific from the Middle East and Southwest Asia as the war in Afghanistan winds down. The four US littoral combat ships have started their rotational deployment to Singapore. According to stated plans, the US will have 60 percent of its ships in the Pacific and 40 percent in the Atlantic by 2020, compared with the current 50-50 split, including six aircraft carriers and a majority of the US Navy’s cruisers, destroyers, submarines and littoral combat ships. According to the year-old Sea Change: The Navy Pivots to Asia published by Foreign Policy report (CNO, Foreign Policy «Sea Change») «the Navy will build on its longstanding Asia-Pacific focus in four main ways; deploying more forces to Asia-Pacific; basing more ships and aircraft in the region; fielding new capabilities focused on Asia-Pacific challenges; and developing partnerships and intellectual capital across the region». According to it, the day-by-day presence in the region is to be increased by 20 %. The first naval aviation F-35C squadron will be assigned to the Japan air wing. Along with the increase in forces, the Navy plans to establish a headquarters in Singapore. 

Since the past year, the Obama administration has stepped up talks with the Philippines about expanding the US military presence there, including more frequent visits by US warships. More than 100 U.S. planes stop over each month at Clark-field, the former U.S. base located between Manila and Subic. The US also has its eye on Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay, an important deep water port. 

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The Asia-Pacific is the region of political shifting and emerging new alliances, fight for clout, naval arms race and contingency planning. While the world attention is diverted to the Middle East, the Asia-Pacific is becoming a volatile region with uncertain security prospects. The region’s agenda encompasses a wide range of economic and security issues which are intertwined and should be addressed without delay. The military buildup may undo all the progress of the entire region. Diplomacy is the way for resolution of disputes. It is necessary to evade confrontation in the Pacific and to avoid the reestablishing of military bloc security system endorsed by the USA. Excluding Russia and China from TPP and outright taking sides in the local brewing conflicts undermines the regional stability. The rivalry for resources, protection of economic interests are the issues to be solved with the help of comprehensive table discussions, not forming blocs and spurring naval race. The practically dormant, smoldering territorial disputes all of a sudden intensified after Washington announced its new strategy envisaging the «rebalance to Asia».

Tags: Asia-Pacific  China  US  Biden