Arms race: Southeast Asian nations rush to keep up with China

The buying spree is set to continue, with reports that Vietnam has agreed to pay $2.4 billion for six Russian Kilo-class submarines and a dozen Su-30MKK jet fighters equipped for maritime warfare. This is in addition to Australia’s stated commitment to buy or build nine more submarines and bolster its air force with 100 U.S.-built F-35s. Malaysia has also paid more than $1 billion for two diesel submarines from France, and Indonesia has recently announced that it, too, will acquire new submarines.

Concerns in Southeast Asia about China’s rise were on display in Hanoi in mid-July during a regional security forum that included the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the United States, China and other Asian powers. During the meeting, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for the first time effectively rejected China’s claims to sovereignty over the whole 1.3 million-square-mile sea. Eleven other nations, led by Vietnam, backed the United States, leaving Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi noticeably shaken by the offensive, diplomats present said…

“Rather than using the rise of China as a strategic counterweight to American primacy,” concluded a report by Australia’s Lowy Institute for International Policy this year, “most countries in Asia seem to be quietly bandwagoning with the United States to balance against China’s future power potential.”