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  • Maritime Security in Southeast Asia:Two Cheers for Regional Cooperation
  • Ian Storey (bio)

It would be difficult to overstate the geostrategic and economic importance of Southeast Asia's maritime domains. The sea lanes of communication (SLOCs) that criss-cross and pass through Southeast Asia function as vital arteries of world trade. Southeast Asian SLOCs have been instrumental in the success of the ASEAN countries' export-led economic growth, while countless maritime communities dotted across the region continue to depend on the sea for their livelihoods. Further north, the economic powerhouses of Northeast Asia —Japan, the People's Republic of China (PRC) and South Korea —rely on Southeast Asian SLOCs for the safe passage of 80–90 per cent of their energy supplies from the Middle East and Africa, and as conduits for transporting their manufactured goods to other parts of Asia, Europe and beyond. For the world's Great Powers, especially the United States and Japan, but increasingly China and India, Southeast Asia's SLOCs and maritime chokepoints such as the Malacca, Sunda and Lombok-Makassar Straits have strategic value beyond measure, linking as they do Northeast Asia and the Western Pacific with the Indian Ocean.

Over the past several decades, globalization contributed to a phenomenal increase in the volume of seaborne trade: in 2007, 8.02 billion tonnes of goods were moved by sea, up from 6.27 billion in 2000 and 2.6 billion in 1970.1 The dynamic economies of Asia accounted for much of this growth: in 2007 Asia took the lion's share, accounting for 40 per cent of loaded goods, followed by the Americas (23 per cent), Europe (18 per cent), Africa (10 per cent) and Oceania (9 per cent).2 Of the world's 20 busiest ports in 2005, 15 were located in Asia; [End Page 36] and of the 20 busiest container terminals 13 were in Asia, including seven in the PRC alone.3 China's spectacular economic growth since the late 1970s has been a major, if not the primary, driver of maritime trade expansion, forcing the global shipping industry to struggle to keep pace with demand for vessels to carry raw materials into China and transport Chinese-manufactured goods to overseas markets.

The global shipping market, however, is notoriously prone to boom-and-bust cycles, and the international economic crisis that unfolded in 2008 seems set to bring an end to the current period of unprecedented maritime growth. As the recession bites hard in the United States and Europe, demand for Asia's manufactured goods has slowed, forcing countries like China to slash commodity imports. The global shipping industry, which had until recently complained of a shortage of vessels of all kinds, now faces excess capacity. The industry's bellwether, the Baltic Exchange Dry Index which tracks sea freight prices of major commodities, plunged 87 per cent between May and October 2008, hitting a five-year low.4 Container traffic at Asian ports is slowing, putting expansion plans on hold, while the world's three biggest shipbuilders, South Korea, China and Japan, find themselves faced with shrinking order books. At the time of writing it is impossible to predict whether the global economic downturn will be deep and prolonged or deep but short-lived. Nevertheless, even if the downturn is protracted, Southeast Asia's SLOCs will continue to hold their economic and strategic value until the inevitable recovery leads to the next upsurge in global maritime commerce.

Maritime security in Southeast Asia has attracted a great deal of attention from scholars, analysts and journalists over the past decade, and especially since the Al Qaeda attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001 (9/11). Salient issues under examination include incidents of piracy and sea robbery, the threat of maritime terrorism, illegal trafficking in weapons, people and narcotics, territorial and maritime boundary disputes and the transit by sea of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In meeting these challenges the need for regional and international cooperation is paramount. The purpose of this chapter is to review progress and identify remaining problems in two main areas: the fight against piracy and sea robbery in Southeast Asia, and attempts to mitigate or resolve...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1793-9135
Print ISSN
0377-5437
Pages
pp. 36-58
Launched on MUSE
2010-01-23
Open Access
No
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