The Future Relations of the U.S. and Singapore in the Strategic Development of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore

Introduction

        The Straits of Malacca and Singapore (referred to henceforth as the Malacca Straits) is one of the most important shipping waterways in the world from both an economic and a strategic perspective. Its strategic importance lies in linking the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, is the shortest, cheapest and most convenient sea route between the Middle East and growing Asian markets compared to the Indonesia’s Macassar and Lombok Straits. The Straits are distinguished by the fact that there are three littoral states, namely, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. One could include Thailand as one of the littoral states because it borders the Straits near its northern entrance, but Thailand is not strictly within the main body of the Straits. As the Straits are only 2.8 km wide at its narrowest point, it forms some of the world's significant traffic bottlenecks.

        Every year, billions of Dollars worth of goods and services pass through the region formed by the Straits of Malacca. It is a great opportunities for the economic and social development of the littoral states. For Singapore, more than either Indonesia or Malaysia, the Strait of Malacca is her lifeline for trade, food supply and other material needs. The Straits engulf the entire state and the country is literally in the Straits.

 

The Geopolitics

        The Straits of Malacca started to develop more forcefully with economic growth and development in the 1980s. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 added to the strategic importance of the Malacca Straits, since the most direct route for ships coming from the Arabian Sea would be through the Malacca Straits rather than the Sunda Straits further south. For China, Japan and all of the East Asian economically emerging states, their dependence on the Middle East for oil will also mean that the Malacca Straits, to the extent that they constitute the shortest and cheapest route between these nations and the all-important source of energy in the Middle East, will be of high strategic importance.

        Every year, billions of Euros worth of goods and services pass through the region formed by the Straits of Malacca. It is a great opportunities for the economic and social development of the littoral states. For Singapore, more than either Indonesia or Malaysia, the Strait of Malacca is her lifeline for trade, food supply and other material needs. The Straits engulf the entire state and the country is literally in the Straits.

         In the report of the U.S. Energy Information Administration, by volume of global seaborne oil transportation, the Straits of Hormuz, leading out of the Persian Gulf, and the Straits of Malacca, linking the Indian and Pacific Oceans, are the world's most important strategic chokepoints.

         The Straits of Malacca is also an important transit route for liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Persian Gulf and African suppliers, particularly Qatar, to East Asian countries with growing LNG demand. The biggest importers of LNG in the region are Japan and South Korea.

         The idea that the Straits could be closed or shipping stopped by a hostile power has long occupied the minds and plans of politicians and military chiefs among the world’s great trading powers, while the United States does not have a permanent Naval presence here, it has a number of aircraft carriers in the region and retains strong relations with Singapore as well as its neighbors.

        When president Barack Obama entered office at a particularly difficult time in 2009, the emerging narrative in the Asia-Pacific region was one of American lack of strategic focus and decline. American engagement with the Asia-Pacific region is premised on a desire for a peaceful, stable and economically prosperous region – a vision shared with America’s Asian partners.

         By utilizing ‘forward deployed diplomacy’ as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it, the United States has sought to provide reassurance of its lasting commitment in order to cultivate an open, fair, stable and predictable political, economic, and security operating environment across a vast region spanning from India to the United States. From friends in Asia, the United States seeks nothing less than their active commitment to building and sustaining this effort on all fronts, so that all countries in the Asia-Pacific region play their part in finding and implementing solutions to shared regional and global challenges.

         The legacy of the Cold War left the United States defense presence in the region overleveraged in North-east Asia while there were greater demands for joint training, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief from countries in South-east Asia. In broadening its defense engagement, the United States is responding to a demand signal from countries in the region seeking greater opportunities to train, exercise and interact with the US military. Regrettably, the military component of the pivot rebalance has frequently been overemphasized and characterized as the driver of US policy.      

        Marine deployments to Darwin in northern Australia and US littoral ship presence in Singapore are often more tangible and easier-to-report-on examples of increasing US presence in Asia than senior and mid-level participation in scores of bilateral and multilateral meetings or support for development projects throughout the region. US security engagement in Asia would not be possible if it was not embedded in a much broader national agenda including diplomacy, trade, development, values and multilateral institutions.

        Beijing also retains good relations with the Singapore, which has a majority ethnically Chinese population, helping to cement ties between the two. The Straits of Malacca is the Achilles heel of China. Approximately 80% of Chinese oil imports pass through the Straits as well as major freight trade. In order to breakthrough its plight, China is currently developing her relationship with Thailand through the exploitation of the Kra Canal also know as Orient Panama Canal, which is estimated to reduce the shipping time and save one hundred and eighty thousand pound per trip without going through the Strait of Malacca.

 

The Future Relations of the U.S. and Singapore

        When president Barack Obama entered office at a particularly difficult time in 2009, the emerging narrative in the Asia-Pacific region was one of American lack of strategic focus and decline. American engagement with the Asia-Pacific region is premised on a desire for a peaceful, stable and economically prosperous region – a vision shared with America’s Asian partners. In order to more effectively control the Strait of Malacca, America should firstly strengthen the modernization of Singapore's Changi Naval Base.

        By utilizing ‘forward deployed diplomacy’ as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it in 2011, the United States has sought to provide reassurance of its lasting commitment in order to cultivate an open, fair, stable and predictable political, economic, and security operating environment across a vast region spanning from India to the United States. From friends in Asia, the United States seeks nothing less than their active commitment to building and sustaining this effort on all fronts, so that all countries in the Asia-Pacific region play their part in finding and implementing solutions to shared regional and global challenges.

        The legacy of the Cold War left the United States defense presence in the region overleveraged in North-east Asia while there were greater demands for joint training, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief from countries in South-east Asia. In broadening its defense engagement, the United States is responding to a demand signal from countries in the region seeking greater opportunities to train, exercise and interact with the US military. Regrettably, the military component of the pivot rebalance has frequently been overemphasized and characterized as the driver of US policy. 

        Marine deployments to Darwin in northern Australia and US littoral ship presence in Singapore are often more tangible and easier-to-report-on examples of increasing US presence in Asia than senior and mid-level participation in scores of bilateral and multilateral meetings or support for development projects throughout the region. US security engagement in Asia would not be possible if it was not embedded in a much broader national agenda including diplomacy, trade, development, values and multilateral institutions. 

        When Singapore’s navy made a warning of a terrorist threat in the Malacca Straits in 2010, it has again highlighted the issue of who is in charge of security in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. The strait is a vital sea-lane for the U.S. Navy, which sent warships to Taiwan via the Malacca Strait at a time of heightened tensions between China and Taiwan in 1996. Although the three littoral states, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, have asserted their sole right to maintain security in the Malacca Strait, Australia, India, Japan, the United States and China have all offered military assistance at various times.

        The Malacca Strait has been infested with pirates for centuries, but since the 911-suicide airliner attacks the security focus has switched to terrorism. The ability of Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia to ensure security in a waterway of such geopolitical importance has been complicated by their own competing territorial claims and rivalries.

        All three countries, for instance, have had territorial disputes over islands and waters that have wound up in court or in naval confrontations. Worries about territorial sovereignty have made hot pursuit in the strait problematic. The three countries conduct joint patrols under the Malacca Straits Coordinated Patrol established in July 2004. But joint patrols are not the same as combined patrols and have proven difficult to coordinate. However, with the rising forces of Isis, the regions near the Strait of Malacca have several hot spots that can be used to spread the Isis ideology. The three countries must have to face solemnly to prevent the possible damage to their own sovereignty. 

        The United States, after pronouncing Southeast Asia a “second front in the war on terrorism” in 2002, tried to increase its naval presence in the region. Malaysia and Indonesia swiftly shot down that idea. Two years later, Washington proposed the Regional Maritime Security Initiative, which would have involved joint patrols including putting U.S. Special Forces on high-speed boats. Again Indonesia and Malaysia vetoed the presence of foreign forces in the strait and a diluted version of the idea was adopted instead.

        Southeast Asian countries are, if anything, even more suspicious of a Chinese military presence in the region. One of the rationales for keeping security confined to the littoral states is to keep the strait from becoming a big power flashpoint.

        The Straits of Malacca face multiple security issues that affect the three littoral states and the Straits’ user nations. In fact, its geographical position makes it not only valuable to the states that border the waterway, but also an intensely critical region for foreign countries dependent on trade passing between Indian Oceans and the Pacific.

        Security of these sea-lanes is therefore of paramount importance for state actors and should be galvanized on numerous levels. Firstly, it is essential for Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore to gather national and international resources and implement ways to combat the multitude of threats facing the Straits of Malacca. Secondly, extra-regional actors should cooperate with nations in the region in various capacities to ensure that global trade is not adversely affected. Similarly, extra-regional actors can play a role in ensuring that the root causes of these problems are treated effectively. Lastly, shipping companies, non-governmental organizations, and other non-state actors with a stake in the Straits should band together and assist their home governments in fostering greater security.

        Although state capacities differ greatly in some respects, it is still crucial for all actors involved to come together and discuss what can be done to secure the Straits of Malacca. Though incidences of piracy and prominent terrorist activity have largely diminished in the past few years, it is still important to acknowledge their persistence and decide upon ways to combat these and other security problems directly.

         Recently, as China precedes calling for the accelerating the One Belt One Road Initiative, a Chinese framework for organizing multinational economic development through two component plans, and the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank that will both bound to hit the United States Pacific rebalancing strategy.

        If the American presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, won the election in 2016, United States will likely take a more active role in the Asia Pacific Strategy according to her tough style when she served as secretary of state. According to the strategic of pivot to Asia, the United States will keep increasing its bilateral security alliance with Singapore and deepen mutual relationship through expanding trade and investment, and building extensive military presence around the Strait of Malacca for the purposes of the containment of the countries who may have chances to become a revisionist power thereby affecting the interests of this region of the United States.

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