Monday, 4 June 2012

Base-Less Rumours

Our airwaves have been full recently of the USA's claims that it is now making the Asia region its 'pivot'. At first, as the radio volume was down, I thought the announcer said 'divot', which is a term used by golfers to describe the clump of grass hefted from a large hole they had inadvertently dug in a pristine fairway.

Come to think about it, 'divot' is probably fitting as having extracted itself from a large hole of its own making in the Middle East it is now seeking to fill in another in the Asia Pacific region.

It is only now with the re-emergence of China as an international power and the USA heading towards energy self sufficiency that  North America has shifted its focus; forgive my cynicism but it wasn't that enthusiastic about engaging in recent times and when encouraged to by countries in the region. It is only now when it perceives China as a threat to its own supremacy that it has shifted focus.

Hot on the heels of this announcement has come another stating that there will now be four littoral combat warships posted in Singapore not the one that had been 'based' there.  It begs the questions of when is a military base not a military base?  Four ships with all of their supporting personnel sure looks like a military base to me.

Not surprisingly China has not been too enamoured by this development although so far their reaction has been measured, with its spokesman telling a forum in Singapore that "I believe that this is the United States' response to its own national interests, its fiscal difficulties and global security developments".

So are such enhanced alliances good for Singapore?  In a global strategic and financial sense probably yes, with many becoming more than a little concerned about the growing Chinese fleet and its territorial spats with its neighbours further north.

But Singapore will also not wish to alienate China; it is a delicate diplomatic line that it must tread to avoid doing so.  Such strategic considerations are not new for the country positioned as it is between much larger neighbours who in the past have been belligerent.  It is the ASEAN way to agree to disagree but not interfere in the sovereign rights of others. Bruma being a very recent example.

And 'sovereigns' are also top of mind at the moment as Queen Elizabeth kicks of the 60th Anniversary of her reign. In former colonies such as New Zealand, the event is muted but acknowledged.  Some suggest that the millions of pounds spent on the Thames flotilla and other entertainments would be better spent on reducing poverty but this seems like sour grapes.  Sixty years on the throne is quite an achievement and I am old enough to remember standing with my primary school friends, waving a Union Jack during her first visit to NZ as monarch, in 1953.

Not that we can expect a royal flotilla being moored in the Singapore River.  The only foreign flotilla moored offshore is likely to remain that of the Americans.

One of the most viewed images of the Royal Thames Pageant
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