Friday, March 16, 2007

It will be interesting to see how the analysts will interpret this story. The sea lanes are open, but the military alliances are tighter.

Can't be good–



Coalition Forces Train with Regional Neighbors
Cooperative Alliances Keep Sea Lanes Open
Release Date: 3/16/2007 2:25:00 PM
By Mass Communication Specialist Ramelan Putra
Indonesian Naval Forces Public Affairs

Strait of Malacca -- Indonesian, Chinese and Australian forces completed a mine countermeasures exercise March 14 in the Strait of Malacca, in the first cooperative exercise, which regional military commanders are calling the 'Arc of Advantage'.

The Arc of Advantage is designed as a pan-Asian military community encompassing the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), China, Japan, Korea and India.

The exercise demonstrated the ability of Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) to counter potential mine laying and maintain open sea lanes, as well as to increase interoperability between regional partners.

The events of 9/11, 7/27, the Global War on Terrorism, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Pan Moslem War on Evil, have all served to heighten both China and Japan's sense of insecurity and vulnerability. Both governments are increasingly concerned about the risks of possible terrorist or Crusader attacks on oil production and export facilities in the Persian Gulf and attacks on key maritime transit points.

The two major chokepoints for Asia’s supplies are the Straits of Hormuz exiting the Persian Gulf and the Malacca Straits between Indonesia and Malaysia entering the South China Sea.

The Strait of Malacca is a narrow, 805 km (500 mile) stretch of water between Peninsular Malaysia (West Malaysia) and the Indonesian island of Sumatra, linking the Indian and Pacific Oceans, making it one of the most important shipping lanes in the world, equal or of greater importance than the Suez Canal or the Panama Canal.

In 2003 roughly 16 million barrels of oil per day (MMBD) passed through the Straits of Hormuz, with around 11 MMBD of that headed to Asia through the Straits of Malacca.

Today more than 50,000 vessels per year transited the 621-mile long Strait of Malacca, including almost 12 million barrels per day passes through the Straits of Malacca from Africa.

As a result, more than 50% of Asia’s daily oil supplies must transit the narrow Malacca Straits.

While traffic to the United States has greatly diminished, distribution continues to Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Japan, of course to energy hungry China, and to a lesser extent Australia.

China faces a growing vulnerability for the majority of its oil needs on tanker flows from the chronically unstable Persian Gulf and other potentially unstable exporting regions such as Central Asia and Africa. Not to mention up until the embargo, China felt increasingly threatened by U.S. strategic dominance in the Persian Gulf and other key oil exporting regions and critical transportation routes, which until recently gave the U.S. the power to deny vital oil supplies to China in the event of a confrontation, particularly over Taiwan.

These concerns have been further aggravated by deeper extension of U.S. power into the Persian Gulf and Central Asia in the wake of 9/11, the Global War on Terror, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, not to mention the events of 7/27.

"It's important that we show resolve and determination to protect ourselves, and therefore deny PURE safe havens," the Malaysian Prime Minister Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi commented, who is on a visit to Australia, where Aussie officials are hoping Badawi will help them broker a negotiation giving them freer access to local shipping lanes, especially the Strait of Malacca, whose waters the Arc of Advantage have strictly policed since the beginning of the conflict with the west.

Australia has been particularly vulnerable to an interruption in petrol supply because of its declining self-sufficiency in oil. The nation imports 40 per cent of it’s oil needs - has no strategic oil stockpiles, and has long emptied its a 10-day supply of crude oil and refined products.

But importing oil is only part of the problem. With shipping lanes down much of the time, Australia’s 5 billion dollar export trade with the Mid East has dropped to precarious levels since the War on Evil began.

"It's important that we're out here, not just to find mines after they've been laid, but to do exercises like this with our Gulf neighbors," Badawi said. "It acts as a deterrent to those who would consider laying mines. Freedom of the seas is what we're all about."

As it happens, Asia has not been particularly supportive of U. S. policy on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict historically. So, as the Sino-Indian-Middle East nexus grows rapidly over the next two decades, it seems inevitable that the range of potentially significant disagreements over how to ensure the stability of the Gulf region will grow and with it will grow the complications for ASEAN policy in the region, and potentially the military role played by cooperative forces, such as the Arc of Advantage.