05/26/2015, 00.00
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Southeast Asia: billions of dollars in weapons to counter the threat from China

Over the past 15 years, defence spending by ASEAN nations has gone up more than three folds. By 2020, it should reach US$ 52 billion, especially in naval procurement. As tensions in the South China Sea rise, Southeast Asian nations buy submarines, amphibious craft and corvettes.

Singapore (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Southeast Asian nations are getting into an arms race, with spending centred on their navies and coastguards, this according to IHS Janes Defence Weekly.

Defence spending by members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and the Philippines – has steadily increased in the past few years and is expected to increase even more over the next decade. This year, it is projected to reach US$ 42 billion.

According to data provided by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), military expenditures in Southeast Asia, except for Myanmar and Brunei Darussalam, were US$ 14.4 billion collectively in 2004 and should reach an estimated billion by 2020.

Much of the spending will go into naval procurement because of rising tensions in the South China Sea, where Beijing is building military bases on artificial islands and through which US$ 5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.

Although the latest economic downturn has somewhat reduced military budgets, except for Singapore, the region’s economic boom over the past two decades has allowed for rising defence spending.

For instance, Singapore has built six Formidable-class multi-role frigates in partnership with France’s state-controlled naval contractor DCNS. Similarly, Malaysia has ordered six corvettes worth around 9 billion ringgit (.50 billion) from DCNS.

Vietnam has taken possession of three Russian-built Kilo-attack submarines and has three more on order, something experts say underscores Hanoi’s determination to counter China’s more powerful navy.

Singapore, which has four second-hand submarines, has ordered two from Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems. Indonesia has ordered three from South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding (042660.KS).

“Submarine force development suggests the navies are wary of maritime power projection capabilities in the region,” said Rukmani Gupta, senior armed forces analyst at IHS Janes.

The Philippines hopes to get by year-end the first of ten coastguard vessels Japan is building for it. Japan is also supplying used navy patrol boats to Vietnam.

“As Southeast Asian navies add new capabilities for warfighting, any future conflict in the region is likely to be faster, more intense and more lethal, and therefore perhaps more devastating,” wrote in a research paper Richard Bitzinger, a security expert at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

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