When President Obama met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in California last week, it is doubtful that either leader focused on the growing ties among countries like Singapore, India, South Korea and Vietnam. Perhaps they should have. Burgeoning security cooperation among such nations represents the untold story of a region on the move.
Asia has undergone decades of economic deepening, complemented by years of diplomatic integration. Now, countries across the region are building on this foundation and engaging in unprecedented forms of military cooperation. In many cases these deepening ties include neither the United States nor China, and they are supplementing the traditional U.S.-led “hub and spoke” system of alliances that has marked regional security for decades.
This emerging power web will have deep implications across the Indo-Pacific region. It should also affect American strategy – because, played correctly, the United States is poised to be a leading beneficiary of the growing network of relationships.
The network is marked by a proliferation of government-to-government security agreements, including recent pacts inked between Singapore and Vietnam, Japan and Australia, and India and South Korea. Variable in scope, these accords promote the ability of Asian nations to train and operate together, conduct joint research and development, and service each other’s ships and aircraft. To be sure, these are not mutual defense treaties, but they point to ever-closer military cooperation among key countries in the region.