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(September 6, 2019) ASEAN militaries between US, China

The inaugural Asean-United States Maritime Exercise (AUMX) this week has sent ripples far and wide to the shores of regional states from Beijing and Tokyo to New Delhi. Hosted by Thailand at its Sattahip naval base in Chon Buri province, the first AUMX comes nearly a year after Asean held a similar maritime drill with China off the coast of Guangdong province. At issue is the intensifying rivalry between the US and China on the one hand and Asean's centrality and geopolitical balance between the two superpowers on the other. Several implications are discernible.

First, the nature of geostrategic rivalry and military preparedness is shifting from land to sea, placing more emphasis on maritime security. Although it is a continental country and with a large army, the US is known as a maritime superpower. Its claim to global preeminence is attributable to its military might at sea and its ability to project power in far-flung parts of the world, thanks partly to having more than a dozen aircraft carriers. Traditionally a land power, China has had to develop a blue-water navy that can operate and engage as far as Africa, the Middle East, and the Antarctic. Its carrier groups are expanding, although still nowhere near the capacity and capability of its American rival.