ASEAN: Greater Eurasia Scenarios
The world’s longest-running civil war is finally nearing its end, with most affected parties deciding that now is the time to sit down and talk about a federal solution to the conflict. Named after the 1947 conference that paved the way for (then-)Burmese statehood, this forthcoming gathering is expected to be a long and grueling affair whereby many conflicting interest groups will clash over their desired vision for the country’s future. Different short-term political relationships will probably sprout up between the central government and the many rebel factions, but all of these will be transient and ever-changing.
As Myanmar decentralizes into an Identity Federation, it’ll become an even greater center of competition between the vying Great Powers, with each of the interested parties trying to use one or another statelet or coalition thereof to their strategic advantage. The key factor to monitor during this devolution process is the role that the national military will have, and whether each future federal entity will have their own armed forces and extensive economic-political sovereignty to go along with it. It should go without saying that a new round of civil war might unexpectedly explode in Myanmar as a result of these many internal contradictions and international competitions.
Nagalim Causes Problems With New Delhi
The cross-border Naga community that straddles the space between India and Myanmar has already caused New Delhi to order at least one semi-covert raid into its neighbor, but as Myanmar devolves and Indian-focused Naga separatist groups become more emboldened with de-facto or de-jure autonomy (whether between themselves and the central Naypyidaw government or the Sagaing State in which they reside), there’s a likelihood that they’ll also become more militantly assertive and accordingly trigger more Indian cross-border interventions.
Myanmar will be pressed to act against the insurgents, but the central authorities might not want to jeopardize the fragile peace that’s settled over the country during or immediately after the tense federal negotiations, which would amount to the Nagas essentially having a free hand to do as they please along the borderland region. Faced with the prospect of its neighbor’s territory turning into a large-scale safe haven for Naga and eventually even all other sorts of Northeastern insurgents, India might carry out a sustained intervention in Myanmar like the one that Turkey is presently conducting in northern Syria, with similarly unpredictable and far-reaching consequences.
A Federation Within A Federation
Identity-diverse Shan State used to have an internal federal arrangement in the past, and as the whole country returns to a federal form of government sometime in the future, this will likely come back to the fore of the region’s politics. The reason why it’s being specifically mentioned is because it will cause a very complex and conflict-prone political situation, whereby the already convoluted “Myanmar Federation” would contain an equally divisive “Shan Federation” within its ranks as a constitutive entity. The reason why this is likely to create problems is because the checkerboard of statelet competition within Myanmar could be transplanted to a micro-level within Shan State, an area that is resource-rich and a crucial transit corridor for China’s oil and gas pipelines and any prospective railroad to the Bay of Bengal.
Kachin Clinches Independence
The northern Kachin State has been fighting for independence for decades, and it would be a geopolitically game-changing event if ever achieves this either de-jure or de-facto (such as in an Identity Federation with the rest of Myanmar). The fewer than two million people who inhabit this corner of the country aren’t much in comparison to their billion-plus neighbors, but they do have strategic resources that both India and China clearly envy. The jade, other mineral, and hydroelectric resources of this pivotally located entity could be sold for considerable profit to its neighbors provided that the local authorities are wise enough to take advantage of this to its full extent and the central Myanmar military loosens its stranglehold on the trade (possibly as part of the conditions for Identity Federalism and subsequent economic autonomy). If Naypyidaw’s grip on Kachin State slips, then this demographically tiny unit might become the next tug-of-war piece in the much larger Chinese-Indian Cold War, not least because of its location between both of these Asian giants.
Mandalay In The Middle
The centrally positioned city of Mandalay is among Myanmar’s most important, not just because of its size, location, and economic output, but because it lies at the juncture of China and India’s perpendicular integration projects through the country. India’s Trilateral Highway crosses through the town on its way to Thailand, while the Chinese oil and gas pipelines (and prospective rail route) come within very close proximity to it as well. This can be interpreted as meaning that Mandalay could either become a center of cooperation between Beijing and New Delhi or one of competition, with the latter being most likely in the event that the regional government because largely autonomous through any forthcoming federalized reorganization in the country and both sides scramble to woo its leaders and protect their investments there.
Rohinyaland As The South Asian Kosovo
The ethnic Bengalis inhabiting the northern part of Rakhine State have been referred to by the Western mainstream media as “Rohingya”, an invented identity term meant to justify their allegedly “autochthonous” history in northwestern Myanmar just as the word “Kosovar” was meant to do so with the Albanians in southwestern Yugoslavia/Serbia. The author expanded in a separate article about on how this could easily be abused by the West for geostrategic divide-and-rule gains under the marketed guise of a ‘humanitarian intervention’, but the general idea is that the media-driven plight of this community could be exploited to justify a unilateral US or multilateral US-led UN military presence in the strategic Bay of Bengal region.
If successful, then Washington would gain a prime spot from which it could indirectly influence India and China, to say nothing of directly affecting their infrastructure projects in the country as a whole. This secondary scenario becomes even more possible as Myanmar devolves into a federation, since the Rakhine State would be a constitutive unit, albeit potentially one with a complex internal composition if “Rohingyaland” is granted autonomy or federal status within this unit (on a more simpler scale than what might happen in Shan State). It should be mentioned that China’s oil and gas pipelines end in the Rakhine port of Kyaukpyu, and New Delhi is also investing in a SEZ in Sittwe to complement a future Myanmar-Bangaldesh-India pipeline, further underscoring just how strategic of a location this province is for regional geo-economics.
The Bamar Breakup
The ethnic Bamar are the largest demographic group in the country and inhabit the southern coastal region and the northern valleys, and even though they’re a pretty unified identity at the moment, the possibility exists for them to fracture along their historical north-south divisions into modern-day sub-state political recreations of the Ava and Hanthawaddy Kingdoms respectively. The catalyst for this would of course be Identity Federalism, and while it might make the most sense for each ethnic group to stay as unified as possible amidst this large-scale national reorganization, it can’t be fully guaranteed that the Bamar will heed this obvious advice and not fall victim to internal bickering and political divisions.
One of the causes for contention might obviously be regionalism, with northerners not wanting southerners to exercise influence over the Chinese-Indian trade nexus in Mandalay and nearby oil fields, while southerners might not want their northern counterparts to control their maritime and port activity. The division of the Bamar into two separate federal units would give more relative power to the peripheral provinces and ‘equalize’ the political arrangement in the country, though with the obvious result being that the “Myanmar Federation” could easily become ungovernable and mired in division without a decisive centrally positioned integrationist core (a unified Bamar state) to hold everything together.
Clash Of Civilizations
The three main religions of Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism are represented in ethno-territorially defined areas in Myanmar. Christians live among some of the Kachin, Shan, and many of the Karen along the north-northeastern-eastern periphery, Muslims can be found mostly in the Bengali (“Rohingya”) minority in Rakhine State and Buddhists roughly comprise the rest of the population. As of now there is no real reason to worry that each of these groups will clash in a Hobbesian manner, but the disturbing overlap of Islamic militancy with the Bengali (“Rohingya”) autonomy-separatist-irredentist struggle and rising Christian-related militancy in Kachin state portend negatively for this forecast, as do the visibly violent anti-government protests of the “Saffron Revolution” Buddhist monks. The intersection of extreme Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism might lead to a powder keg of conflict sometime in the future, with each region having its own particular ethno-religious identity and thus in a prime position for being manipulated by domestic demagogic actors and external ‘NGO’ or state forces.
The Chinese-Indian Military Intervention In Myanmar
With Beijing and New Delhi having similar yet separate interests in their mutual neighbor (e.g. keeping the country stable and unified, yet elbowing the other out for influence), there’s a chance that they might separately intervene in the country if it descends into the madness of all-out (civilizational) civil war and their respective grand strategic projects are endangered. Moreover, a significant push/pull factor would be if the conflict spills over into China’s Yunnan Province and India’s Northeastern ones, as well as if it has any significant destabilizing effect on Beijing and New Delhi’s partner in Bangkok (by means of the militarized Karen) and disrupts their projects there (the ASEAN Silk Road and Trilateral Highway).
In the event of an intervention, it would be most predictable for both Great Powers to make a dash for Mandalay, though that in and of itself can’t be entirely assured owing to the unpredictable and total unprecedented nature of this scenario. China and India might involve themselves in separate parts of the country too, with everything depending on the specifics of what the on-the-ground situation is and their individual motivations for getting directly involved. The main point to ponder though is whether such an operation would be coordinated between both sides as a trust-building measure or if the heated competition between the two leads to them trading blows inside of Myanmar as a prelude to a larger regional war.
Surrounded By Separatism
The Kingdom of Thailand might come off as a picturesque paradise of identity (but by no means, political) stability to many casual observers, but the reality is that the country is actually surrounded by separatist movements and tendencies. The author explored all of this in comprehensive detail in a previous article dedicated to the topic, but to summarize, the northeastern region of Isan is the stronghold of the “red shirt” pro-Shinawatra opposition, which aside from having a totally different political disposition, is also much more closely aligned to Lao culture, language, and history than “Thai”. In the south, a handful of border provinces have been the scene of a Muslim separatist campaign that peaked in the immediate years after 9/11. Lesser known and even less likely of a problem are the Karen along the western border with Myanmar and the Khmer along the Cambodian one, with these two posing no present threat but still representing identity variables that could be ‘played’ with by hostile forces to destabilize the military-led government and produce artificial conflicts with its neighbors.
Civil Turmoil In Thailand
The military-run authorities face mild resistance from “red shirt” supporters, but this could one day ratchet up to the level of outright Color Revolution violence and urban terrorism. Considering that the “red shirts’ are a political-regional group with sharp Lao cultural-historical influences separate from the traditional Thai ones of the central hinterland, this might end up being the spark for a larger conflict within the country. Not only would the Mekong and Chao Phraya identities of Thailand be clashing in their bid for supremacy in the country, but this would create space for the other peripheral ones to agitate for their own interests too, thus leading to a multisided civil war that would complicate India’s Trilateral Highway, Japan’s East-West Corridor, and China’s ASEAN Silk Road.
Strong State Or Flexible Federation?
Thailand has two distinct futures ahead of it – either retaining its nature as a strong, centrally driven and militarily protected state symbolically run by the figurehead royals or a loose decentralized or devolved country with no royal family and a weak military. The first option is more attuned to China’s interests, which seeks to shape the military-led state into a reliable regional and ASEAN ally that would safeguard the ASEAN Silk Road, while the US, India, and Japan want to weaken it for precisely these reasons and to take advantage of the situation for their own commercial-strategic ends. The onset of civil war in Thailand would put the country’s future at a crossroads, whereby a military victory would end up being advantageous to China while a “people’s protest” (Color Revolution) or peripheral rebel (such as in Myanmar) stalemate or overthrow would work out to the unipolar world’s interests.
If Thailand remains strong, then nothing too significant would change inside of its borders, but if it begins to fall apart into an Identity Federation, then each of the main constituent identity groups can be expected to carve out their own fiefdom and become the subject of intense Great Power competition. Identity Federations in both Myanmar and Thailand would lead to a new global ‘scramble’ similar in scale and sense to what was experienced in the 1880s with the European colonialists and Africa, except this time there would be a much smaller territory over which they’d all quarrel. The dissolution of both of these states into loosely held-together (con)federations would produce far-reaching and indefinite instability between each of their units, making this broad swath of territory a geopolitical tinderbox that could explode at any time. Unlike in the past, however, the more deeply invested that competing powers are in each of these statelets, the more likely it is that the region’s woes will be internationalized to the power of direct Great Power competition.
Laos: Landlocked Or Land-Linked, And For Better Or For Worse?
Vientiane markets itself as a land-linked state which can bring together all of the other mainland countries of ASEAN by providing a trade corridor between them and powering their economies with its vast hydroelectric potential. This is a positive vision that would be multilaterally beneficial if it were ever fully put into practice, but the tiny and little-known country is too geostrategically important to be left to its own devices and promote its policies without interference. The Cold War-era US-supported Hmong insurgency seems to have returned, with the killing of Chinese workers and attacks on military servicemen occurring after years of peace. The other dozens of ethnicities within the country might also be encouraged or provoked to take up weapons against the authorities, but this latter possibility shows no signs of being furthered at the moment (though it’s notoriously difficult to get reliable information out of the country and especially its rural areas).
The problem is that Laos’ centrally positioned location is both a gift and a curse – it could be a positive factor for the whole region if the country remains peaceful, stable, and integrated with each of its neighbors, but it would be a disaster if war were to break out there and Laos’ problems quickly spread beyond its borders. Being land-linked is therefore a beneficial factor if Laos has positive things to provide to the region such as a stable transit territory between the neighboring countries and vast hydroelectricity potential, but its neighbors would prefer for it to have been landlocked and contained if all that it’s spreading is negative energy and destabilization. Moreover, for as ambitious of a vision as it is for Laos to become the ‘battery of ASEAN’, it can only do this if its southern dams are completed as planned and the downstream affected states of Cambodia and Vietnam responsibly put aside their reservations and don’t team up to stop it (whether by diplomatic, covert, or military means).
Cambodia Crumbles Under Hybrid War…And Takes The Region With It?
The decades-long leadership of Premier Hun Sen in one capacity or another has created fertile opportunity for the US and its NGOs to help a Color Revolution grow in the Southeast Asian country. One of the poorest states in the world, albeit one which is rapidly modernizing, Cambodia cannot afford to have another civil conflict like the one which characterized the 1980s following the Vietnamese anti-Khmer Rouge military intervention. Even if the anti-government coup is swift, then that doesn’t mean that Cambodia is totally left off the hook, since the geopolitical consequences of a regime change in Phnom Penh would shake China’s ASEAN strategy to the core, depriving it of its only 100% reliable diplomatic partner in the bloc and opening the gates for consensual agreement against Beijing in the South China Sea.
The irony is that for as politically close as China and Cambodia are, they don’t have any physical mobility infrastructure connecting them (such as railroad) and rely mostly on maritime interactions, trade ties which vulnerably transit through the South China Sea. An overthrow of the Cambodian government would allow the US and Vietnam to exert differing degrees of hegemony over the country in tying it more solidly to the emerging ‘Chinese Containment Coalition’, but on the other hand, the imposition of a radical nationalist government along the lines of what some opposition members are suggesting could create a lightning of potential regional conflict as Cambodia militantly asserts itself against Thailand in a new border spat, Laos with its controversial dam projects, and Vietnam when it comes to the small Khmer borderland community in the country.
What’s important to keep in mind is that none of these envisioned conflicts are organic and ‘naturally occurring’ (except perhaps the Thai one, but the previous one was officially resolved in Cambodia’s favor by the ICJ), but that they’d be purposely manufactured for the maximum geostrategic effect dependent on the contours of the ongoing US-led regional asymmetrical war against China. Laos and Cambodia, because of their positions, are the best positions from which the US can simultaneously extend its influence throughout all of the ASEAN’s mainland members, whether it’s for unipolar integrative ends or destructive Hybrid War ones.
“Greater Vietnam” Returns
Vietnam held significant regional sway during the Cold War and directly entrenched its influence in its Indochinese neighbors of Laos and Cambodia, multidimensionally assisting the former through its invitation and doing the same to the latter after militarily intervening there to overthrow the Khmer Rouge. The combined effect was that the space of “Greater Vietnam” was created, not in the ethno-cultural sense, but in the sub-regional hegemonic one of Hanoi flexing its muscles as the paramount power in Laos and Cambodia. It’s been a few decades since the heyday of that time, but Vietnam is once more preparing to assert its influence towards its neighbors, with Laos being the most likely country to be targeted first.
The recent phased leadership shift in Vientiane has led to what some observers believe to be the ascent of a pro-Hanoi faction that’s suspicious of China, and while it’s highly dubious that they’d ever stop the ASEAN Silk Road, they might move a lot closer to Vietnam as a hedging strategy to avoid overdependence on China. Not only would this make Beijing and Hanoi rivals for Vientiane’s loyalty and transit state land-linked favors, but it might also give Vietnam the upper hand when it comes to Laos’ hydroelectric dispute with it and Cambodia. Vietnam might either seek to gain direct or indirect control over the project to stop it or use it as a bargaining chip in expanding its own influence over Cambodia. Pertaining to that, a proxy war between China and Vietnam might break out if Hanoi gains more authority over Laos and exploits its hydroelectric plans to provoke a conflict with Chinese-ally Cambodia.
Whether this materializes or not, the prospect of “Greater Vietnam” expanding into China’s new sphere of influence in Laos-Cambodia would diversify the rivalry between Hanoi and Beijing from its erstwhile maritime focus on the South China Sea and spread it to the mainland hinterland of Indochina. This could take pressure off of Vietnam by having Hanoi trick Beijing into diverting strategic attention and resources towards the jungled border instead, with China apprehensive that any destabilization there could spill over into Yunnan Province (which is already under pressure from Myanmar’s civil war). If China ‘loses’ Cambodia to Vietnam, then this would make it easier for the US and its allies to further isolate the Chinese-friendly military-led government in Thailand and procure strategic concessions from it vis-à-vis the China Containment Coalition and China’s ASEAN Silk Road plans.
Whether Vietnam asymmetrically advances in Laos (perhaps by staging a joint anti-Hmong mission with its historical ally amidst an American-backed flare-up in the border region) or Cambodia (through the aforementioned), the end result would be to intensify the pressure on China’s ASEAN Silk Road and complicate the strategic situation for the military authorities in Thailand per the scenarios previously described.
The ASEAN Silk Road
One of China’s chief geopolitical goals is to spearhead new trade routes circumventing the Strait of Malacca and tying the People’s Republic directly to the Indian Ocean. One such initiative is what the author has taken to calling the ASEAN Silk Road, which is officially the high-speed rail project from the Yunnan capital of Kunming to Singapore, with the potential for the Malaysian port of Kedah to function as an auxiliary to the island city-state in case the need arises (or even Thai ports such as Phuket, Kantang, and/or Krabi). China is therefore dependent on stability in Laos, Thailand, and Malaysia, though regretfully all three countries are under differing degrees of American Hybrid War pressure. This tempers China’s ambitions and presents a real challenge to their sustainable viability, but conversely, it also gives Beijing such a huge stake in these three countries that it is inevitably doing whatever it can to help stabilize them and enter into mutually beneficial full-spectrum partnerships with them. For as much attention as observers give to the South China Sea, they should also be focusing on the central corridor in mainland ASEAN (Laos-Thailand-Malaysia) since it’s here where the most tangible aspects of China’s regional diplomacy can be seen.
The Central ASEAN Corridor is notable for another reason as well, namely that it represents China’s secondary choice to Myanmar, through which it originally intended to have a $20 billion railroad to the port of Kyaukpyu parallel to its oil and gas pipelines. While that project might one day be revived if Beijing can play its cards right with Suu Kyi and she could correspondingly resist the US’ Hybrid War pressures against her if she made this fateful choice, it’s important at this point in time to evaluate the Central ASEAN Corridor as an alternative to Myanmar, though it might one day become a complementary route. Because of the geostrategic importance of this region as it corresponds to China’s grand vision of achieving mainland access to the Indian Ocean, it can easily be predicted that Hybrid War will reign as the ultimate disruptive tool in the future.
Also, because of the interlinked strategic utility of Myanmar-Laos-Thailand (or to simplify, the two larger countries of Myanmar and Thailand), it might be helpful to designate a new neologism for this part of ASEAN, just like how its eastern mainland half is popularly called “Indochina”. This might help with studying and conceptualizing this part of the world even more in the future and seeing connections which aren’t so readily visible upon first glance (such as the Identity Federalist threat in both Myanmar and Thailand and the resultant Great Power scramble for this space).
The Malaysian Middleman Gets Unbalanced
Malaysia is uniquely suited as both a mainland and maritime member of ASEAN, giving it the possibility of spread its influence along either geographic vector or set of organizational members, though it’s main vulnerability is that it’s beset with Hybrid War vulnerabilities which could complicate both of these. As it pertains to the mainland focus most immediately manifested by ties with Thailand, the southern Thai Muslim insurgency (sometimes marked by terrorism) is certainly a disruptive factor, and it could proceed according to any of three likely ways:
* the Muslim southern Thai provinces remain under Bangkok’s control, whether with their original status or future autonomous/federative rights;
* they become independent of Thailand and function as their own country;
* or they end up joining Malaysia.
Each scenario has its own benefits and detriments, though it appears that for now Kuala Lumpur has decided that it’s best for these provinces to remain under Bangkok’s control, though possibly with autonomy.
The other potentially disruptive scenario facing Malaysian geopolitics in the future is if Filipino non-state actors (whether terrorists or “Sulu irredentists”) invade the northeastern Borneo state of Sabah and precipitate either an asymmetrical or conventional war. This area has been historically claimed by the Philippines and could thaw into a regional problem if the ‘right’ circumstances and provocations allow, and it would severely hamper ASEAN unity if it returns as an issue in the future. Furthermore, because a significant Filipino illegal immigrant population already resides in the state, it could create a pretext for one actor or another (whether Manila, a ‘coalition of the willing’ led by the US, or the UN) to advance a ‘humanitarian intervention’ there.
The other possible scenarios in Malaysia are that a Color Revolution unseats its Western-leaning but Chinese-pragmatic government and replaces it with Malay nationalists that provoke conflicts in either of these two aforementioned trajectories, or that the ethnic Chinese population either becomes a victim of state destabilization or a manipulated agent that helps cause it. Should they fall victim to any violent Malay nationalism (whether unprovoked or in ‘retribution’ for something), then it would invite China to diplomatic get involved in the country’s affairs, thereby creating yet another diplomatic quagmire for Beijing in the South China Sea.
Singapore: From City-State To National Security State
Positioned in the middle of such a strategic waterway and ruled by a strict but effective secular leadership, Singapore is one of the world’s most well-known success stories, but this also has created a lot of envy among certain non-state actors who would love nothing more than to spoil its achievements. Although very safe by regional and global standards, recent reports that Islamic terrorists were caught scoping out the country from neighboring islands and areas are very alarming and show that Singapore is definitely on the hit list for some militant groups.
These are mostly regionally focused ones which come from Indonesia, hence why their threats and attempted attacks don’t typically make global headlines and most people from outside of ASEAN are unaware of them, but if they ever succeed in carrying out a high-profile attack, then it could shock Singapore into a major crisis, both because the new security fear could increase speculation of more attacks and consequently impact on the financially economy there, but also because it would trigger the national security state into action and dramatically change the way of life for its citizens.
Regarded as a socially free country by Western standards with attractive to expats from all across the world, if it was suddenly turned into an Israeli-like national security state that imposed broad restrictions on the population, then this could further contribute to the predicted economic crisis in the country and undercut its competitiveness and regional leadership. Singapore will never turn into a backwater wasteland simply because its geostrategic position is much too important to ever allow that to happen, but if a series of events took place which resulted in large-scale changes to the way of life there, then it might no longer be seen as the paradise that it once was and could backtrack on its decades’ worth of progress.
The world’s most populous Muslim country and one of the geographically largest in the world by total area (including maritime territory), Indonesia is crucially located at the junctures of the Indian and Pacific Oceans and essentially acts as the gatekeeper between them. It’s in everyone’s greatest interests for it to remain as stable as possible, but reality doesn’t always conform to expectations, and there are a lot of problems bubbling just barely blow the surface in this diverse archipelago. Whether they eventually materialize now while the island chain is still at the forefront of most of the world’s trade routes or they pop up after the Northern Sea Route in the Arctic makes them relatively less important than before, some of the following scenarios could have a serious impact on the country through which a considerable amount of the world’s trade traverses:
This remote northeastern part of the country has experienced Christian-Muslim and tribal clashes before in the aftermath of Suharto’s ouster, and it could again become a flashpoint if state control weakens or terrorist groups of both religions decide to renew their campaigns of hatred.
The northern tip of Sumatra already fought and partially won its own insurgency campaign, whereby it earned the right to implement strict Sharia law throughout its territory. The situation is peaceful for the time being, but if extremists gain control of influence here, it could turn into an internal terrorist hotbed that might precipitate another government intervention if local forces aren’t successful in ‘policing their own’, albeit one which could inadvertently restart the conflict.
The oddly shaped island in northeastern Indonesia has a mix of Christians and Muslims and was previously the scene of terrorist attacks by both sides. Most recently scattered groups of Islamist fighters have scoured through the island and carried out low-scale attacks, and even though the situation is presently under control, it might spiral into a cycle of chaos if terrorists regroup in its mountainous redoubts and decide to commence a serious insurgency.
The resource-rich western half of the island of New Guinea is considered by some Western and local activists to be “occupied territory” because of its separate colonial administrative status prior to incorporation into Indonesia. The state maintains a very firm grip on the provinces that make up this island and international media has tight restrictions on their activity, so it doesn’t seem that likely that foreign forces can interfere and disrupt the balance of power between the state and the natives to provoke a new insurgency. Nevertheless, the threat always remains, and this could easily become the next cause celebre that international superstars take up as their long-awaited replacement for Darfur.
East Indonesia vs West Indonesia:
There was a brief period of time at the tail end of the Dutch colonial period and the very beginning of Indonesian statehood where a ‘super province’ called “East Indonesia” was created in that part of the country as a means of keeping the unitary state perpetually divided along regional-religious lines. Although it was rapidly reincorporated into a centralist state, the scenario of regional-religious divisions will never fully go away simply due to Indonesia’s demographics, even if the geographic borders of these possible entities change with the identities of their people. If Christian islanders in the east decided to team up their Muslim counterparts and form their own sub-national or separatist state, then it could lead to a quick unraveling of Indonesia’s loose national identity and provoke a wider conflict.
Repeating The Lesson Of East Timor:
All of these above scenarios give rise to the foreseeability that foreign (Western) forces could try to manipulate the particular situation at hand in order to pressure Jakarta and create a pretext for the deployment of international forces under the flag of the UN or a US-led ‘coalition of the willing’ operating under presumed ‘humanitarian intervention’ pretexts. Whether the alleged charges of humanitarian violations are valid or trumped up, and no matter if they’re under the full realm of responsibility of the government or not, these scenario could be used as a tool for pressuring Indonesia to join the US-Australian-Japanese-Indian “China Containment Coalition” or punishing it for its resistant independence in choosing not to get involved.
Throwing Java Into Jeopardy:
The last of the possible Hybrid War scenarios that could develop in Indonesia is if the world’s most populated island of Java gets turned into the ultimate terrorist target. It’s already comparatively small by geographic means and correspondingly very densely populated, making it rife with countless soft targets. This is the core of the Indonesian state, and the government would have to instantly react if there was any large-scale attack in this area. However, the problem is that Java could be used as distracting ‘bait’ for keeping the government bogged down here in responding to a series of small attacks while a larger war rages elsewhere along the periphery, likely according to one of the aforementioned possibilities. It should also be started that due to Java’s global prominence and the ease with which multiple casualties can be created through even the most elementary of attacks on one of the countless soft targets on the island, a wave of terrorism here could generate significant international attention and grind the country to a halt.
The China Containment Coalition (CCC)
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue of US-Japan-Australia-India is expected to form the core of the China Containment Coalition (CCC), the incipient “Asian NATO” that’s rising to take on Beijing. The author wrote about this in-depth in an earlier article, but to concisely explain some of its other features, it’s projected that the Pentagon wants the Philippines and Vietnam to form the central regional ‘meeting space’ between the four main players. This could be manifested by both South China Sea states entering into a mutual defense agreement with the other and the CCC positioning forces in the Philippines as a “deterrent” (with the type, number, and quality depending on how much the domestic audiences in each member state would allow without significant criticism).
Then, if Vietnam provoked China into a naval clash, then this would trigger the Philippines into action, and by extent, the CCC to varying degrees. The CCC might not directly confront China with all of its firepower and would likely do so by supporting both of these newly allied states (Philippines and Vietnam) in the same way as NATO backs up Ukraine. The main goal would be for the CCC forces in the Philippines to ‘jump the pond’ to Indonchina and relocate some of their assets to Vietnam, especially if these could be naval and/or aerial. Ideally, Indonesia would somehow be brought on board in order to give the ASEAN portion of the CCC the ‘critical weight’ necessary to sustain itself and achieve ‘regional legitimacy’ in avoiding being labelled as a Western proxy organization.
Daesh Infests ASEAN
Unbeknownst to most of the world, Daesh has publicly threatened some of the ASEAN states and publicly lists part of their territory on its map of intended global conquests. There are a few likely places where the group may emerge alongside its regional allies to attempt to carve out a regional caliphate, and they can be collectively referred to as the Sulawesi-Mindanao-(Sulu) Arc.
Experts raised awareness about the possibility of a terrorist-pirate nexus being created along the underpoliced maritime border region between the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia back during the 2015 Shangri-La Dialogue, and this scenario presently seems most likely of them all to transpire. The author personally makes direct mentioning of the Sulu archipelago’s inclusion in this framework because of Daesh-affiliate Abu Sayyaf’s activity there, and remembering what was said about the Malaysian state of Sabah earlier, it might be that the terrorist-pirates try to link the island chain to northeastern Borneo in sparking an international crisis between the Philippines and Malaysia just as it did between Syria and Iraq during the summer invasions of 2014.
The most logical proactive prevention mechanism against this eventuality is multilateral naval cooperation between each of the three relevant states, which is already nascent at the moment but could use a lot more political willpower from all sides in order to be most effective. One of the speed brakes to deeper cooperation might be that the Philippines and Malaysia are unsure of Indonesia’s future motives and don’t want Jakarta getting too comfortable operating within or very close to their national waters, regardless if this is done multilaterally and towards the shared end of fighting terrorism. The worst thing that could happen for regional security would be if distrust between these three sides reaches an apex that culminates in maritime clashes or the threat thereof.
Finally, Daesh might sense an opening in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao when the Bangsamoro autonomous area is promulgated over part of it, perhaps seeking to turn it into the Philippine version of Indonesia’s sharia law-governed Aceh. Their regional affiliates might take advantage of the newfound decentralization to create more terrorist training camps, and these fighters might perversely be labelled as “democratic freedom fighters” by the US as it ramps up infowar pressure on Duterte to get him to stop the drug war and pivot away from China and back closer to the US, just like the CCC envisioned the Philippines to behave before the ‘dark horse’ populist politician seemingly cameo out of nowhere and spoiled these plans.
TPP Takes Over ASEAN
The US would like for TPP to eventually cover all of ASEAN, but it can’t do this without Indonesia first agreeing to its terms. Jakarta probably won’t make any decision in this direction until after the treaty’s promulgation and it being in practice for at least a couple of years. A proxy battle of soft power and economic influence is looming between China and the US over Indonesia, with Beijing having to fight to keep the island giant out of the US’ institutional clutches, while Washington will do whatever it can to rope in its target in order to then manipulate the treaty’s provisions to force its main member to restrict its trade with China. The US’ goal is to eventually entrap ASEAN in this arrangement so that it can begin selectively and controversially ‘interpreting’ (weaponizing) some of its thousands of pages in order to conduct strategic “lawfare” against China by breaking its trade ties with the bloc and undermining the New Silk Road.
The Philippine Pivot
The former American colony has surprisingly emerged as an important pivot country in the Asia-Pacific, with independent-minded President Duterte taking the country on the path of foreign policy pragmatism and moving it away from its prior decades of American subservience. Manila has stated that it is open to dealing with Beijing one-on-one and might be willing to reach an agreement on the South China Sea in exchange for inviting Chinese companies into the country to build its much-needed infrastructure. The Philippines would then in that case become a major node on the New Silk Road, something which the US is totally opposed to, hence why it might promote Hybrid War in the Mindanao-Sulu arc in order to stop this.
If China managed to make the Philippines a close strategic partner through cutting some sort of favorable deal on the South China Sea, then it would mean that ASEAN’s alignment towards Beijing would thus include Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and the Philippines, with the possibility of Myanmar being included if Suu Kyi resurrected the railroad to China (the Myanmar Silk Road). On the other hand, if the US won the Philippines back over to its own camp, then its CCC would include that country and Vietnam, with the potential for bringing Indonesia on board with time. However, taking the Philippines out of the equation, the US’ Pivot to Asia is seriously hindered, thus emphasizing just how vital of a role the Philippines play in contemporary geopolitics and why they’re such an object of heated competition right now. If the US ‘loses’ the Philippines, then China gains a ‘gateway’ to the Western Pacific, something which the Pentagon might even go to war to stop.