The nations of Southeast Asia are building up their militaries, buying submarines and jet fighters at a record pace and edging closer strategically to the United States as a hedge against China's rise and its claims to all of the South China Sea.
Weapons acquisitions in the region almost doubled from 2005 to 2009 compared with the five preceding years, according to data released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute this year.
"There is a threat perception among some of the countries in Southeast Asia,” said Siemon Wezeman, senior fellow at the institute. "China is an issue there.”
The buying spree is set to continue.
Vietnam has agreed to pay $2.4 billion for six Russian Kilo-class submarines and a dozen Su-30MKK jet fighters equipped for maritime warfare.
Australia has stated its commitment to buy or build nine more submarines and bolster its air force with 100 US-built F-35s.
Malaysia has also paid more than $1 billion for two diesel submarines from France. Indonesia has recently announced that it, too, will acquire new submarines.
Concerns in Southeast Asia about China's rise were on display in Hanoi in mid-July during a regional security forum that included the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the United States, China and other Asian powers.
During the meeting, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for the first time effectively rejected China's claims to sovereignty over the whole 1.3 million-square-mile sea. Eleven other nations, led by Vietnam, backed the United States, leaving Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi noticeably shaken by the offensive, diplomats present said.
The US and Southeast Asian push on China came in part because, US and Asian officials said, China's behaviour has turned more aggressive in the region.
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