Saturday, 7 December 2013

China Upping the Ante – Are We Ready? Part 3

By Danny Liew Shan Lee

(FPDA a toothles tiger? Source: Internet)

In part 2, we have seen that the planned war games with China do not mean that we have chosen to ally ourselves with the Middle Kingdom.  In fact, it is probably more of a confidence building measure (CBM). 

In the recent parliamentary seating, opposition MPs had unveiled their alternative budget.  For defence, they had advocated cut in military CAPEX, citing that we have a standing defence pact in the FPDA, or Five-Power Defence Agreement.


FPDA is a five-nation defence agreement, whereby the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand had pledged to provide military support to Malaysia and Singapore in the event of invasion by a foreign military.  Signed back in 1971, the agreement serves as a commitment by United Kingdom, and to certain extent Australia and New Zealand to protect and defend the sovereignty of the two fledgling nations.

As part of the agreement, FPDA Headquarters was formed and based in Butterworth Royal Malaysian Air Force Base.  The FPDA HQ also served as the Integrated Air Defence System (IADS) Headquarters and is led by an Australian Air Vice Marshall.

A relic from the Cold War, FPDA had served both Malaysia and Singapore well.  However, while it had served both nations well, the agreement has yet to be tested.  Would FPDA be sufficiently strong deterrence to China from moving into the region? 

The Achilles Heel

FPDA does not many Achilles Heels, but it is a pretty big Achilles Heel.

Toothless Defence Agreement

As a bilateral agreement where we get to train our soldiers to be operationally ready to operate with the other four nations, we are reaping the benefits sown.

But as a defence pact, it does not guarantee military support.  One of the key weaknesses in this agreement is that while UK, Australia and New Zealand pledged to support Malaysia and Singapore in times of war, the agreement does not guarantee that the nations to pledge military force to support Malaysia and Singapore.

In certain aspect, the agreement sounds similar to another failed defence agreement of which the British were a party to, the Polish – British Common Defence Pact. 

Polish – British Defence Pact

In 1939, both British and French governments signed a defence pact with the Polish government in view of the bellicose behaviour of the Third Reich.  The Polish government had then believed that with the agreement in place, they could afford to delay the time for them to call up their reserves.

Unknown to the Polish government, both British and French governments had agreed to allow the fall of Poland to buy time for them to prepare for war against Germany.  And unknown to the British, French and Polish governments, Stalin and Hitler had agreed to jointly attack Poland and split the territories among themselves.  The result, Poland suffered the worst loss, 6 million dead or 20% of its population were killed in the war and 20% of its landmass was annexed by her neighbours.

FPDA – Equivalent of British Defence Pact?

Consider this.  Since 9-11 and US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, both British and Australian military had been stretched thin on multiple fronts.  The high cost of maintaining a military force in 2 different operational theatres plus the Libyan crisis had forced the British military to slowly disengage from these operational theatres.  If situation in South China Seas escalate to a shooting war, they would be hard pressed to fulfil their defence agreement with Malaysia.

A war in South China Sea would be mostly aerial and naval battle.  This alone would rule out New Zealand from fulfilling its role as it her defence force is mostly army formation.  Whilst her navy does have combat capable ship, losing a single ship would be catastrophic to the navy, both in morale and strength.

Thus, it would not be a surprise if the countries, save Singapore would not pull its weight in the event of conflict.

FPDA Covers Only Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore

A small but critical fact not known by many is that FPDA only calls for the defence of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore.  Considering that the contested James Shoal is located only 80km from Bintulu town, Chinese intervention could see that it may try to take the area as a buffer zone for its forces as James Shoal is a submerged formation.  If this does happen, FPDA could be proven as a toothless tiger, as how the Polish government had found out about their agreements with the British and French.

Part 4

As Britain and Australia may not be able to come to our help, who do we depend on?  Would there be a knight in shining armour?  Or would the knight in shining armour have a darker and sinister motive?  We will discuss that in the following instalment.

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