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Foreign Policy

Asian Awareness, Asian Security

May 27 , 2014

The fourth Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) was recently held in Shanghai. The summit took place at a time when the rise of Asia produces remarkable impact on the existing international pattern. The pluralistic coexistence of Asian civilizations and the emergence of numerous new and old contradictions call for a collective Asian awareness, strengthened pan-Asian solidarity, and security integration. China, the host country, proposed a security concept for Asia in an attempt to shape a common Asian awareness and collective Asian security acceptable for all Asian countries. 

Asia is developing rapidly. As a result, the word’s political and economic centers of gravity are moving towards this region and the international power structure is re-organizing itself. Asia accounts for one third of the world’s total landmass and two thirds of the global population. Now with one third of world’s economic aggregates, the weight of Asia in the whole world will certainly increase. On the other hand, within vast Asia, huge political and cultural differences exist and there are marked gaps in terms of per capita resource allocation both within the continent and in comparison with the rest of the world. In this connection, while bringing about development opportunities for itself and the world at large, Asia is also in the throes before a new world pattern is born. 

The CICA Summit in Shanghai stressed the need to forge in this historical period of transition an Asian awareness, i.e., Asia is for the Asians and Asian affairs, including its security affairs, should first of all be handled by Asians themselves. The Chinese President made it very clear in his keynote speech that “Matters in Asia ultimately must be taken care of by Asians, Asia’s problems ultimately must be resolved by Asians and Asia’s security ultimately must be protected by Asians”. China unprecedentedly proposed the ideas of Asian awareness, Asian solidarity and Asian security, a call for self-strengthening of Asia in the new century. 

National security usually consists of three layers: national defense, bilateral alliance and multilateral security. National defense is the natural defense of sovereign states. Bilateral alliances, in theory and practice, tend to produce security dilemmas, i.e., a security gain of one country automatically equals another countries’ security losses. Thus, this form of defense does not increase the aggregates of security in the international system. China proposed at the CICA Summit to abandon the bilateral alliance model and replace it with a new concept of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security for Asia, which advocates multilateral and collective security for Asia and pushes for the creation of an Asian cooperative security system. 

China and other countries have joined hands to promote CICA so as to make it a platform of security dialogue and cooperation for the whole of Asia and ultimately create a pan-Asian collective security system in which Asians master their own security. At present, there is a shortage of international dialogue on Asian security with the most prominent being the IISS Asia Security Summit or Shangri-la Dialogue. However, it is not initiated nor controlled by regional states and there are more discussions about differences and fewer efforts to forge consensus. As such it seems unable to contribute substantively to the establishment of rules and principles for Asian security. 

The concept of building up confidence in Asia originated from ideas about European security and CICA borrowed the idea of a Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). These two conferences represent creative cooperation by countries and peoples on two different continents to avoid being bogged down in group politics or military alliances. CICA needs to continue learning from CSCE and ultimately develop into an organization on interaction and confidence building measures in Asia. At the Shanghai Summit, China put forward a series of propositions on the sustainable development of CICA, including capacity and institution building, creation of a new security cooperation framework, enhancement of cooperation through both governmental and non-governmental channels and greater inclusiveness and openness, so as to promote the CICA development process. 

Shen Dingli is a Professor and Deputy Dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University.

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