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Foreign Policy

Time’s Ripe for China, U.S, to Optimize the Asia-Pacific Economic and Security Structure

Mar 24 , 2015

On February 6, the Obama administration issued the 2015 National Security Strategy, the second such report since the United States announced its “return to the Asia Pacific” initiative in 2009. The new report prioritizes its “pivot” to the Asia Pacific, highlights the Asia-Pacific region as a long-term focus in the U.S. foreign policy, and categorizes the China-U.S. relations as a partnership with a decisive role in the 21st century. On February 11th, Chinese President Xi Jinping had a telephone conversation with his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama, and they expressed strong willingness to carry out pragmatic cooperation in all aspects and to jointly address global challenges. All these point to a trend of sound development in bilateral relations to begin the year.

Along with China’s rise and the development of major power diplomacy with Chinese characteristics, economic and security patterns in the Asia-Pacific region have shown a trend of changes towards a “dual-track structure” over the past few years. One track is the Asia-Pacific economic system dominated by the United States; the other is track is non-U.S. forces consisting of the East Asian economic cooperation and Asian economic integration initiated by China. The dual tracks of the Asia-Pacific security mechanism refer to the bilateral alliance system between the U.S. and its allies in the region; the alternative track is the regional security cooperation set up among medium-sized and small Asian countries and the multilateral security mechanisms vigorously advocated and promoted by China.

Of the dual tracks, the one dominated and promoted by the U.S. is stronger. However, a telling fact is that the one not dominated by the U.S. is gaining influence. The two tracks not only compete with each other, but also supplement each other. Under the new circumstances, a major contradiction between the economic inter-dependence and security confrontation in the Asia-Pacific region has emerged, as shown in the interaction with third parties by China and the U.S. This has led to the worsening of regional security issues such as the South China Sea, the Diaoyu Islands and the Korean Peninsula, the tussles on rules of regional trade between the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as well as U.S. concerns over China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative. Therefore, it is imperative for China and the U.S. to optimize the dual-track pattern and strengthen their complementary features, rather than maintain a bipolar and competitive nature, so as to ensure development and security in the Asia-Pacific region.

Judging from the policies in the past two years, China’s moves and plans for optimizing the Asia-Pacific security and economic structures in 2015 could be summarized as follows:

One vision to construct an Asia-Pacific community of common destiny. President Xi, on different international occasions, has proposed the construction of an Asia-Pacific community of common destiny. At the APEC meeting in Indonesia in October 2013, President Xi put forward, for the first time: “We should firmly establish an awareness of common destiny in the Asia-Pacific community, and form a pattern where all economies have good interactions and coordinated development,” and stressed that “the Asia-Pacific is the space for our joint development.” At the APEC meeting in Beijing in November 2014, Xi once again appealed to “uphold the spirit of community in the Asia-Pacific region and the awareness of building a community of common destiny.” It is widely believed that President Xi will continue to espouse this conception at the upcoming APEC meeting in the Philippines at the end of this year.

Two wheels to get the gears for development and security in motion. At the Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs held in Beijing on December 7, 2014, President Xi stressed they must, “pursue development and security priorities in a balanced way” and “to pursue win-win cooperation and promote a new type of international relations featuring win-win cooperation, to continue to follow the win-win strategy of opening-up and a win-win approach in every aspect of our external relations such as political, economic, security and cultural fields.” With this thinking in place, it is believed that China will vigorously promote multilateral economic and security cooperation in Asia Pacific and East Asia this year, and the East Asia Summit, which encompasses both the United States and China and touches on topics of development and security cooperation, will become an important platform.

Three variables: the existing status, increment and the growing flow. By respecting the existing status, it means that China will respect the dominant role held by the United States, will not challenge or confront it, will not deem the dual tracks as the opposites to conservation and reforms, will vigorously join the construction of the existing international governance system, and will tap, to the maximum extent, the positive energy of the current system. By working to build up incrementally, it means that China will play a supplementary role by devoting effort to doing what the United States is unwilling or unable to do, such as establishing the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, pushing forward the RCEP negotiations, and building the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific. By working to building up the growing flow, it means that channels for China-U.S dialogue will be both widened and smoothed, China-U.S. convergence will be promoted, and positive interaction between China and the U.S. as well as with neighboring countries will be promoted and elevated. For instance, China’s participation (the first time ever in the Rim of the Pacific military exercise which was initiated and dominated by the U.S. in July last year) and the progress made in the discussions on the rules of behavior of military, air, and maritime activities all helped lay a solid foundation for this year’s exchanges and cooperation.

Four norms: self-restraint, mutual adaptation, conflict management and shared responsibility. China’s behaviors are not unpredictable, and the question is how the U.S. will respond to it. Against the backdrop of an eastward shift of world power to the Asia-Pacific region, Obama has invited leaders from China, Japan, South Korea and Indonesia to pay official visits to the United States this year. The U.S. and China are both key players in shaping the new pattern and new order in the Asia-Pacific region. If both of them can follow the four norms, it will be constructive to the optimization of the Asia-Pacific structure. As a matter of fact, the principles of “no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation,” in the new type of major power relations between China and the U.S. could also apply to the Asia-Pacific region. If China and the U.S. work together to apply the four norms as the common doctrine of the Asia-Pacific region, it would be beneficial for the dual-track pattern in the Asia-Pacific region to evolve and develop towards increasing integration. And if China and the US could, via the platforms such as ASEAN Regional Forum, explore and discuss the topic with other Asia-Pacific countries, it will certainly be of greater constructive significance.

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