At this year’s Munich Security Conference, the annual gathering of Heads of State and Government, Foreign and Defense Ministers, high-ranking politicians and thought leaders from around the globe, the focus was clearly on the relations between Russia and the West and the dire consequences for international peace and security.
Russian Prime Minister Medvedev underlined that the relations had reached a historic low point comparable to the Cold War era. This plays out not only in the lingering conflict in Ukraine but even more so in the seemingly irreconcilable approaches to the war in Syria. Especially, as Europe is facing a decisive moment in dealing with the massive influx of refugees, short term crisis management in the immediate neighborhood is understandably high on the agenda. European policy makers are currently lacking any access capacity to deal with topics that are either not as imminent or far away.
When not even the continuously worsening security situation in Afghanistan features prominently in the discussions, it comes as no surprise that the geo-political shifts and challenges in the Asia-Pacific were of marginal relevance to the discussion in Munich. However, this distinguishes the discussions in Munich clearly from the debates held on the other side of the Atlantic, where the potential conflicts in Asia are the key concern to policy makers.
Interestingly, the debates were not only divided along geographical, but seemingly also along generational lines.
The Munich Young Leaders, a joint initiative of Körber Foundation (科尔伯基金会) and the Munich Security Conference that brings together 25 outstanding young representatives of governmental institutions, parliaments, think tanks, the media and the private sector from around the world, met at the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference to discuss current matters of foreign and security policy with high-ranking participants of the Munich Security Conference. At least among the young leaders the challenges in Asia featured much more prominently. The Munich Young Leaders had bilateral talks with Fu Ying, Chairperson of the NPC Foreign Affairs Committee or the Singaporean Defense Minister Ng. Not only with these obviously Asia-related discussants, but also with prominent thought leaders such as Ian Bremmer from Eurasia Group, New York, the debates revolved around the future role of China and the impact that this will have on global political and economic dynamics. However, even among the younger generation it remained challenging to bring the European and the Asian security discourses together.
If the discussions in Munich were indicative of one thing, it was that there was never a time where the threats to international peace and security were so all encompassing. But the debates in Munich also showed, that Europe is leading its discussions currently without much interaction with Asian powers. It seems that the interconnectedness of global markets, supply chains and communication has still not rendered geographical distance irrelevant.
In his speech at the Munich Security Conference, German Foreign Minister Steinmeier stressed that we will not see quick fixes and speedy solutions to many of the current conflicts, but that strong states carry responsibilities outside their borders that they have to live up to. Tellingly, he did not mention China with a single word in his statement.
However, his words resonated with the remarks of Fu Ying, who underlined China’s willingness to engage more pronounced in matters of international peace and security.
Maybe it is time to globalize the security discourses and stop pretending that the world can be split along geographical lines and into spheres of influence. Truly engaging Asia, and especially China, in all of the current conflicts – from Syria to Libya, Afghanistan and Mali, ISIS and refugees, might lead to better burden-sharing and to more sustainable global solutions to the all encompassing threats.