After the end of the Cold War, the trends of globalization, multi-polarization, information technology expansion and peaceful development have been especially obvious in the Asia-Pacific, turning it into the most dynamic region with the greatest potential in the world.
Over the past 20 years, six major positive changes in the regional order have been clearly visible.
1. The purposes and principles of the UN Charter and major international agreements have been well observed and implemented, leading to peace and security in the region as a whole. Although there are still security hot spots, most of them are well under control, and serious military conflict has, for the most part, been avoided.
2. Regional multilateral dialogue and cooperation organizations, rather than military alliances, have been established and have developed rapidly. The Chinese government has been part of around a dozen such organizations. The best-known include the China-ASEAN dialogue and cooperation, APEC, ASEAN+3, the Six-Party Talks, China-Japan-ROK cooperation, the East Asia Summit, ASEAN Forum, ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Shangri-La Dialogue, the Xiangshan Forum and others.
3. Countries in the region have developed various partnerships and conducted extensive dialogues and cooperation in the political, economic, military and cultural fields. Relations between major powers in the region are relatively balanced and stable.
4. Many multilateral and bilateral free trade areas have been established, and national economies have become increasingly interdependent.
5. Regional non-traditional security cooperation has been greatly developed.
6. As an emerging power, China has begun to provide public goods to the region. It has, for instance, put forward the Belt and Road Initiative to promote connectivity with countries along the routes. It also established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to give a powerful push to infrastructure construction in the region.
During the course of events, the United States, the sole superpower in the world, experienced a relative decline in its position of dominance in the regional order, while ASEAN has gained a central position in regional cooperation and China’s influence in the regional economy has increased. In addition, while China’s military power is developing rapidly, there is still a big gap when compared with the U.S. At the same time, India, another regional power, is gradually rising.
However, in recent years, some negative aspects of the huge changes in the world situation have also become increasingly visible in the Asia-Pacific. The rising trend of counter-globalization, the resurgent geopolitical competition between major countries and the uncertainties accompanying new developments in IT, science and technology are all challenging the new Asia-Pacific order that has emerged after the end of the Cold War. It seems a moment of either advancement or drawing back for the region.
The challenges facing the current regional order in the Asia-Pacific are mainly the following:
Relations between major countries are seriously imbalanced. The U.S., Japan and Russia have gone into all-out confrontation. China-U.S. relations have seriously deteriorated, and China-Japan relations have seen major setbacks. The U.S. and Japan are trying to draw India to their side.
Even after the outbreak of conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the U.S. still regards China as its major strategic competitor and the most severe and long-term challenge. It is determined to take the Indo-Pacific as the main battlefield to suppress and counter China, and it engages in strategic competition against China in political, economic, military, ideological and other fields. In this connection, the U.S.s does not hesitate to suppress China with semi or full economic and technological decoupling, dealing a major blow and damage to regional chains — industrial, supply and value.
As the U.S. strengthens its regional bilateral military alliances, develops the Five Eyes Alliance, establishes and strengthens the Quad and AUKUS and sets up the exclusive Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and Chip4 alliance, many multilateral economic and security dialogue and cooperation mechanisms established after the end of the Cold War have been greatly impacted, with some in stagnation, some experiencing great difficulties in reaching agreements and some at the edge of interruption.
4. Regional hot spots are generally getting hotter, with a higher likelihood of a crisis or military conflict, thus threatening regional peace and security. At present, the most prominent hot spots in East Asia are the Taiwan Strait and the Korean Peninsula.
A serious crisis occurred not long ago regarding Taiwan, and on the Korean Peninsula, because of the serious deterioration of U.S-China and U.S.-Russia relations, international cooperation on denuclearization has been seriously weakened. The peninsula faces a serious risk of a new nuclear crisis. Regional strategic stability is seriously challenged. Signs of arms race are emerging again in the region. Many countries in the region are under great pressure from the U.S. to make an either/or choice.
7. Regional governance and non-traditional security cooperation has been seriously disturbed.
In the face of great changes in the international situation and serious challenges to the regional order, China and other countries in the region, including Japan and South Korea, should not be pessimistic. On the contrary, we should be determined to work together to overcome negative or uncertain factors and expand the positive aspects of globalization, multi-polarization and information sharing through strengthened global and regional governance so that the trend of peace and development can be maintained and the new post-Cold War order can be consolidated and developed.
After all, the COVID-19 pandemic will eventually be gone. The region has in recent years witnessed the creation of the CPTPP and RCEP, the expansion of the SCO and a continuous ASEAN+ dialogue and cooperation. China remains committed to developing its relationship with the U.S. on the basis of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, mutual benefit and win-win. China-Japan and China-ROK economic and trade cooperation is still developing. And the vast majority of countries in the region are reluctant to choose sides between China and the U.S. Moreover, the recent crisis over Taiwan was brought under control without a tragedy — unlike the Russo-Ukraine war. These are exactly where the hope lies.