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Reflections on the Asia-Pacific

Dec 17, 2022
  • Cao Yanzhong

    Senior Colonel and Researcher, Institute of War Studies of the Academy of Military Sciences, Chinese PLA

Today’s Asia-Pacific has become an important growth area for global economic development. It’s a highly dynamic region of the world. With the launch of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP), economic and trade cooperation in the Asia-Pacific continues to broaden and deepen. This will further promote the development and prosperity of countries in the region and bring more benefits to its people. The foundation for all this is that the region has maintained overall security and stability for more than 40 years.

In the Asia-Pacific, disputes over territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests intensify from time to time, and sensitive issues involving extremism, terrorism and nuclear proliferation crop up frequently. Certain global powers are deeply involved in — or even manipulate — security. It is therefore not easy for the region to maintain its security and stability. It depends both on the desire of the people of the region for peace and development and on the strategic rationality and sobriety of governments in the neighborhood. The region has prevented some crises and conflicts from escalating into unstoppable wars, such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict today. Notably, China has always maintained a high degree of strategic self-control by upholding a standard of peace, cooperation, dialogue and consultation in dealing with conflicts and differences.

However, people are wondering whether this overall peaceful situation in the Asia-Pacific is sustainable against the backdrop of the accelerating evolution of the world landscape. Can our Asia-Pacific continue to maintain peace for the next 40 years?

First, we believe that no country in the Asia-Pacific wants regional conflicts or wars to break out. Because this region is the common home of its countries and is fundamental to our survival, maintaining peace is to maintain our own development and prosperity. As an important country in the Asia-Pacific, China has always worked to maintain the region’s security and stability. It has followed a basic national pursuit of peaceful development as a fundamental feature of its path to modernization. And it has committed to resolving conflicts and differences through peaceful cooperation, dialogue and consultation.

Second, we see that factors of instability and uncertainty affecting the security of the Asia-Pacific are on the rise, and the risks are increasing. An important manifestation are disputes over territory and the maritime rights and interests of countries of the region. However, taking the South China Sea as an example, most countries have agreed to resolve their differences in a peaceful manner, are committed to negotiating a South China Sea code of conduct through dialogue and consultation and agree not to escalate maritime confrontations.

If Asia-Pacific countries, especially those with disputes over territory and maritime rights and interests, generally do not want conflict and war, and the risk of conflict and confrontation does not come from within the region, then it is natural to wonder who is driving the risks to security and stability in the region and what the motives are for creating or building up pressure.

We know that the United States is an important player in the security of the Asia-Pacific and that the region’s security and prosperity are closely related to U.S. interests, but instability or insecurity in the region obviously does not affect the United States as much as it does the countries in the region. The national security strategy announced by the Biden administration focuses on how to contain rivals of the United States, and the so-called triple response of cooperation, competition, and confrontation has been reduced to a confrontation-oriented policy toward China.

It is already known to all that the U.S. intends to promote the Quad and AUKUS, strengthen bilateral military alliances, openly ask other Asia-Pacific countries to choose sides, provoke regional conflicts, promote camp confrontation and use countries in the region to serve American strategy.

To maintain world security, stability, peace and development, President Xi Jinping has proposed the Global Security Initiative, the core of which is to adhere to the concept of common, integrated, cooperative and sustainable security, and the key to which is to adhere to respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries. It’s based on non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries and respect for the independent choice of development path and social system by all peoples.

The basic rule is to adhere to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, rather than the so-called rules and order defined by certain countries. The basic way is to respect the reasonable security concerns of all and resolve disputes and differences by peaceful means and through dialogue and consultation.

Can the Asia-Pacific continue to maintain overall peace? It depends on how various security factors continue to interact with each other. But the most important questions we need to think about are as follows:

First, how does the United States define its role and function in the security of the Asia-Pacific? How can the antagonistic trend of competition with China be reduced?

Second, how do other countries in the Asia-Pacific — especially U.S. allies — define their role in the U.S. competition with China? What is the right strategic choice in line with regional security and their own national interests?

Third, how can the spirit of peace, cooperation, dialogue and consultation be upheld to construct a regional security paradigm of freezing disputes and differences, managing crises and conflicts, resolving deep-seated conflicts and protecting regional security together? How can solutions be found for lasting peace and development in the Asia-Pacific? 

(The foregoing is a speech delivered by Cao Yanzhong at the Beijing Xiangshan Forum in November 2022. It has been lightly edited for clarity.)

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