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Security Order in Asia-Pacific: the Foundation for Future Cooperation

Dec 09 , 2014

The final season of this year witnessed a series of important summits in the Asia-Pacific region. Apart from the annual highlight events of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Beijing, the East Asia Summit and the Summit of Group 20 followed in rapid sequence. The warm atmosphere of the meetings promoted future cooperation; however, contradictions were eased, not completely resolved. A stable security order will be needed to provide the solid foundation for future cooperation.

Future security order in Asia-Pacific will be determined by many factors and lead to different outlooks. Judging from the current situation, “deep integration,” “shared dominance of big powers,” “polarization,” and “falling into chaos” are the four possible scenarios.

“Deep integration” refers to a situation where regional countries eventually form an effective and binding security system on the basis of economic cooperation. In this system, security cooperation has become customary and each country’s security and development interests get a certain degree of assurance. Appropriate mechanisms to manage and deal with sovereignty and security disputes will also be served. In the past decade, countries in the region were successful in economic integration, which is valuable experience for security cooperation. Collective security mechanism in Asia-Pacific, though still absent so far, is possible given the experience of the European countries and fears of conflict around the region. Besides, the existing organizations or communication platforms, such as the “Six-Party Talks” in Northeast Asia, the East Asia Summit, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the Conference on Interactions and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, set the foundation for the future mechanism of regional security integration.

The “shared dominance of big powers” means that regional countries, due to their different capacity and influence, naturally play roles at different levels in reshaping security structures. China and the United States, as the two most important stakeholders in the long run, will ultimately form a certain degree of compromise and consensus through complex interactions, and reach a new style of partnership. Other big countries will be attached to the “Group Two” system and play a role to ensure its own security interests, while small and medium-sized countries’ security interests cannot be guaranteed.

“Polarization” indicates the possibility that there will eventually be a confrontation between two opposite security groups, i.e. the United States alliance system and the group of China, Russia and other countries. Given the current strategic distrust and differences in security interest between China and the United States, the possibility of “polarization” cannot be excluded, especially as China’s military strength grows and the media make a point to focus on it.

“Falling into chaos,” describes the circumstances when any single country or country group cannot dominate regional security order or solve complex security problems. In the absence of effective management, existing issues will gradually deteriorate, including the Korean Peninsula crisis, the Sino-Japanese sovereignty dispute, the South China Sea issue and Afghanistan problems, and ultimately lead to security instability throughout the region.

In the outlook of “deep integration,” there will be a stable and sustainable order in which every country will benefit. In “shared dominance of big powers” prospects, the security interests of big powers can reach temporary guarantees, while the security interests of small and medium-sized countries will be violated, thus there will always be legality defects in this order. Small and medium-sized countries will fight against this order, which could hardly last. Under the “polarization” scenario, given the existence of nuclear weapons for mutual assured destruction, it is likely for the regional security order to reach a steady state for a period of time as in the Cold War. However, as the cost for great powers to maintain the national security interests rises, small and medium-sized countries will have to choose sides in the two opposing groups. It is a state that most regional countries are trying to avoid. In the prospects of “falling into chaos”, no country’s security interests can be guaranteed, and regional peace and stability will also be completely destroyed. This is the worst scenario.

Therefore, based on comprehensive evaluation, choosing the “collective security” model to create a more equitable, cooperative, open and inclusive regional security order, will be the most desirable strategic choice for regional countries.

To promote the establishment of new security architecture under “deep integration,” all parties must make changes accordingly. First, the United States, as today’s largest security force in Asia-Pacific, must make prompt adjustments to its rebalancing strategy. Currently, rebalancing is still widely regarded in China as a strategy of containing China. It directly causes the escalation of Sino-U.S. strategic mutual distrust. The United States must bridge the gap between “reassurance” strategy to China and its rebalancing strategy in Asia. The U.S. should actively develop military relations with China, and ensure that its military alliance’s operations in the region will be open to China. Also necessary is a certain degree of transparency of the U.S.’s military presence, including anti-missile systems. Additionally, the United States should maintain real neutrality in all regional disputes. The measures above will reduce China’s doubts and enhance mutual trust between the two countries. In the past two years, China’s attitude on military exchanges with the United States became more active, and Sino-U.S. military relations have achieved a relatively enhanced progress. This is a positive sign. Focused on the future, the two countries should further increase the level and scope of bilateral military exchanges, in order to reduce the possibility of strategic misjudgments, accidents and conflicts.

Second, China, as an important rising force, will also play a more active role in reshaping the regional security order. China is closely linked with most regional countries, and a secure environment is critical to China’s development. It only makes sense for China to be more actively involved in the reshaping process of the regional security order. At present, China has proposed a new security concept, focusing on the region’s future development, and actively promoting common security, comprehensive security, cooperative security and sustainable security. In the future, China should be more willing to discuss and interact with other regional countries in this security arrangement. Meanwhile, China should also actively build closer security cooperation relations with other countries. Within its capacity, China should provide as much public good for regional security as possible.

Third, other regional countries should develop a balanced security partnership with China and the United States, instead of taking sides. The characteristics of the new regional security order will in turn have a direct and profound impact on the fate of other regional countries. Therefore, these countries bear an important responsibility in promoting the integration of regional security and preventing confrontation and disorder. In the future, regional countries should make joint efforts with China and the United States to create a favorable atmosphere in regional security cooperation, and attempt to develop closer, more balanced security partnerships, as well as construct a more inclusive regional security cooperation network.

Fourth, all parties should promote the construction of Asia security more actively. It is necessary to think about how to upgrade the six-party talks on the DPRK nuclear issue to a mechanism for Northeast Asia security dialogue, in order to have a more extensive and effective management over inter-Korean relations, the DPRK-US relations, DPRK-Japan relations, Sino-Japanese relations, Russian-Japanese relations and other regional security issues. All countries should make full use of the East Asia Summit and other related mechanisms to promote security communication and cooperation. It is also necessary to consider the strengthening of the SCO’s role in maintaining regional security in Central Asia and South Asia. Based on this, regional countries can gradually build a more comprehensive “Trans – Pacific security architecture,” and systematically address the long-term security issues between China, the United States and other regional countries.

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