PROSPECTS FOR COOPERATIVE SECURITY IN EAST ASIA:
FROM CHINESE PERSPECTIVES
by Xia Liping
Peace and economic development are still the main stream in East Asia.
Regional strategic framework is continuing to develop towards multi-polarization.
Growth of economic interdependence between countries and the end of the
Cold War have made more countries accept the new security concepts.
However, there are still some factors which can cause potential uncertainty
and instability in East Asia. Relationships among major powers are in readjustment.
The United States intends to establish a security mechanism in the Asia-Pacific
region based upon its military alliances and with it as the leader.
This is contrary to the main stream of peace and development in the world
since the end of the Cold War. NMD and TMD will complicate the major
power relationships and may cause a new arms race in East Asia. The
development of arms in some countries (or regions) have been too fast.
The process of relaxation on the Korean peninsula has begun, but there
are still many uncertainties in the future. In the long run, in East
Asia, cooperative security mechanisms may take shape with multi-levels
(including regional level, sub-regional level and bilateral level), multi-forms
(official and unofficial), and multi-functions coexisting.
During recent years, security situation in East Asia has been relatively
stable. Most of the countries in the region have been recovering
from the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Economic interdependence between
countries has been developing, and has increased the necessity for countries
to cooperate with each other to resolve problems through peaceful means.
The 1997 Asian Financial Crisis made countries in the region recognize
that they should strengthen their economic cooperation to prevent future
crisis, and has caused them to establish “ASEAN + three” mechanism.
The process of relaxation between North and South Korea has also begun.
Some multilateral mechanisms of security cooperation and dialogue in the
region have taken shape. However, there are still some factors of
potential uncertainty and instability in East Asia. In the world,
the Korean Peninsula is the last place in which the Cold War has not ended.
If the two Koreas are reunited in the future, it will have important impacts
on the strategic framework in East Asia. Some separatists in Taiwan
still intend to split Taiwan from China. Their intention and action
for Taiwan independence have become the most dangerous factor in the region.
Disputes of territory, border and maritime sovereignty between some countries
of East Asia still exists. Major powers in the region also lack enough
mutual understanding and trust between them. Faced with the situation,
countries in the region should strengthen their cooperation in the security
field, including the improvement of the existing multilateral mechanisms
of regional security dialogue and cooperation as well as the establishment
of some new ones.
MAIN CHARACTERISTICS OF CURRENT SECURITY SITUATION IN EAST ASIA
The regional strategic framework of East Asia is continuing to develop
towards multi-polarization. East Asia was the region, in which the
trend of multi-polarization arose first in the world. In the early
1970s, the strategic triangle of China-US-USSR emerged. From the
late 1980s, with the relaxation of US-USSR relationship and Japan as the
major power, the strategic triangle of China-US-USSR was replaced by the
strategic quadrilateral of China-US-USSR-Japan. In the strategic
framework, the role and impact of the USSR had been much smaller than those
in the bi-polar framework of the West and East in Europe. So the
turbulence and collapse of the USSR had a smaller impact on East Asia than
on Europe. A strategic framework of six powers, including China,
the United States, Russia, Japan, ASEAN and a future reunited Korea is
gradually taking shape. Among the powers, there are some triangles,
including China-US-Russia and China-US-Japan, which are playing some role
in the regional security situation.
The strategic balance in East Asia should be established and maintained.
During the post-Cold War era, the balance of the U.S.-China-Japan triangle
relations is the most important factor in maintaining stability and peace
in the region. Any side of the three countries should not try to
control another side. And the three countries, especially between
China and the United States and between China and Japan, should increase
their security dialogue and exchanges, so as to establish cooperative and
mutually beneficial relations of “three wins” among them.
The 1997 Asian Financial Crisis has made East Asian countries deeply
feel it necessary to strengthen regional economic cooperation and common
development. One of the major purposes of the establishment of “ASEAN
+ three” framework is to meet the needs. During the informal summit meeting
of leaders of “ASEAN + three” states held in Singapore in November 2000,
Singapore Prime Minister put forward the conception of “East Asian Regional
Cooperation”, and the meeting agreed to study the possibilities of setting
up East Asian summit meeting and establishing free trade and investment
zone in East Asia. With the development of integration of trade and
finance in East Asia, the possibility of establishing East Asian Free Trade
Zone will increase. In order to fit in with the process, political
and security dialogue and coordination in East Asia will also develop.
In the future, “ASEAN + three” may become one of the main channels of East
Asian cooperation. The trend of regional cooperation in East Asia
will be an important part of world multi-polarization.
However, even if East Asia is becoming multi-polar, the United States
will not be an equal power at least until 2015. On the other hand,
if the United States succeeds in maintaining itself as the leader in East
Asia for the long run, the trend of multi- polarization in the region will
Relationships among major powers are in readjustment. Since the
end of the Cold War, major powers have been readjusting their mutual relationship
so as to meet the needs of new international situation and their new strategies.
For example, during recent years, China has made big progress in establishing
partnership with other countries. It has established strategic partnership
of coordination with Russia, comprehensive partnership with France and
Britain, friendly cooperative partnership working for peace and development
with Japan. The leaders of China and former US President Clinton
declared that both countries would devote themselves to establishing constructive
strategic partnership towards 21st century. At the same time, China
has also established partnership with many third world countries, including
neighboring countries. The partnership or strategic partnership is
essentially different from the military alliances or strategic cooperation
during the Cold War period. The latter was usually aimed militarily
at the third country. Current strategic partnership is not aimed
at the third party and is not military alliance. Its substance is
to realize mutual friendship, to strengthen cooperation and not to confront
with each other. The partnership should be based on equal footing
and mutual respects. At the same time, it is not exclusive.
The United States intends to establish the security mechanism in the
Asia-Pacific region with it as the leader and based on its military alliances,
which is contrary to the main stream of peace and development in the world
since the end of the Cold War. At present, in order to strengthen
its leadership in the world and to maintain its position as the only superpower,
the United States wants to continue to play the leading role in the Asia-Pacific
region. It has used its forward-deployed military forces and defense
alliances in East Asia and the Pacific as the main pillars to realize its
purpose. The United States has maintained 100,000 troops in East
Asia, and is strengthening their mobile capabilities and precision-guided
At the same time, the US is enhancing its military alliance with Japan,
South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Australia. The United
State and Japan issued new US- Japan Defense Cooperation Guidelines in
September 1997. In May 1999, the Japanese Diet passed three bills,
which, together, make up the Guidelines. These provide for Japanese
rear-area support for the United States in regional crises, including search
and rescue operations; logistics support including the use of Japanese
hospitals, ports, and airfields, and the provision of fuel and equipment;
and the use of Japanese ships to evacuate Japanese citizens from conflict
Other reasons why the United Stares has been doing so include that the
US is concerned China may become its future potential threat, and the US
is also preparing for possible military intervention in the Taiwan Strait.
The new US-Japan Defense Cooperation Guidelines expanded the scope of cooperation,
providing for “cooperation in situations in areas surrounding Japan that
will have an important influence on Japan’s peace and security.” (2)
Thus the area for cooperation is not geographical but situational.
Although at the beginning whether the region covered includes Taiwan was
deliberately left ambiguous, since George W. Bush Administration came to
power, it has been made clearer. Deputy Secretary of State Richard
Armitage said that if US-Japan Alliance is very close, it can check the
disputes between China and Taiwan. (3)
The strengthening of US-Japan military alliance will spur separatists
on Taiwan to go further towards Taiwan independence, which will increase
the possibility of armed conflicts across the Taiwan Strait. Because
Taiwan issue is the internal issue of China, I will not discuss it in detail
in this paper.
The process of relaxation on the Korean Peninsula has begun, but there
are still many uncertainties in the future. The situation on the
Korean Peninsula has been tortuously developing towards political resolution.
In June 2000, the North Korea and South Korea’s summit meeting was an important
breakthrough in the relationship between the two sides. In order
to resolve the internal serious economic problems, North Korean leader
Kim Jong-il will pursue policy of reform and openness to some extent.
However, to maintain North Korea’s internal stability will still be the
top priority of Kim Jong-il’s policy. So he will be quite cautious
when he pushes forward some kind of policy of reform and openness.
On the other hand, because the growth of South Korea’s economy has slowed
down and the rate of unemployment in South Korea have increased, the sunshine
policy of South Korea’s leader Kim Dae-jung has been criticized by many
South Koreans, who think Kim Dae-jung has been going too fast and has given
too much to North Korea than he should. It has made it very difficult
for President Kim Dae-jung to take any big step towards reunification in
the near future.
Since George W. Bush Administration came to office, it has stopped the
process of negotiation on Missile issues with North Korea and has begun
to review US policy towards North Korea. It may take about half a
year for Bush Administration to do so. At the same time, George W.
Bush Administration has declared that it will make great efforts to develop
and deploy the National Missile Defense systems (NMD) and Theater Missile
Defense Systems (TMD). Because the United States has used North
Korea as one of its excuses to deploy NMD and TMD, Bush Administration
may not like to make a breakthrough in its talks on missile issues with
North Korea in the near future.
From the long run, because North Korea has paid more importance on economic
development and need economic aids from both South Korea and the United
States, it will be more willing to sign a formal peace treaty. Some
American scholars even said: “there is a better than even chance that there
will be a South-North peace treaty before 2005 (and most likely before
NMD and TMD will complicate Major powers’ relationship and may cause
a new arms race in East Asia. Now the United States is paying great
importance on developing NMD and TMD. President George W. Bush has
vowed to deploy NMD since he came to office. He said the United States
will never balk at abolishing the ABM Treaty in order to develop NMD.
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has been an active advocator for NMD and TMD.
Since he got into office, he has spared no efforts to push forward the
Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD). At present, Russia, China and even
some US European alliances have opposed the plan of the United States to
deploy NMD. They think if the US deploys NMD and abolishes the ABM
Treaty, that will disrupt the strategic balance in the world and spur arms
race into outer space. So US deployment of NMD would seriously complicate
the relationship among the major powers. China will have to react
strongly and take some countermeasures if the United States deploys NMD.
And if the United States deploys TMD in East Asia or make the decision
to deploy NMD, arms competition in the region will be aggravated.
Some other countries will feel it necessary for them to develop similar
weapon systems and to increase the number of their missiles or to improve
the capability of their missiles as well as nuclear weapons in order to
offset the influence of TMD and NMD. This will lead to a new phase
of arms race in East Asia.
If the United States transfers the TMD systems to Taiwan, that will
significantly enhance Taiwan’s overall capabilities of offense and defense.
It will enable Taiwan to directly threaten the air-space security over
the Taiwan Strait and China’s mainland. If the United States puts
Taiwan under its TMD protection, it will lead to de facto “para-military
alliance” between the United States and Taiwan. That will be a grave
breach of the obligations the US undertook when it established diplomatic
relations with China, namely, to abrogate its mutual defense treaty with
Taiwan. Putting Taiwan under US or US-Japan TMD umbrella will signify
a major policy change by the US on Taiwan issue, which will definitely
produce negative impacts on China-US relations. The result will be evident:
more serious troubles in China-US relationship.
At the same time, TMD technologies can also be used for ballistic missiles.
If the United States transfers TMD missiles, parts or technologies to its
allies and Taiwan, this will be very serious proliferation of weapons and
missile technologies. Under the circumstances, other countries will
feel it unnecessary for them to comply with the Missile Technology Control
Furthermore, if the United States transfers TMD systems or technologies
to Taiwan, this will give a wrong signal to the separatists on Taiwan.
They will think if they declare Taiwan independence and the mainland takes
military reactions against them, TMD of the US, Japan and Taiwan itself
can protect them from missile attacks from the mainland. As the result,
the separatists on Taiwan will go forward towards Taiwan independence.
That will upgrade the level of military confrontation and increase the
possibility of armed conflicts between the two sides across the Taiwan
Growth of economic interdependence between countries and the end of
the Cold War have made more countries accept the new security concepts,
but arms of some countries (or regions) have been developing too fast.
During recent years, with the rapid development of trade and economic exchanges
in the region, economic interdependence between East Asian countries has
been much closer. This factor and the post-Cold War international
situation have made China and other countries gradually changing their
security concepts and accepting new ones. Those new security concepts
include: comprehensive security; "security is mutual "; cooperative security;
Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs); transparency and etc. For example,
although China and some ASEAN countries, such as the Philippines, Malaysia,
Vietnam and Brunei, have disputes on the sovereignty of the Nansha Islands,
China put forward the proposal to shelve their disputes and to exploit
the natural resources cooperatively. At present, China and ASEAN
countries are making their efforts to reach the Regional Action Norms in
South Sea. Another example is that China and Vietnam signed the Treaty
of Land Border and the Treaty of Beibuwan at Sea between the two countries
in December 1999 and December 2000 respectively, which has resolved their
land border and Beibuwan at sea disputes.
However, some countries including the only superpower still has the
cold war mentality, which has imposed negative impacts on East Asian regional
Furthermore, after the end of the Cold War, although during the first
half of 1990s the arms transfer to East Asia was reduced, since the second
half of 1990s the arms transfer to the region has been increasing.
Some countries (or regions) are developing their arms forces too fast.
Especially from 1991 to 1998, US arms sales to Taiwan had reached to 20
billion US dollar, which made Taiwan become the biggest arms recipient
in the world. Those may lead to the “action and reaction” arms race
and increase the possibility of armed conflicts in East Asia.
POSSIBILITIES AND MODELS FOR ENDURING COOPERATIVE SECURITY MECHANISMS
IN EAST ASIA
Since the end of the Cold War, multilateral mechanisms of regional and
sub-regional security dialogue and cooperation have made some progress
in East Asia. In the region, security dialogue and cooperation are
developing at multi-levels, through multi-channels, and through both Track
One and Track Two. The Track One includes the ASEAN Regional Forum
(ARF), the “ASEAN + 3”, the “Four Party Talks”, the Korean Peninsula Energy
Development Organization (KEDO) and etc. The Track Two includes the
Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP), the Northeast
Asian Cooperation and Dialogue (NEACD) and etc. Track Two mechanisms
usually can create favorable conditions for Track One mechanisms and are
supplemental to Track One Mechanisms.
In East Asia, development levels of countries are very different.
There are developed countries, Newly Industrial Entities (NIEs) and developing
countries. Culture and value are very divergent. There exist
disputes of territories and maritime interests between countries.
Especially the two countries, which have not been reunited in the world,
are both in the region. So the establishment of multilateral security
cooperation in the region should be in line with the characteristics of
the region, and should not copy models of other regions as well as values
of Western countries.
Some basic principles of establishment of multilateral security cooperation
in East Asia should be affirmed according to the characteristics of the
region and experiences obtained from the history and the current process.
* Mutual respects of sovereignty and territorial integrity and
mutual noninterference in other countries’ internal affairs. One
of the most important experiences of member countries of the Association
of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is not to interfere in each other’s
internal affairs in any form and in any excuse. In 1994 at the annual
conference of the Institute for International Strategic Studies (IISS),
Singapore Foreign Secretary said that one of the main reasons why there
had been no war among ASEAN countries for 25 years was that they had insisted
on the principle of noninterference in internal affairs.
* Dialogue and consultation on equal footing and to resolve territorial
and other disputes through peaceful means. Before the final resolution
of territorial and maritime territorial disputes, the disputes should be
shelved and any country concerned should not take any action, which may
be regarded as provocative act. They should make their great efforts
to establish Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) so as to create favorable
conditions for the final resolution. They should also make efforts
to create favorable conditions to cooperatively exploit natural resources,
if possible, such as in South China Sea.
* Establishment of multilateral security mechanisms under the
guide of the theories of common security and cooperative security.
During the post-Cold War era, with the rapid development of mutual economic
interdependence between countries, security is also mutual. At present,
no country can increase its sense of security under the condition of sacrificing
the security interests of other countries. Furthermore, many security
problems, such as environment pollution, greenhouse effect, drug trafficking,
terrorism and so on, are transnational and are unable to be resolved through
traditional military means. So common security of all countries in
the region should be the objective of regional multilateral security cooperation.
* To advance gradually. To establish multilateral security
cooperation mechanisms in East Asia should progress step by step.
For example, the ARF regarded its three major functions, namely CBMs, preventive
diplomacy and then seeking for ways to resolve conflicts, as the three
phases of its development. At present, the ARF is going from the
first phase, CBMs, into the second one, preventive diplomacy.
* With the establishment of regional multilateral security cooperation
mechanisms, the role of bilateral military alliances should be reduced.
Because military alliances are usually aimed at one specific adversary
or potential one, and only seek for the security of a part of countries.
In fact, it puts security of some countries on instability of other countries
and will be unable to meet the needs of situation during post-Cold War
* Starting with the increase of mutual understanding and trusts
among major powers. That will be the precondition of establishment
of CBMs and effectiveness of regional multilateral security cooperation
* Making great efforts to develop economic exchanges and cooperation
among countries on the basis of principles of equality and mutual benefits.
This is the basis of regional security cooperation and an important part
of establishment of CBMs.
* Arms control and disarmament should become an important part
of multilateral security cooperation mechanisms. Because military
technologies of developed countries are much advantageous than those of
developing countries and developed countries have exported large amounts
of sophisticated weapons to developing countries, they should take special
duty to stop deploying and transferring the sophisticated weapons, which
may cause the region unstable, to East Asia.
* At present, the international community and countries concerned
should make their great efforts to help to bring about a formal peace agreement
between North Korea and South Korea within the mechanism of the Four Party
Talks. Both China and the United States can play the role as guarantors
of the agreement. After the peace agreement is signed, the Four Party
Talks can be expanded to include Japan, Russia and even Mongolia, so as
to become a sub-regional multilateral security cooperation mechanism in
* From the long run, in East Asia, cooperative security mechanisms
may take shape with multi-levels (including regional level, sub-regional
level and bilateral level), multi-forms (official and unofficial) and multi-functions
coexisting. An increase in cooperative security in the region is
likely in the next 2-3 years, because growing economic interdependence
between countries, especially between major powers, will make them pay
great efforts to avoid conflicts, to maintain stable relationship and to
seek for cooperation in security fields, although sometimes they
have tensions in their relations. The ideas of “ASEAN + 3” and ARF
are the most likely to work, and, the “ASEAN + 3” will develop into “East
Asian Regional Cooperation” mechanism, which may play an important role
in the future regional cooperative security mechanisms.
(1) Robert D. Blackwill and Paul Dibb, edit., America’s Asian
Alliances, published by the MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, 2000,
(3) Common New Agency, January 23, 2001, Washington, DC.
(4) Ralph A. Cossa and Alan Oxley, The US-Korea Alliance, Chapter
4 of America’s Asian Alliances, published by the MIT Press, Cambridge,
Massachusetts, USA, 2000, pp.70.