US EAST ASIAN REGIONAL SECURITY FUTURES:
POSITIVE DEVELOPMENTS AND NEGATIVE FACTORS
by Zhu Chenghu *
Following the end of the cold war, a lot of positive developments have
been witnessed in the regional security in the East Asia. These developments
include the continuous relaxation of the tension in the region, which resulted
from the Soviet and Russian withdrawal from the region and the end of superpower
confrontation; political solutions to the hot spots, positive development
in the situation on Korean Peninsula in particular; sustained and rapid
economic development; profound security cooperation at different levels
and on different issues; and the emerging regionalism in both economic
and security fields, etc.
However, there are still some negative factors in the security future
in the region. They are unstable relations among the major powers, structural
problems in the East Asia, arms race and proliferation, non-tradition threats,
etc. Therefore, a sound security situation in the future in the East Asia
depends heavily on the establishment of new security concepts, enhancement
of security cooperation, collective efforts in countering proliferation,
a practical and feasible program for the ARF and the peaceful unification
of the splitting countries.
I. POSITIVE DEVELOPMENTS IN THE EAST ASIAN REGIONAL
SECURITY IN THE RECENT YEARS
To study the East Asian regional security into the future, one should
first of all have a retrospect of the positive developments in the security
situation in the region in the recent years. Such a study will help foster
a true and clear understanding of sound aspects of the situation and
increase the confidence in the regional security, thus contributing joint
efforts to the maintenance of the peaceful and stable regional security
1. Continuous relaxation of the tension
Following the end of cold war, Russia had greatly reduced its armed
forces in the Asian-Pacific region, by withdrawing its military presence
from Vietnam and Mongolia, and by reducing its armed forces in the Russian
Far East. The Russian actions had not only reduced its military pressure
on its neighbors, but also led to the diminishing of the military confrontation
between the two superpowers. The end of the superpowers’ military confrontation
has promoted the further relaxation of the security situation in the region.
Thanks to the joint efforts of the countries concerned, the relaxation
is still continuing.
2. Political solutions to the hotspots
The end of cold war has made entirely different impact on the European
and the East Asian security situation. On the one hand, the principles
and norms of the West for a new international order have catalyzed disorder,
disintegration and wars in Europe. On the other hand, the East Asian region
has entered the post-war ear in real sense. This is mainly manifested in
the political solutions to the hot spots. The war in Cambodia settled politically.
The end of civil war in Cambodia has helped to bring about continuos improvement
of the relations among the nations in the region, finally leading the full
coverage of all the Southeast Asian nations by the ASEAN. Thanks to the
joint efforts from the countries concerned, the situation in South China
Sea has also brought under the control through the political dialogues
What the author wants to mention in particular is the development of
the situation on Korean Peninsula. Last year, a miracle was witnessed in
the relations across the 38th parallel. There have been not only meetings
and talks at different levels, including the summit, but also some practical
measures for the improvement of the relations between the North and the
South and for national reconciliation. These efforts of both Koreas have
not only helped to ease the situation on the Peninsula and improve the
relations of the two sides, but also helped to relax the security situation
in the entire East Asian region and improve the relations between DPRK
on the one hand and the United States and Japan on the other. Although
it is too early to say that the two Koreas will be unified very soon, yet
the recent progresses in the relations between the North and the South
are very conducive to the long-lasting stability, peace and prosperity
in the East Asia.
3. Sustained and rapid economic development
In the past 20 years or so, the Asian-Pacific region has been very
dynamic in the economic development. Its average economic growth rate
is about 6%. The sustained rapid economic growth in the region has not
only attracted many investors, taken in large amount of investments, promoted
rapid growth of the trade among the nations in the region, increased the
regional economic cooperation, but also increased the internal stability
of the countries in the region, deepened their interdependence, thus creating
conditions for enhancing the political and security cooperation among them
and for the political solutions to the disputes on the basis of dialogue
and negotiation. All these have effectively promoted regional stability
and peace and improved the security situation.
4. Profound security cooperation
Thanks to the relaxation of the situation and improvement of the relations
between the countries in the region, security cooperation at different
levels, on different issues and in the different frameworks has been very
dynamic in the past few years, the security cooperation in the framework
of ARF in particular, of which all the East Asian nations are members.
Thanks to the joint efforts, ARF has been playing a very positive role
in enhancing the mutual understanding and mutual trust. Since its founding
in 1994, remarkable achievements have been materialized in CBMs on the
basis of consultation and dialogue. The members of ARF have reached a lot
of consensus in the CBMs. They agreed to exchange views on regional security
situation and security concepts, carry out dialogues on defense policies,
exchange information on military exercises, invite observers to the military
exercises, call for the registration of conventional weapons, discuss the
global and regional nonproliferation, circulate the information on the
defense exchanges, promote the engagement of the senior officers and defense
education institutions, explore the maritime security and cooperation,
strengthen the cooperation between search and rescue agencies, run training
classes for the peace keepers and exchange experience in disaster relief.
These CBMs are important component of the security cooperation in the region.
Besides the security cooperation in the framework of the ARF, there
are also other forms of security cooperation in East Asia. In the bilateral
cooperation, there are different ways of US cooperation with its allies
in the region. There are different levels of cooperation between China
and the United States in different fields. There are also other forms of
bilateral cooperation, such as the Sino-Vietnamese cooperation in the peaceful
settlement of the border disputes, that between China and Russia in delimiting
the boundary, that between China and Japan in establishing different CBMs
in different fields. In the past few years, we have witnessed the multilateral
cooperation, such as the security consultations between the United States,
Japan and China, Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue, etc.
The security cooperation at different levels and in different forms
have contributed a lot to the peace and stability in the region.
5. Emerging regionalism
After the end of the cold war, the development of the regionalism in
East Asia could be found in both economy and security. The economic regionalism
in the region is developing simultaneously with the globalization. Economic
regionalism may lead to the security regionalism.
Regionalism is not new in other regions like Western Europe or North
America, where the countries concerned have not only established economic
cooperation organizations, like EU and Free Trade Zone in North America,
but also corresponding mechanism to ensure the economic cooperation in
the regions. These have not only increased their economic competitiveness,
but also increased their capability to prevent and deal with any economic
crisis which might occur. Because of the tremendous diversities in the
region, regionalism in East Asia is still yet to be developed. There is
neither economic cooperation organization, nor mechanism to ensure the
economic cooperation in the region. Therefore, many scholars and statesmen
have urged to establish an organization of economic cooperation and corresponding
mechanism, so as to rail the economic cooperation among the countries in
the region on the right track. They believe that without such an organization
and mechanism, it is difficult for any country in the region, including
Japan, to compete with the other two economic zones, and difficult for
any country in the region to prevent the occurrence of economic and financial
crisis like that happened in 1997, and also difficult for the region to
manage the crisis once it happens. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of
the scholars and statesmen, consensus is being reached on the establishment
of such an organization. Many scholars and statesmen have suggested to
develop the present “10+3” into such an organization. If that suggestion
is materialized, the economic regionalism will develop rapidly. This will
in turn promote the development of the security regionalism in the region.
II. NEGATIVE FACTORS
The countries and people in the East Asia have enjoyed peaceful security
environment for pretty long time. However, we have to see that in the regional
security situation, there are still some problems, which are quite negative
to the maintenance of peace and stability, and to the further improvement
of the security environment in the region.
1. Unstable relations among the major powers
In the years following the end of the cold war, people in the region
have witnessed the improvement of the relations between the major powers
of the United States, Russia, Japan and China. Different forms of strategic
relationship or partnership have been established between them. Yet, in
each of the 6 bilateral relations among the four major powers, there are
some problems. If the problems between them are not handled properly, they
may reverse the situation in the region. For example, some major powers
are still sticking to the cold war perceptions. They always try to take
some other countries as their enemies. To contain the enemy, they persist
in enhancing the military alliances which were the outcome and product
of the cold war, and try to seek absolute security by trying to dominate
advanced technologies. This sort of actions is not conducive at all to
the CBMs and to the establishment of mutual trust. On the contrary, it
may lead to new confrontation between major powers.
2. Structural problems in the East Asian economy
Although East Asian economy has been growing very fast, yet the financial
crisis started in 1997 has fully indicated the fact that the Asian economy
is very fragile because of the following reasons: Firstly, the economy
in most of the countries in East Asia is problematic in structure. This
economy has been very successful and developing very fast in the industrial
era, because the countries have been able to adept themselves to manufacture
industry in the past decades. But in the information age, manufacture itself
is not enough. The situation in the past few years has demonstrated that
it is very difficult for the countries in East Asia to take the lead in
the IT industry. Most of the countries are facing the similar challenges
in adjusting their economic structure, otherwise it will be very difficult
for them to sustain their high-speed economic development. The economic
problem has brought about internal turbulence and new instability in some
countries in Southeast Asia. Secondly, many countries in the region have
attached great importance to the globalization of the world economy, but
neglected the other trend of the world economy, that is the regionalism.
Therefore, the countries in East Asia have done very little to promote
the development of the regionalism in the region. As a result, there is
no organization of economic cooperation among the countries in the region,
not to mention the mechanism to ensure the effective economic cooperation
among the countries in the region. Thirdly, because of the lack of an organization
for economic cooperation, it is very difficult, or even impossible, for
the countries to cooperate and coordinate their policies in case of crisis.
Because of this, security cooperation is difficult to go deeper.
3. Arms race and proliferation
After the end of the cold war, tremendous achievements have been witnessed
in international arms control and countering the proliferation of WMD in
the world. However, the East Asia has been the most dynamic region in arms
build-up and proliferation. Because of the military confrontation on Korean
Peninsula and across the Taiwan, the parties concerned have been trying
their efforts to build up their arms, thus leading to the arms development
and race in the above-mentioned regions. Furthermore, some western
countries, the United States in particular, have fueled the arms race and
proliferation in the region. The United States has not only exported large
quantity of high-tech weapons to the countries and region in East Asia,
but also pushed forward the TMD program there. Instead of strengthening
the security of US forces in East Asia and its allies in the region, the
US TMD program is, in fact, catalyzing the new distrust among the countries
in East Asia, and may trigger a new round of arms race in the region, which
may violate the peace and stability in the region, and therefore will be
a disaster for the countries in the region.
4. Non-traditional threats
Since the end of the cold war, the traditional military threat has been
diminishing gradually with the end of the military confrontation between
the United States and Russia, yet the non-traditional threats are arising.
In the recent years, non-traditional threats have been found in terrorist
attacks, piracies, drug-smuggling, uneven development, worsening environment,
political instability in some countries, hacker attacks through computers,
etc. Although these threats are non-traditional, but they are very realistic
and practical. They are posing threats to almost all countries in the region.
If these threats are not properly handled in concerted efforts, they may
seriously undermine the peaceful and stable security situation in the region.
III. THE SECURITY FUTURE IN EAST ASIA
It is believed that so long as the countries in the region continue
their efforts to maintain the momentum in their contribution, the peaceful
and stable situation could be maintained. But one has to argue that the
future of the security in the region depends to a great extent on the following:
1. Establishment of new security concepts
Since the end of the cold war, the countries have been exploring a security
mechanism, which can on the one hand ensure the security of every member,
and promote lasting peace and stability on the other. It is quite obvious
that it is impossible for such a security mechanism to be established on
the basis of the security concepts in the cold war years. Therefore it
is a very urgent task not only for the scholars in strategic and security
studies, but also for the governments of the countries in the region to
establish new security concepts on the basis of the changed situation.
In light of the reality in the Asian-Pacific region, the countries concerned
have reached following consensus on new security concept. (1) The security
concept in the new era emphasizes that security should be comprehensive,
instead of merely military security. (2) Security includes external security
and internal security. The national economic development, internal stability
and social progress are important contents in materializing national security.
(3) The core of the new security concept is to respect and maintain the
sovereignty of all sovereign states. (4) The best way to materialize security
is sincere cooperation, instead of confrontation.
2. Enhancement of security cooperation
For a security architecture meeting with the demand of the changed and
changing situation in East Asia, the members in the region have to strengthen
their cooperation. The huge diversities in the region have brought about
a lot of obstacles to the security cooperation. It is advisable for the
nations in the region to carry out security cooperation from easy to difficult.
Therefore the author would suggest that they start their cooperation first
from the economic field. The reality has shown us that the economic cooperation
not only brings benefits to the parties concerned, but also increases their
interdependence, which is the basis for further cooperation in the security
field. Without sincere cooperation, one may be difficult to imagine that
the peace and stability can last very long. The UN Charter and other widely
accepted norms on international relations should be the corner stones for
the cooperation. To promote the sincere cooperation, countries concerned
have the responsibility to create environment and atmosphere, which are
conducive to the strengthening of cooperation.
In the foreseeable future, different security structures will continue
to coexist. The existing bilateral security arrangement will continue
to exist. But multilateral and sub-regional security arrangement will also
continue to mature. In the not long future, there may appear some new security
structure. Therefore, countries in the region, the major powers in particular,
have to adept themselves to the emergence of the new security situation
Proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction
has always been a challenge to the countries in the region. Nowadays, it
poses more imminent threat to the region than it did before. The 1998 Indian
and Pakistani successive nuclear tests have produced very negative impact
on the nonproliferation efforts in the region. If one looks into the future,
he may be impossible to be very optimistic with the nonproliferation situation
in the region. Firstly, some of the countries or region, which are likely
to possess nuclear weapons, are in this region. Secondly, the TMD and NMD
programs may force some countries in the region to race against each other
in high-tech weapons, thus triggering a new round of arms race. Thirdly,
most of the existing nonproliferation regimes have been worked out by the
major western powers, therefore they are discriminating and not fair enough.
Fourthly, the wide use of depleted uranium bombs in both Gulf and Yugoslavian
Wars may prompt the countries concerned to possess weapons of mass destruction.
All these may have very negative impact on the nonproliferation in the
region. To maintain the peaceful and stable security situation, all countries
should join their efforts in countering proliferation, and strengthening
the nonproliferation regimes on the basis of consultation.
4. Peaceful unification
Both Korean Peninsula and China are artificially split. This splitting
status may bring about the most serious shock or even a reverse in the
security situation in the future. Because:
(A) Both Korean Peninsula and Taiwan are of very important significance
in the strategies of the major powers in the region. The interests of the
major powers interweave here. Any slight incident may invite the involvement
of the big powers, thus complicating the situation and the incident may
be easily internationalized.
(B) On both Korean Peninsula and across Taiwan Strait, there are
military confrontations. All the confronting parties have strong military
powers, which are big in size, sophisticated in weapons, high in vigilance
and pretty perfect in readiness. Armed conflict between them will be of
very high intensity and may involve more than two countries, should such
a conflict arise.
(C) There are unstable factors in all of the four confronting parties.
Intensification of their internal problems may give rise to a sudden change
of the situation and thus undermining the stable security environment.
Having seen the danger of the splitting status, both Korean Peninsula
and China are doing their efforts to promote unification. The outside forces
should contribute their efforts in promoting the process of peaceful unification.
On Korean Peninsula, two Koreas should be encouraged to discuss the issues
concerning peaceful unification independently without any foreign intervention.
On Taiwan issue, the two sides should begin to talk about peaceful unification
without any foreign intervention. Peaceful unification serves the interests
of all countries concerned, and therefore will be an all-winning outcome.
5. A practical and feasible program for ARF
The future regional security in East Asia depends heavily on what role
the ARF will play in the future. The practice since the founding of ARF
in 1994 has proved that the ARF is the only official security cooperation
forum in the Asian-Pacific region, its role and position in the region
is irreplaceable. In the future, ARF will undoubtedly continue to play
important role. The major powers in the region should modify their policies
a little bit so as to adept themselves to the situation in which major
powers are led by the countries which are smaller in size and weaker in
strength. The ARF itself has to be practical. It should work out a feasible
program for the future. In working out the program, the members should
fully take into account of the reality and diversities in the region. It
should never introduce the mechanism for the intervention of the internal
affairs of its members.
* Professor and Deputy Director of the Institute for Strategic
Studies, National Defense University. The views expressed in this
paper are purely those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the
views of any government agencies or that of the PLA.