• Bilateral moves threaten future of Asia-Pacific


  • Peking University, May 23, 2011: The Asia-Pacific region is considered the most important strategic area of the 21st century. With the US and China both looking to expand or maintain their sphere of influence, what role can smaller nations play? Will clashes between great and small powers put the security of the region in danger? Scholars from across Southeast Asia gathered together on May 19 at Peking University (PKU) to talk about these issues.



    What's the future of Asian security?

    William Tow, professor of International Security, chief investigator of Australian Research Council Center of Excellence in Policing and Security Program at the Australian National University (ANU)

    We are really in a historical cross-roads right now in terms of which way the region is going to go. Perhaps the region is sufficiently united and we will see the emergence of an East Asia Summit and ASEAN reform or some other multilateral organizations. There are questions about the shaping of dominance in terms of how the region is going to be managed in a security context. 

    The alternative is that we'll see a continuation of bilateral politics, which means there will be a more competitive security environment. For those who think multilateralism is the best way to go, they will like to see the emergence of the summit and ASEAN reform. But the only way the region is going to be stable in the next 20 or 30 years is to maintain a balance of power. 

    John Ravenhill, professor and head of the School of Politics and International Relations, Research School of Social Sciences, ANU

    International economic collaboration is often seen as an area of positive-sum relationships. In other words, trading relations promote win-win situations. 

    Extensive trading relationships are associated with peaceful relationships among states. The extension of trade has been intensified during the last 25 years as the cooperation of international trade has been changed dramatically because of the globalization. It is now much more costly for any country to break the links of global markets. 

    Given the positive picture, however, there are some worrying trends in recent development across regions. In the security arena, there is the recent development of multilateralism while the trend in the international economy is quite the opposite. In economics, there is a retreat from multilateralism to bilateralism.

    The Doha Round of global trade negotiations has deadlocked over the last decade. But there has been a dramatic proliferation of bilateral trade agreements involving the same states in the same period. 

    I think we should be worried about these trends. Many of these agreements are very shallow, negotiated as much for foreign policy reasons as for economic reasons. And there is evidence to suggest that these agreements are unlikely to have substantial impact on international trade. 

    And the bilateral trade agreements are in essence discriminative. They run the risks of turning the positive-sum game of international trade into a zero-sum game where one state gains at the expense at others. 

    What can we do to minimize the damage of bilateralism in trading relations? We can make new efforts to produce new agreements of global level to offset the discrimination bilateral agreements can produce, include the disciplines for bilateral agreements within the WTO that should be reinforced and fully implemented, continue to develop codes for preferential trade agreements, and multilateralize the agreements themselves.



    How can we work together?

    Ryo Sahashi, associate professor of International politics at Kanagawa University in Yokohama

    We need further integration instead of diplomatic competition. Even after the Cold War, we still have threats like terrorism, and many alliances have grown. But both the US and China's efforts tend to be exclusive. Without both of their efforts to seek a better inclusive region-wide mechanism, our future will end up with "divided" networks.

    The word "integration" is sometimes interpreted by many people as efforts to shape other countries, say, the US shapes China or Chinese behavior shapes other countries' behavior. The US, Japan and European countries should accept China playing a larger role in multinational organizations, but China should also be more active in collaborating with the US and engaging in multilateralism more actively. 

    We should not be under the illusion that Japan-US relations will lose their role in the Asia-Pacific. The balance of power is shifting but we should not underestimate the future of US power. They may review their presence in Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East, but the Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean region is, and will be, regarded as the place where their vital interests lie. 

    What will be the future power interactions in the Asia-Pacific region? I believe harmonization among major powers is very important. We may expand ASEAN institutions as inclusive region-wide ones, such as the East Asia Summit, and we should do so to tackle against transnational challenges. But the major powers will dominate the region. The small powers will not be marginalized but their major contribution is limited to mediation. And to stabilize the major power relations, we really need a bilateral crisis management system both politically and militarily. Trilateral mechanisms involving China, Japan and the US, are also desirable and effective.

    What does China want?

    Zhu Feng, professor at PKU School of International Studies

    From China's perspective, China is not confrontational. China is peaceful and always friendly. China expects regional players to show equal friendliness in response. 

    Another relevant question is how China could respond to outside criticisms and worry over China's rise. Some people say it is Western bias or US conspiracy. Whatever the reason to justify our response, we should genuinely understand what other countries think about China. 

    To realize international cooperation and security alternatives or policies, we need to boost not only understanding, but also shared values and a commitment to our common future.

    Wang Jisi, director of International Security Program and professor at PKU School of International Studies

    China needs a larger market to export its commodities, natural resources, for instance from Australia, and peace and security for very obvious reasons. 

    But China is perceived as a threat to the region. The aforementioned needs of China do not necessarily create frictions in multilateral relations because the US has similar needs but countries in the region respond differently. If we look at the trade relations, many countries place their relations with China higher than their connections with the US. But in the arena of security arrangements, the influence of the US outweighs that of China.

    The real challenges come from non-traditional sources, for instance food security, water resources and oil. We are facing far more non-traditional challenges than before but the policy orientation is still based on the traditional thinking patterns.



    Edited by: Arthars

    Source: Global Times