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Strategic Developments in the East Asian Region

May 26, 2005

Jusuf Wanandi
Co-founder, Member, Board of Trustees, and Senior Fellow,
Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta

There are many strategic developments in Asia Pacific and its neighboring regions of South Asia and Central Asia. For instance, the normalization of relations between India and Pakistan opens a window of opportunity to creating peace and stability in the sub-continent and could prevent a real dangerous nuclear confrontation there. In the Central Asian region, the six-party Shanghai Cooperation Agreement provided a basis for the development of stable relations between Russia and China as well as for the involvement of some important Central Asian countries in countering terrorist activities, which is the main objective of the agreement.

For East Asia or Pacific Asia two main strategic trends will influence future peace and stability in the region, which are the key requirements for maintaining the region's economic dynamism and growth. The first trend is the strategic presence of the U.S. in East Asia and its future adjustments that are made imperative by the RMA (Revolution of Military Affairs) and the restructuring of the Department of Defense ways of operation.

Since World War II the U.S. has been the dominant power in the Asia Pacific region. Its presence has provided the underpinning for the region's peace and stability both during and after the Cold War. As the only superpower, her "hegemony" is very real and strongly felt in the region, where she has become the arbiter to maintain peace and stability. Every country in the region, including China, recognizes her presence and her role for peace and stability.

After the Cold War was over, there was a debate in the U.S. body politic about the peace dividend and the future strategic role of the U.S. in the world and in the various regions, including East Asia. To prevent instabilities the Nye program under President Clinton proposed that the 100,000 U.S. troops in the region be maintained.

Due to changes of strategy, structure and operation of the U.S. military and in dealing with new threats and security issues, namely global terrorism and WMD (weapons of mass destruction), the U.S. is now more than ever present military in the region although operational deployments will have to be adjusted. Consultations on these adjustments are on-going and are needed to prevent misunderstanding on the part of her allies and friends.

The U.S. should also maintain her interest in the economic field, particularly as the developing part of East Asia is affected by globalization. In general, all countries in the region accept the presence and role of the U.S., as was shown during the Iraq War, when some countries that could not openly support U.S. policies, such as Indonesia and China, have done so with finesse.

The second strategic development in East Asia is regional community building. This has been driven mainly by economic integration of the region that began with the second wave of Japanese investments into the region in the mid 1980's. For the time being, community building will rest on economic cooperation, which has become the region's main agenda since the financial crisis in East Asia in 1997. One major development is in the financial field, based on the Chiangmai Agreement, to create self-help facilities that can help prevent and overcome financial crises in the region in the future. The FTAs being negotiated between ASEAN and China and between ASEAN and Japan-ASEAN should be seen as a part of the efforts. In addition, a number of areas of functional cooperation, such as on SARS and the avian flu, have enhanced the region's sense of solidarity. At the intellectual level and at the level of person to person relations dramatic strides have been made between all the East Asian countries especially in the last decade.

The vision of an East Asian Community is first and foremost about achieving peace, stability and progress in East Asia. It has three main strategic objectives. First, to create a regional institution to accommodate a rising China as a constructive member of the region and to enable her to develop into a full status quo power. Second, to assist in the normalization between China and Japan. Third, to assist in alleviating the possibility of future confrontation between the U.S. and China when China becomes a major power on her own right. For this to happen a lot of efforts and creativity has to be mustered by the East Asians in convincing the U.S. that this new regional entity is not against her or will limit her presence in the region for the future. Being the closest ally of the U.S., Japan has a pivotal role to play to make the East Asian Community acceptable to the U.S.

China and the U.S. have for the time being stabilized their relationship, through cooperation in the economic field, in the fight against global terrorism, and in jointly seeking for a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear proliferation of North Korea. The successful outcome of the six party talks could become a harbinger for a Northeast Asian way of solving future problems and potential conflicts in the sub-region. But the results so far have been limited to de-nuclearize North Korea. So, more efforts should happen before some results can be more expected. This should be an important achievement for future security cooperation in North East Asia.

China-Taiwan relations are the most critical and difficult issue in the relationship between China and the U.S. Six months ago there appeared to be less confidence on the Chinese side that time was on their side. They also increasingly realized that Chen has abandoned the status quo, but that they should strengthen China's relations with other countries in the world to insure their One China Policy, especially in East Asia and the U.S. to be able to maintain the status quo. In addition they have dealt with Chen's two opponent parties, who are pro reunification rather successfully. These steps will make Chen's efforts for a step by step approach to independence gradually more difficult. Also after not gaining a majority in the parliamentary elections in December 2004. Chen also thought that China will not attack Taiwan because the U.S. will come to the defense so long as his efforts are democratic, but U.S. more pro-active policies on both sides has calmed the situation somewhat.

Despite Taiwan's increased economic integration into China and the tremendous increase in people to people's contacts (with up to 2 million Taiwanese living party in China), there is no guarantee that reunification will happen because Chen Sui Bian's step by step strategy for independence has not been abandoned. East Asia should assist in overcoming this potential calamity because China is dead serious about using force to prevent that to happen. The fourth generation leadership of China under President Hu Jintao will face the whole Chinese populace if they are going to lose Taiwan.

East Asia (ASEAN and ASEAN+3) should strengthen their recognition for the One China Policy through diplomatic and political efforts. This means that Taiwanese informal leaders, particularly scholars, should be given some space and opportunity to deal with their East Asian counterparts to understand their concerns about the developments on the Straits relations and their strong support for the One China Policy. In addition China has to deal with the democratic movements in Hong Kong with finesse, so long as they do not support independence. They also need to discuss and explain their own policies and strategies to ASEAN and ASEAN+3 more openly, although they consider these matters are domestic in nature.

The U.S. also should stay pro active to assist the two parts to have dialogues and CBM's because the most dangerous part of the crisis is the lack of direct dialogues and contacts between the two official sides, including at the lower level as well as informally. This hopefully should follow the visits of the two opposition leaders Lien and Soong. It is obvious that the policy of "strategic ambiguity", to prevent both sides not to cross "the red line" is no more adequate. What could be worse is the mistaken assessments of some on the right in the U.S. to consider China as a strategic and ideological enemy as the USSR in the Cold War. Because that is exactly what China is not. She might become a major power in the future and a combination of cooperation and competition could be envisaged, but not an ideological competition.

The principle of open regionalism should be adhered to by the new East Asian regional entity. This is in the region's own interest, given its dependence on the global economy. East Asia should support efforts to revitalize the APEC process, an Asia Pacific regional institution where the U.S. is playing an important role. And it should make EAC embedded into APEC to make the U.S. part of the process of economic integration of East Asia and the greater Asia Pacific. It should also convince others outside the region, especially the USA, that East Asian regionalism is part of an effort towards and a building bloc in support of an Asia Pacific regional and global regime for peace and prosperity. East Asia will cooperate with Europe and the Western Hemisphere to build such a global regime. To make this clear, ASEAN proposed that the first East Asian Summit in Kuala Lumpur in December 2005 could possibly include Australia, India and New Zealand.

The EU proves a model for East Asia, but it could not be emulated since the East Asia region is much more diverse. However, some elements of EU's integration process can be implemented in East Asia.

In fact, the two main strategic trends in East Asian should not confront each other, but they should complement each other in creating peace, stability and progress in East Asia and the wider Asia Pacific region. But for that to become a reality, relations between the two major regional powers, namely China and Japan, should be normalized and the U.S. should be convinced that this new East Asian regional institution is not against her interest.

A lot has been written by the media about China-Japan relations, e,g, in the Financial Times, particularly about the ambivalence of the relationship. However, economic interdependence between the two countries have deepened and widened. This will provide the underpinning for a more normal relations in the future. Both sides share a common aspiration for creating an East Asian Community. Both leadership should made use of these sentiments to overcome the historical burden, although some more efforts and deeds of Japan could be done, china too has to see the future, and restrain themselves. The idea of a Joint Committee between them to look into history could be an important and a positive effort.

This all will take time, and therefore, the idea of an East Asian Community also will move forward step by step, first in the economic field, and later in the politico-security field. ASEAN can support the process by a readiness to transform the ASEAN + 3 (China, Japan and South Korea) cooperation into a more full-fledged East Asian cooperation and community building, as she has agreed to have the first East Asian Summit in December 2005 to be held in Kuala Lumpur. This could involve some institutionalization as well. A first step has been made with the establishment of a special Unit at the ASEAN Secretariat to support the ASEAN+3 cooperation.

ASEAN can support this process by getting its own house in order. In so doing ASEAN, in cooperation with South Korea, could again play an important role as the catalyst to accelerate the process of cooperating, since the two big powers are at present not in the position to do so. Accelerated cooperation could assist in assuring that the three strategic objectives mentioned above, which are so critical important to the region, can be achieved within a reasonable time frame.

Since the Bali Concord II, announced at the ASEAN Summit of October 2003, where ASEAN leaders agreed to establish an Economic, a Security and a Socio-Cultural Community within the next decade and a half, ASEAN has regained some credibility. Many believe that ASEAN can get its act together again after a hiatus of seven years, namely since the financial crisis of 1977.

But it is most important that ASEAN also start to implement vigorously the vision of an ASEAN Community, because only then will ASEAN have credibility and its catalyst role in developing the East Asian Community be accepted. One example where ASEAN should be able to show results is on the political development in Myanmar and its process of democratization. What has been achieved so far is very limited and below the expectations of the international community. The holding the Political Convention, without the participation of NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi is considered not to be credible enough to warrant acceptance and support, even by ASEAN members themselves. And the purge of Khin Nyunt as the more open minded leader in the Troika with his intelligence apparatus who has been a conduit for a lot of interaction with the region and the world has been even more disturbing. It could be said that ASEAN's future credibility will depend partly if not mostly on how she is going to solve the mess in Myanmar.

Titles of speakers, names of companies, etc., were correct as of the time when the forum was held.