A New Security Framework for Asia

Technology Eye | Jan. 27, 2017

With a new US president, the world faces the possibility of the US turning inward, affecting international trade, the international security architecture and the liberal international economic order. Asia, particularly, may face adverse fall-out, including a possible confrontation with North Korea that could have reverberations for all of East Asia and beyond; a trade war with China that might suck in other Asian and Asia-Pacific powers; and a face-off with China over the South China Sea.

“We want a balanced, open and inclusive regional architecture,” said Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister in Charge of the Smart Nations Initiative of Singapore, one that encompasses a strategic design going beyond defence and security to include a commitment to an open economy and free trade. Since the end of the Viet Nam War in 1975, the region has seen the opening up of China and India, greater regional integration and rising prosperity all around. Openness, access to international law and improvement in global governance is a formula that works, he said, adding: “We don’t want to be forced to take sides.”

Emphasizing that job creation, business opportunity, stability and security are what the US under President Trump would want too, Balakrishnan said he thinks it unlikely that the US will initiate conflict in Asia. Prosperity demands that there be no war, and for this, he said, China and the US must work to build strategic trust.

Expressing a contrary view from Japan, Yoichi Funabashi, Chairman of the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation (RJIF), said that Tokyo is deeply concerned about the Trump administration’s “trade policy, or trade non-policy,” especially as trade is increasingly intertwined with security issues. He said that Tokyo is worried that a trade war with China could ensue if Trump’s electoral rhetoric translates into action, inevitably spilling over into the Asia-Pacific region.

As for an alternative security system in Asia, Funabashi said there is no alternative to a US-based alliance system. Tokyo wants to prevent the alliance system from being jeopardized, he said, countering Balakrishnan’s optimism with a reminder that the liberal international order is about not just trade, but also such values as human rights and the rule of law, which today are being challenged. Should the US-China relationship unravel, the biggest casualty could be the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Funabashi said, adding that Asian countries must continue efforts to “Asianize” the security system through cooperation.

Lee Geun, Professor of International Relations at the Graduate School of International Studies, and Vice-President and Dean at the Office of International Affairs at Seoul National University, Republic of Korea, echoed Funabashi’s concern, saying he is more worried about the US under Trump than about North Korea. Asserting that the region has already learned how to handle North Korea and the various intra-region territorial conflicts, he said a new challenge to the region would come from the outside.

China may well build up its soft power as the US under Trump becomes increasingly unilateral while China continues to become increasingly multilateral, Lee said. He argued that multilateral trade is very important to China, which has both contributed to and benefited from international trade and is deeply invested in the liberal international economic order.

Luhut B. Pandjaitan, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs of Indonesia, presented a different perspective – pointing out that the threat of terrorism looms large over Asia and the entire world, he said his country, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, has been focusing on ensuring that the gains from growth are distributed widely to ward off the potential attraction of radical Islamist philosophy among those left behind.

At the same time, he said, Indonesia does not want any power projection in the area, whether by the US or China, adding that ASEAN could play a role in helping the two countries to resolve their differences.

SOURCE: World Economic Forum

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