Solving the Northeast Asia Security Dilemma
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Solving the Northeast Asia Security Dilemma

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Northeast Asia is one of the most complex, fragile regions in the global security landscape. The regional security dilemma is concentrated and intensive, and is generated by a complex and tangled mix of historical issues, ideological factors and disputes over real interests.

Consider the region’s recent history, which features more than its share of turmoil and strife. The ruptures have left Northeast Asia with lingering issues such as territorial disputes between China and Japan and South Korea and Japan, and division on the Korean Peninsula. Japanese attitudes towards history are among the core variables that influence its relations with China and South Korea. Recently, members of Japan’s Cabinet paid a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, arousing strong protests from China, South Korea and other Asian countries. Clearly, historical factors have important and obvious impacts on the current political landscape in Northeast Asia.

As do ideological factors. The Cold War was in part the struggle of competing ideologies between the United States and the Soviet Union. But this struggle has outlived the Cold War. The current security tensions in Northeast Asia are still exacerbated by a Cold War mentality and its manifestation in the U.S. alliance system in Asia. To some degree, the strong U.S. presence in the region contributes to the increased security dilemma. Take the North Korean nuclear crisis, which Pyongyang claims is driven by the absence of a guarantee of its national security. For North Korea, a reliable nuclear deterrent is an effective means of safeguarding its own national security. Essentially, the key to the North Korean nuclear issue is still the lack of safety and security.

Third, there are disputes involving real interests among major Northeast Asia countries. Most entail core interests of territorial sovereignty, which narrows the scope for coordination among the nations involved. Nationalist sentiment in these countries runs high, especially on issues of sovereignty. As modern nations, these states see serving the interests and aspirations of their peoples as an important source of legitimacy. For this reason, decision makers tend to be heavily influenced by public emotions, which may lead to irrational policies. Meanwhile, a number of countries in Northeast Asia have faced economic difficulties in the wake of the global financial crisis. In some cases, political parties have resorted to inciting nationalist sentiment against neighboring countries, to the detriment of relations within the region.

Given these factors, a multifacted approach is needed to resolve the security dilemma in Northeast Asia. First, the countries involved should squarely confront their histories, even as they look to the future. All countries should of course calmly rethink the lessons of the past, but this is particularly important for a country that has caused immense suffering among the people of Asia within its modern history.

Building on this, the region should then turn its attention to the future, go forward and work together to build a long-term, stable security mechanism. To a larger extent, dealing with the historical issues that exist between Northeast Asian countries, including factual disputes and issues of mentalities, is the first step toward a new security relationship among Northeast Asian countries.

Second, we must dispense with a Cold War mentality and seek mutual assured security (MAS). Whether in theory or in practice, the zero-sum approach of the Cold War has been proven to be obsolete. The policies of power against power are not conducive to regional stability and prosperity; rather, common, cooperative, and collective security based on a commitment to MAS are the most useful means for keeping the peace within the region. Any actor wanting to bolster its own security at the expense of another's, pursuing so-called absolute security, is bound to find it counterproductive.

Third, we must strengthen multi-level exchanges, reducing the risk of miscalculation. At present, the academic community has formed a basic consensus, namely on the lack of a Northeast Asia security mechanism, which is largely reflected in the absence of any effective, comprehensive, institutional exchange mechanism among Northeast Asian countries. As a result, the risk of strategic misjudgment increases, especially at times of crisis. Therefore, to build a Northeast Asia security mechanism, we first need to create institutionalized channels of communication, at both non-governmental and government levels. Mutual understanding and trust between peoples is the most reliable guarantee of harmonious relations between nations.

Finally, but most importantly, Sino-U.S. relations must be strengthened, with greater cooperation. On one level, Northeast Asian security involves many actors, but Sino-U.S. relations are key, with the regional outlook very much linked to the status of the relationship between the two powers. Thus, the nature and form of Sino-U.S. relations have become critical variables for Northeast Asian security. But it runs both ways. In other words, the state of security in Northeast Asia influences the state of Sino-U.S. relations. Boosting cooperation in Northeast Asia therefore offers an excellent opportunity and an important platform to cultivate a new kind of relationship between China and the United States.

Chen Jimin, Ph.D is an Assistant Research Fellow for the Institute for International and Strategic Studies at the Party School of Central Committee of C.P.C

Comments
14
kiwi asian
May 13, 2013 at 19:43

@mark murphey 

well said.

The recent research article published in the People's daily (by Zhang Haipeng and Li Guoqiang) regarding Okinawa is the prime example in the PRC's tactics of agitation in the region. (covered in the flash points section)

 

Bankotsu
May 13, 2013 at 14:26

"It has made out like a bandit under the old relationship."

U.S. has plundered world wealth with dollar: China paper

http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/10/24/us-china-dollar-criticism-idUSTRE49N1XX20081024

Bankotsu
May 13, 2013 at 14:24

"Now it is China that is the evil empire that the US is trying to contain."

No choice, U.S. won't allow new powers to rise up and challenge the U.S. unipolar system. From this point of view, clash between U.S. and China is inevitable. China must be ready for it. That's why China is beefing up on its naval capabilities and seeking a buffer zone in western pacific.

 

TV Monitor
May 12, 2013 at 22:15

@ Bankosu

Now it is China that is the evil empire that the US is trying to contain. To the distress of China, China's super unpopular in the rigeon and the US has successefuly executed this containment strategy before..

mark murphy
May 12, 2013 at 20:19

This article can easily be identified as a translated summary of CCP's propaganda directives for internationally distributed mass media. Its goal is to guide and dilute global attentions while China continues its military upgrades for even more expansionist actions. It should be clear to the Diplomat and its readership that the productive debates are no longer about well covered Chinese peaceful rise or China's justifiable aggressions, but about to timely coordinate an effective wall of Chinese containment with minimal damages to the fragile world: how extensive is the alliance, where is the red flag to support that alliance, what is the acceptable Chinese regime change  and how to rebuild Asia in the aftermatch…

Leonard R.
May 12, 2013 at 19:38

@Prof Jimin ( bold added): "Boosting cooperation in Northeast Asia therefore offers an excellent opportunity and an important platform to cultivate a new kind of relationship between China and the United States."

I don't know why China would want a "new kind of relationship". It has made out like a bandit under the old relationship.  When Americans hear CPC officials use soothing phrases like this, they should hang on to their wallets and keep their powder dry.

 

RaRa the new god
May 12, 2013 at 17:49

Solving security problems in north-east Asia conveys the need for the U.S. to eliminate china the great rival and biggest stumbling block to western global dominion. So how to do it. Do another  'iraq' in east Asia. Thus it is wise for the chinese to do whatever they can today to deal with the inevitable which the U.S. will prepare for them come tomorrow. Like the Great One who was known to have said " if I have to drink the bitter drink I shall drink it". 

Bankotsu
May 12, 2013 at 12:25

"This article is a good understanding, but from a narrow Chinese perspective. It does not mention a number of important points…"

There is also no mention of China helping U.S. to contain USSR and thus helped to win the cold war. You think U.S. cooperated with China without motives? It is to check the USSR and split their military forces between the european front and asian front.

nick
May 12, 2013 at 10:39

The author, who is a professor at the Central Party School, gives us a clear indication of what is the party line, and why it is foolish, naïve, or insane, to enter into diplomatic negotiations with the current Chinese government.
There is a humorous quip that says “the more things change the more things stay the same”. Nowhere is this truer than when dealing with the Chinese Foreign Policy. The article is packed with examples, which shed a clear light on what is China’s position with its neighbors in East Asia.
-The author first lays the blame for East Asia’s rather delicate strategic situation on the history of the region. He blames history for the territorial disputes, and the divided Korea. He singles out Japan in particular and the recent visit to the Yasukuni War Shrine by senior government officials.
-All this is certainly true, but also disingenuous. The situation with the divided Korea is due to a war, and a war in which China took an enormous role. To ignore this when discussing the situation in Korea is a willful absence on his part.
-But the true madness starts in the discussion on Cold War thinking. “To some degree, the strong U.S. presence in the region contributes to the increased security dilemma.” This is the real point of contention. The US has maintained a military presence in the region because of North Korea and China. Japan is constitutionally unable to support a truly effective military, and the North Koreans have been threatening their neighbors for 60 years. The author writes “for North Korea, a reliable nuclear deterrent is an effective means of safeguarding its own national security.” North Korea has killed hundreds of its neighbors to the south, and yet comes off as the threatened party. South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Thailand are all countries in Asia which have not needed a nuclear device to protect themselves, so why is North Korea special?
-What this tells us is that China doesn’t want a unified Korea. In fact this is a nightmare worst-case-scenario for China. Thus any kind of ‘negotiations” with the Chinese on North Korea are doomed to fail. As long as the official position is one where China feels comfortable living next to the most irrational country in the world, they have a vested interest in keeping the status-quo.
-Perhaps even more bizarre is the accusation that “In some cases, political parties have resorted to inciting nationalist sentiment against neighboring countries, to the detriment of relations within the region. “The humor here is that China engages in indoctrination of its citizens, especially in there hatred of Japan. A quote from Ezra Vogel’s Dong Xiaoping and the Transformation of China reads “nothing was more effective than the revival of anti-Japanese propaganda that had promoted Chinese patriotism during World War II”  Again we have another example of Chinese bad-faith and double talk. But this is even more important The Chinese wish to hold those democratic parties, which engage in anti-Chinese rhetoric, accountable. Even worse, they wish to curtail the journalists in other countries who threaten “peaceful Chinese relations.” The recent tension over the incursion into India by the Chinese was blamed on “media hype.”
-The article concludes with the usual platitudes of “greater understanding” and “improved relations”. It also gets another dig in at Japan “All countries should of course calmly rethink the lessons of the past, but this is particularly important for a country that has caused immense suffering among the people of Asia within its modern history.” Which is certainly true, but with a constitution that forbids an active military abroad, it seems odd to say that Japan is causing insecurity in the region.
-The most important thing to take from the article is that the nature of the Party is to say one thing and do another. They wish to strengthen their position militarily, but not fire a shot. Solzhenitsyn said, in his speech in 1975, “What is not war, is peace.” In other words, the CCP seeks a situation in which by not firing the first shot, they can use other means, economic, and even terrorist (as in the case of North Korea) to further their political agenda, all while claiming to promote the security of the region.
 

TV Monitor
May 12, 2013 at 04:15

The root cause of insecurity in Asia is China's territorial conflicts with all its neighbors, where China unilaterally claims territories that historically doesn't belong to China and using military force to assert claims, such as ongoing Senkaku showdown, a recent incursion into India, and Chinese actions in the South China Sea. Japan is not a security threat because it has made all its territorial claims diplomatically and has not taken any military actions with the exception of the Senkaku Islands to counter Chinese military actions.

Since the root cause of Asian insecurity is China and China cannot be negociated with diplomatically, the only option left for China's neighbors is to join a US-led alliance, and isolate and contain China so that the cancer doesn't spread elsewhere. It was China that has brought the US-led containment policy upon itself, and only a change in Chinese policy, such as taking all its territorial disputes to the ICJ and accepting the outcome, will change that. After all, the US makes no claims on territories of China's neighbors while China does, so all of China's neighbors side with the US in the US-led containment policy. A vicious cycle indeed.  

John
May 11, 2013 at 21:18

This article is a good understanding, but from a narrow Chinese perspective. It does not mention a number of important points:

1. China rose within the US security umbrella, and benefitted directly from trillions of dollars worth of US investment and from its allies. Of course, China benefitted from Deng Xiaping's wise policies, China shouldn't overlook the US$1.5 trillion invested by the US and Japan since 1990.

2. China also benefitted indirectly from a non-aggressive Japan, a product of US security guarantee system. 

3. China's rise was fostered by the US naval system, which has fostered a golden age of trade, both in terms of security (USN) and logistics (US-invented container system).

As for North Korea remaining a security problem, this is a misjudgement of the history of the country. From the 1990s, the Kim family could've implemented China-style reforms but chose not to, thus keeping it weak and insecure. Vietnam, another former US ideological opponent chose the other course and is now a strong economy and diplomatic friend to the US (without sacrificing its party system). What is the difference? It has to do with the Kim family's perceptions of reform, and their decision to favor the military over economic reform. Every serious Chinese academic knows, I'm sure.

Finally, it would be refreshing to see at least one Chinese expert note that the rise of their own country, and the impact its had on its neighbours (especially in terms of territorial disputes) is one of the greatest imbalances in what was a smooth running 1990s security situation. Not to blame China, but at least to acknowledge their own role…but perhaps it's dangerous from them to say…?

TV Monitor
May 11, 2013 at 20:28

Since it is not possible to improve relations with China due to Chinese belligerous, then the only other means of achieving peace is through pressuring China with a military power far greater than it is through a NATO style military alliance and containing China.

It is the show of military power that preserves peace against a predatory country like China in this case 

Bankotsu
May 11, 2013 at 14:08

"Solving security problems in Northeast Asia means containing China…"

But containing rise of China's power means more security problems in northeast asia. Or is creating problems your goal?

Anthony Alfidi
May 11, 2013 at 03:16

Solving security problems in Northeast Asia means containing China and letting South Korea take the lead in dealing with North Korea.

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