An Asian Power Web Emerges
Image Credit: Abhisit Vejjajiva

An Asian Power Web Emerges


When President Obama met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in California last week, it is doubtful that either leader focused on the growing ties among countries like Singapore, India, South Korea and Vietnam. Perhaps they should have. Burgeoning security cooperation among such nations represents the untold story of a region on the move.  

Asia has undergone decades of economic deepening, complemented by years of diplomatic integration. Now, countries across the region are building on this foundation and engaging in unprecedented forms of military cooperation. In many cases these deepening ties include neither the United States nor China, and they are supplementing the traditional U.S.-led “hub and spoke” system of alliances that has marked regional security for decades.

This emerging power web will have deep implications across the Indo-Pacific region. It should also affect American strategy – because, played correctly, the United States is poised to be a leading beneficiary of the growing network of relationships.

The network is marked by a proliferation of government-to-government security agreements, including recent pacts inked between Singapore and Vietnam, Japan and Australia, and India and South Korea. Variable in scope, these accords promote the ability of Asian nations to train and operate together, conduct joint research and development, and service each other’s ships and aircraft. To be sure, these are not mutual defense treaties, but they point to ever-closer military cooperation among key countries in the region.

Similarly, there is an upsurge in joint military training. Japan and India conducted their first bilateral maritime exercise in 2012, the same year that saw joint field exercises between India and Singapore, Australia and South Korea, and Japan and Singapore. The intra-Asian arms trade is also heating up like never before, and even a country like Japan, which has long placed stringent restrictions on the export of weapons, is taking steps toward supplying Asian nations.  

While many of these relationships are developing outside the ambit of China or the United States, the Washington-Beijing dynamic remains a primary driver of them. Asian countries are diversifying their security ties in order to hedge against the possibility that China’s rise will turn threatening and the American presence in the region will decline.

What all this means for regional stability remains undetermined. Increasing interconnectivity in Asia could act as a restraint, making countries more reluctant to engage in provocations as they calculate the costs to their flourishing ties. But a more militarized region could also devolve into rival blocs characterized by arms races and heightened insecurity. Stronger security relationships in Asia could heighten regional competition, particularly if they are divisive and perceived as aimed at China, which is predisposed to see regional security enhancements as containment.

ilyas mohsin
October 6, 2013 at 12:47

Security of an area becomes strong if the countries located in an area tend to be rational and considerate at the state-level. ASEAN etc offer a great example of the same. However, inclusion of countries which tend to play US' game may raise issues which would be avoidable, generally, if the same could be stopped.

Kim's Uncle
June 17, 2013 at 15:10

Don't worry about the new order, CCP can't last much longer.  They are stuck in nowhere land.  Rising economy means disruption of the old ideas of control.   Society that is controlled by the top down has a hard way of controlling factors that pop up unexpectedly.  

Tom F
June 17, 2013 at 09:38

@Siddhartha – "The truth a pure free markets are the other extreme and a failure. Only the "middle path" works. This is true of India and China and many "middle way economies"

I think we agree on implementation, but strictly speaking, there is no such thing as 'middle market'. There is regulating the 'freemarket', which is where I agree with you. But that is not necessarily making the market centrally controlled. 

Easing the centrally controlled market, like China has done, is not freeing up the market, if anything it's more centrally focussed than even before 'trade liberalisation'. Now CCP cronies not only control the state, they also control the economy.

I hope you're not serious when you said India and China's economy 'works'. Work for who? When the size of these economies have grown exponentially, in the two countries with the largest population on earth, their agricultural sector should be churning out agri-barons by the millions, per the experience of developed nations like America and Australia. Yet, farmers are the poorest, most down trodden, and least powerful participant in these economies. 

Similarly, young Chinese and Indians are locked away in factories or call centres, working for a pittance, with their income barely keeping up with the rampant inflation, and if you're lucky enough to have climb a bit higher on the income scale, then your income is falling behind inflation. These aren't the signs of success, not for the people being controlled. 

Sure, the CCP cronies are doing very nicely, and the proles are also happy with their new trinkets distributed from the last shower, but it's not a true sign of a mature and successful economy, one that raises the standard of living for the whole population.

June 17, 2013 at 04:57

…. now you are being metaphysical. Absolute cannot be reached, you can come closer and closer to it but not actually reach it!

But understand what I am saying.  At one end lies the "as much as possible free market" and "as much as possible controlled market".  The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between.


June 17, 2013 at 04:35

The power web is the best thing for Asia. Do not trust USA and China.

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