Predicting the Unpredictable (Page 6 of 6)

The Communist party believes it has thrived for so long because of the direct and indirect support of farmers who sympathize with its cause, especially with its land reform program. But Palatino notes that even according to the Party’s own website, it isn’t yet on the threshold of clinching victory in the country. Instead, Palatino notes, “It claims to be operating at the strategic defensive phase of the protracted people’s war. Its armed forces, though much smaller than the military, are strategically scattered throughout the archipelago. In short, the armed rebellion led by the Communist Party is neither winning nor losing at the moment.”

Aquino has pledged to end within six years what is now the world’s longest insurgency, and he has apparently staked his legacy on whether he can achieve this. “In numerous speeches, Aquino has said he wants to leave a peaceful society when he steps down in 2016,” Palatino says. “He should not lose sight of this vision, since the temptation to ignore the overtures of peace is always present.”

But while India’s security challenges can’t be described as solely external, the Philippines certainly aren’t just internal. This year has seen tensions with China bubble to the surface as a long-running territorial row with China over the South China Sea has once again grabbed headlines. With this in mind, the government in Manila might envy the relative calm that Australia finds itself facing in its regional ties.

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As the Kevin Rudd administration noted in its 2009 Defense White Paper:

“The enduring reality of our strategic outlook is that Australia will most likely remain, by virtue of our geostrategic location, a secure country over the period to 2030. We are distant from traditional theatres of conflict between the major powers, and there is an absence of any serious, enduring disputes with our neighbors that could provide a motive for an attack.”

But even geographically isolated Australia isn’t immune from the influence of the shifting tides of power in Asia, as Sam Roggeveen notes in his essay.

“Australia’s security and international standing has always been built on an important convergence: throughout Australia’s history, its major economic partner has also been a major strategic partner, or at least a significant client of one,” Roggeveen writes. “From white settlement until the middle of World War II, it was Great Britain which filled both roles. Then it was the United States, and from the 1970s onward, Japan became Australia’s major trading partner.”

But the rising China narrative is, he says, overturning this prolonged period of certainty. “Australia’s major economic partner, China, now has a number of foreign policy interests which are, at best, misaligned with those of our major strategic partner, the United States. At worst, these interests are in direct conflict, with uncertain consequences for the region.”

Does this mean that dangerous instability is inevitable? Not necessarily, Roggeveen says, arguing that Australia has a potentially vital role to play as power shifts in the Asia-Pacific by reinforcing “international society.” If it can play the game right, Canberra can ensure “that the raw contest for power is ameliorated.”

“It’s said that the purpose of a well-functioning international order is to manage strategic competition,” he says. “And while that is true, it does not exhaust the subject. The deeper purpose of international society is to tame or sublimate the power contest.”

Our final essay is by Chinese high school teacher Jiang Xueqin. It seems an appropriate way of conclude for a number of reasons.

First, there is the subject matter – a look at the prospects for the current wave of Chinese students – an estimated 128,000 – that have made the United States their home for study.

“American colleges, because of their expensive tuition and the United States’ tight visa restrictions, remained a distant dream to many Chinese undergraduates up until 2004,” he writes. “With the Chinese economy soaring, the U.S. government relaxed visa restrictions, and American colleges and universities began recruiting in China.  Today, with China’s economy still purring and America’s now sagging, Chinese students promise to be a feature on many American colleges and universities.”

This paragraph encapsulates neatly the eastward shift in global power, but also hints at the prospects for better understanding between the world’s leading powers. Conflict is often (though not always) a product of misunderstanding or simply ignorance, so it can only be hoped that the growing engagement of young Chinese in the U.S. education system can foster better understanding between Asia’s two great powers.

And ultimately, it’s a better understanding of the dynamics of the Asia-Pacific that these essays are aimed at providing, which is why Jiang’s essay is important for another reason – it allows the region to speak for itself. This series of essays has been selected as each of the writers either hails from Asia or else has significant experience working in the region.  Such on-the-ground experience and insights are invaluable in trying to understand the dynamics of the Asia-Pacific, and where it might be heading.

Of course this can only be a start. Asia has never before been in a situation such as it faces today – a fading but still significant power in Japan being met with two rapidly rising nations in the form of China and India. Throw into the mix the strongest military in the Pacific – that of the United States – and it’s easy to see why the awe over the speed of Asia’s ascent is often tempered by uncertainty.

“It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future,” baseball philosopher Yogi Berra is believed to have said. We can only hope that having read the essays in this series, readers will at least feel a little better armed to try.

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