Lack of Asia-Pacific security cooperation limits possibilities in other areas

Source:Global Times Published: 2015-10-23 0:33:01

Security cooperation in the Asia-Pacific has been lagging behind cooperation in general, which has even been affecting economic and political collaboration.

Of course, security cooperation is undoubtedly the most sensitive and the most complicated field in terms of bilateral and multilateral collaboration. Especially when it comes to the Asia-Pacific, historical problems and great power games, which of course include those between China and the US, have created a lot of tensions.

The lack of a constructive security dialogue hampers interactions in other areas. In the end, we cannot utilize economic cooperation, for example, to its full potential. If there was greater political stability and security cooperation, trade would probably be significantly higher.

The current security mechanism as well as the security framework in the Asia-Pacific is a blur. What we need is fewer organizations, not more. The region has ASEAN, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and separate security forums in China, South Korea, Japan, etc. There are a lot of them already, with no connection to each other. Therefore, we need to integrate the currently existing organizations and bilateral or multilateral structures.

On that score, we urgently need an East Asian regional security structure and even an all-Asian security structure, which can help each country to communicate about the problems and start to collaborate as a whole.

This is of course extremely difficult. Even in Europe, which enjoys substantial quantities of economic and social cooperation, security cooperation still lags behind.

Take the refugee crisis, where the members of the EU are not managing the challenge in as efficient a way as we would hope. What we need is to develop a common view on security, both traditional and non-traditional.

Thus, given the difficulties to initiate the security cooperation, the lack of it is not only a state in Asia, but an international phenomenon.

In light of this, Beijing can undoubtedly play a bigger role than now. China is a big player nowadays, but has been taking the back seat in terms of initiating security cooperation regionally and globally.

However, it is too big to take the back seat. It needs to sit in the front. China's future role will be one of several that could guarantee security in the region. Not because it wants to, but because it has the ability to do so.

To be frank, lots of China's neighbors are not very stable. The interest and ability from the US or other countries to help is very low.

So in the next decade, China will be forced to act more assertively in the neighborhood. China will hopefully become not the same as the US, but a very Asian version of the US.

Meanwhile, Beijing should also notice that China is so strong that whatever China does, people would tend to view it negatively. If China coughs, Vietnam and the Philippines will also get a cold. The reaction will be bigger than what Beijing expects. Since China is a powerful player, it needs to be careful, since all its actions look 10 times as aggressive in the eyes of Hanoi or Manila.

On the other hand, although we have a lot of tensions, overall, there is more cooperation. Take China and Japan, where they work well together in the UN, in WTO and in a number of issues. People in Tokyo and Beijing are simply too smart to engage in a war. They might dislike each other, they might have tensions, but the potential for cooperation is also very big.

Therefore, despite the newspaper headlines, relations among the states in the Asia-Pacific region are actually quite good, and the potential of a more integrated security cooperation, though difficult, is worth being hopeful about.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Li Aixin based on an interview with Niklas Swanstrom, director of the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Sweden, at the recent Xiangshan Forum in Beijing.

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