10th Asian Security Conference

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  • Rapporteur Report on Session I: Asian Strategic Context: Perspectives

    February 5, 2008
    Prepared by Abanti Bhattacharya & Amarjeet Singh

    The Asian continent is undergoing a significant transformation. The key question therefore is, where is Asia going? This was the central theme of this session. The session focused on the emerging security order in Asia in the wake of the power shift from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The contours of the emerging security order in Asia are yet not clear. There is, however, a discernible realignment of great powers in the region, with US being the dominant power, China a rising power, India an emerging power and Russia a resurgent power. Along with this realignment, there is also the emergence of new players like Indonesia and South Korea, making the nebulous Asian security architecture even more complex. Against this backdrop, the five papers – two from India, one from China, one from Japan and one from the US, attempted to understand the emerging patterns in the Asian security order. There were two discussants for this session who provided some nuanced views on the Asian security order.

    Following the Noble Eight-Fold Path in the Buddhist tradition, Prof. C. Rajamohan’s paper on Emerging Security Order in Asia presented eight propositions on how India might define its interactions with the emerging Asian security order. The propositions were: no claims to Asian leadership, no grandiose doctrine, no discarding Non-Alignment, no collective security, no dilution of ASEAN’s primacy, no running before walking, no exclusive structures and no Asian values. Raja Mohan stated that unlike Chinese leaders, who are far more conscious of their country’s changing position in the world, their Indian counterparts are not tempted to posit any theory akin to China’s ‘peaceful rise’. Further, India’s foreign policy underscores an omni-directional engagement with all the great powers, vindicating its tradition of non-alignment and a foreign policy based on strategic opportunism. India is also averse to collective security as it resolutely believes in sovereignty. India has genuine stakes in the ASEAN region and so supports ASEAN’s leadership in the region. Raja Mohan also talked about going slow in institutional building and avoidance of imitating the West. Rejecting Asian values and the Beijing consensus as well as Western values and the Washington consensus, he proposed a Delhi consensus as India is pre-eminently poised to act as a bridge between the East and the West.

    Sujit Dutta’s paper on The Asian Transition and India’s Emerging Strategy provided a more proactive vision of what India should do as an “authentic” Asian power. He said that an Indian Consensus already exists and is visible in India’s proactive role in world politics. He stated that while India’s gradual rise is not as strident as that of China’s, it is nonetheless significant as it is the “second engine of growth” in Asia, “a balancer and stabiliser” in the Asian power system, a strong force for liberal institutionalism and a power against terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. In spite of the lack of a proactive foreign policy strategy due to a lack of national consensus, there are certain discernible elements of India’s grand strategy. Such a grand strategy, though not officially articulated, is apparent in India’s four foreign policy initiatives: strategic partnership with the United States; engaging and stabilising relations with China; working for a friendly and secure neighbourhood; and regionalism and economic integration. Sujit Dutta concluded that though India remains constrained from playing a more active Asian role by its own sense of vulnerabilities, the enormity of the task of modernisation, and often an absence of consensus on important strategic decisions because of coalition politics, its rise is important for other states. This is particularly because India’s size, its civilisational significance, its growing strategic weight, its success as the world’s largest democracy, its centrality in the struggle between tolerant and intolerant forces within the Muslim world and its crucial role in helping to build a stable balance of power, make it an “authentic” power to be reckoned with.

    Dr. Xu Xin’s paper on The Chinese Concept of “Twenty Years” Strategic Opportunity and its Implications for an Asia-Pacific Strategic Order shed light on China’s strategic thinking and behaviour in East Asia with a focus on the concept of “twenty years strategic opportunities”. Xu posed a few questions: “How do the Chinese perceive and assess the still evolving global and regional strategic environments in terms of great power relations and globalisation?” What does China intend to achieve by declaring the first two decades of the 21st century as an ‘important period of strategic opportunities’? How is China trying to seize “strategic opportunities” in dealing with major challenges in regional security politics? The paper dealt with how China practices this opportunity-maximising strategy in its approach to the US-Japan alliance, ASEAN-centric regional multilateralism, and the hot spots on the Korean Peninsula and in the Taiwan Strait. Xu identified three strategic judgments that underscored the concept of “twenty years strategic opportunities”: (a) the geo-strategic conditions of the early 21st century are basically benign and favourable to China’s development, despite several challenges; (b) China should first concentrate on domestic socioeconomic development and comprehensive national power growth; and (c) China should actively participate in global and regional affairs. Based on this concept, Xu concluded that China can maximise the strategic opportunities and its peaceful rise by actively embracing globalisation and promoting multilateralism while avoiding great power confrontation.

    Prof. Shigekatsu Kondo’s paper on Japan and East Asian Security in the 21st Century identified the uncertainties in Asia – Asian diversity, the future of China, and the legacy issues of Korea and Taiwan – as the major pivots on which the evolving Asian security order would be structured. He stated that the rise of China and India is occurring when the US is suffering in the quagmire of Iraq. He said that unipolarity will not continue for long, so the relationship among major powers has become important again. He argued that the international community is becoming borderless with the progress of globalisation. Japan is a trading country, a resource scarce nation, and that more than 80 per cent of its energy consumption is supplied by import. In this situation, Japan has depended on peace and prosperity of the international community for its survival. Therefore, Japan has to participate actively in international efforts to keep the world peaceful and stable, not only for its own survival but also for the entire world. The paper also dealt at length on the situation in East Asia and Japan’s national security strategy. Kondo identifies seven national interests that constitute the framework of Japan’s national security strategy and East Asian policy. They are: peace and stability of the international community; safety of sea lines of communication; development of free trade system; promotion of universal values; development of open regionalism and community building in East Asia; economic development; and maintenance of Japan’s vibrant economy based on strong technology. Kondo argued that good Japan-China relationship is also a pre-condition of community building in East Asia.

    Prof. Bruce Cummings, in his paper on On the History and Practice of unilateralism in East Asia, bluntly called multilateral diplomacy in East Asia a joke. He traced the weakness of the East Asian multilateralism to the post-World War II settlement and the Korean War. He further added that from the 1960s through to the present though regionalization has moved apace, the region still lacks intense horizontal contact and continues to do without analogous multilateral institutions. In Northeast Asia, he said that it is business firms that drive the dynamics of the region. Neuralgic animosities remain a major obstacle. He concluded that the US remains the key enabler of either multilateralism or unilateralism in East Asia.

    The first discussant, Prof. Varun Sahni, enumerated the characteristics of Asian security in 21st century, and pointed out that unlike in Europe, no reconciliation has taken place in Asia. Japan’s imperial legacy was qualitatively different from that of Germany. Asia is in a post-colonial phase and not in post-modernity. In fact, we are in the historical moment of political modernity. Throughout Asia sovereign territorial states are essentially seeking to perfect their sovereign territoriality. Also, the security community in Asia is driven by Washington, unlike Europe which had its own security community. Given these characteristics, he asks the question where are we now and where are we going? Sahni stated that the US is absent from the Asia-Pacific not in terms of capabilities but in policy terms. 9/11 shifted the cockpit of world politics from the Atlantic to the Middle East. Sahni then made some remarks on the emerging Asian order. First, Asia is undergoing power transition and this transition is characterised by a hedging strategy which is, in fact, a logical outcome of the transition itself. Therefore, China has adopted the 20 years of Strategic Opportunity. Second, China is rising and India is emerging. This is not just a semantic difference. China’s rise is creating a kind of continental interdependence. While India’s emergence is important, Japan is also normalising and the US is going nowhere. Third, as a co-operative mechanism of Asian security, he put forward ‘an Asian Helsinki process’ as the best possible bet for India. Fourth, non-alignment is a hiding strategy and big powers do not hide, but transcend the balance of power. Fifth, India is hesitant to use democracy as a foreign policy tool primarily because it does not view democracy as a universal value but rather looks at it instrumentally.

    The second discussant, Dr. S. Kalyanaraman, pointed out that Asia would emerge as the new locus of international economics and politics and that Asian countries would increasingly gain greater influence in the international system. But what is not clear is the direction that international politics in Asia would take in the coming years and decades. Adding on to Rajamohan, he pointed to a third reason as to why India need not proclaim grandiose doctrines like China’s peaceful rise, namely, India is a status quo power that does not advance irredentist claims. He also raised the crucial question whether China would continue to act as a stakeholder in the international system or it would make a grasp for hegemony as other newly emergent great powers in the past did. He contended that what course China adopts would determine to a great extent the contours of Asian and international security in the 21st Century. In bringing about a peaceful Asia, he suggested that the best course would be to design a multilateral framework or order that entrenches China as well as the other major actors in Asia. Both China and India are following similar strategies in this era of flux and uncertainty. Both are focused on internal economic development, on achieving a peaceful periphery and peaceful neighbourhood, and furthering the ASEAN-centred processes. In this regard the ASEAN-centred processes seems to offer best option to enmesh the major actors in Asia in a web of multilateral initiatives. Moreover, it is important to factor in the structure of conflict and co-operation between Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia to understand how the Asian security order will evolve in the future.