Regional security and challenges to national security in Asia

Asia-Pacific Century Asians are growing closer economically. They are also, with their rising place in the world, growing more confident. As recently as 1960, Japan and East Asia together accounted for only 4 percent of world GNP, while North America made up 37 percent. Today the two regions have about the same share of global product. And Asia is growing faster. Later in this decade, Asia’s economy should be larger than that last of the United States alone. Within a decade after that, China and Japan could each be larger, in the narrow scales of GNP calculations, than the United States.

Asia is also rising in technological terms. In a growing number of hightech areas, such as amorphous metals and optical fiber research, Japan has already passed the United States.

The Asia-Pacific century is on hand, as rapid economic growth 0f East Asian countries in particular followed by ASEAN economies have overtaken those of the old world. The first teams in this Asian miracle are led by Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. The second team that is close behind is the ASEAN economies. If you add to this development the rise of South Asia led by India one could say that the Asian continent will be the driving force of the global economy. Ironically this economic miracle came when the Western colonizers left the area.

However, the Asian sparkplug that is igniting and changing the architecture of the global economy is undoubtedly the rise of China, India, and the ASEAN community whose combined population is a third of that of the world. Having lifted perhaps a third of their population out of poverty and created a formidable middle class these countries provide a humongous market for the world’s economy.

To sustain the gains of the Asia-Pacific region what is required is the construction of strategic plan for the promotion of political, security and economic cooperation to avoid future conflicts geopolitical flashpoints that hang on the head Asia’s sustained path of economic progress and human development like a sword of Damocles.

Asia’s Flash Points

It is axiomatic that accelerated economic growth, in the region will require energy .It has been estimated that a 1% GDP growth will require ten times more energy which if inadequate for the requirements of growth could trigger political insecurity, provoke an accelerating arms buildup and deepen geopolitical rivalries.

Parenthetically, the Asian region has significantly accelerated its arms buildup, now higher than that of post-Soviet Russia. Asian nations, including India, are rapidly developing new long-range strike capacities as legions of new missiles and aircraft become operational. This ‘Arms Race Asia’ is troubling not only for its pace but also for its alarmingly high technological level.

The region’s economic growth and serious energy shortage are leading the area swiftly towards a struggle for offshore oil. Moreover, with regional energy shortages as a result of high growth, the attractiveness of nuclear energy grows in Asia, even as it declines elsewhere. It is useful to note that nearly half the increase in the entire world’s nuclear energy production by 2010 will be in East Asia. These plants will most likely produce dangerous amounts of plutonium, a key raw material for nuclear weapons.

Compounding the energy- related security dangers in Asia are troubling geostrategic uncertainties. Surrounding Japan, in a prospective Northeast Asian Arc of Crisis, are heavily armed nations – notably the two Koreas, China and Taiwan.

Factors to Consider the Degree of Volatility of the Region

Asian energy markets will change sharply, with major new importers like China, India, and ASEAN – including Indonesia – emerging, and regional competition for limited supply growing much keener. At the same time, Asia – especially China – will grow dramatically more dependent on the Middle East, the world’s low-cost source of oil, with the volume of petroleum passing eastward through the Strait of Malacca likely to triple within the next fifteen years. Asia’s rising role as a source of new demand in global oil markets may not affect Europe economically for another decade, or perhaps more. The collapse of Eastern European and to some extent Latin American demand, amid debt crises, has created slack and bought time for global markets, as has the shift to high technology and services in the economics of the advanced industrial world. But Asia’s rising demand will dangerously deepen overall global dependence of OPEC by 2010 – to between 45 and 60 percent, by International Energy Agency estimates. A generation from now Asia, in short, could well be the cause of Europe’s next oil shock – at a point when North Sea oil and gas will provide much less of a cushion for the continent than it does today.

Asia’s relationship with the Middle East will deepen rapidly over the coming decade, the BRI initiative will see to this. The most dynamic – and rapidly deepening – element will be the new linkage between China, a net oil importer since November 1993, and the Persian Gulf States, particularly Iran.

A third major development on the East Asian horizon could deepening balance of power rivalries within the region. These could have potentially serious military implications, especially in the naval sphere. Indeed, there is a significant prospect of an escalating naval arms race along the vulnerable, far energy sea lanes from Yokohama and Shanghai to the Persian Gulf, especially if the American naval presence east of Suez declines. China, Japan, Korea, India, Indonesia, and other smaller states of Asia could well be caught up in such a rivalry, with serious security consequences for Australia and potentially Europe as well.

Local geostrategic, energy, and economic considerations within Northeast Asia create the particular danger of a fourth contingency – serious and deepening Sino-Japanese rivalries. Despite a common cultural heritage, Sino-Japanese tensions have been deepening in the past 2-3 years, fed by old historical memories, conflict over nuclear testing, Taiwan, terms for Japanese aid to China, and still more fundamentally the complexities of China’s deepening geopolitical shadow. Energy could be the flashpoint for still deeper conflict between the titans of Asia. Japan and China, have conflicting territorial claims in the East China Sea, surrounding the potentially oil-rich Senkaku Islands (known to the Chinese as Diauyutai). China and Japan have both recently been poised to drill in contested areas, raising the prospect of serious confrontation if major energy strikes are made. The spreading declaration of exclusive economic zones (EEZs) throughout the region compounds the problem.

Taiwan and the Korean peninsula, explosive enough in their own right at present, also pose troubling long-term geopolitical issues for both China and Japan, which have brought those Asian super-powers into conflict many times in the past. The ultimate political configurations of both Korea and Taiwan remain dangerously undefined, and both China and Japan have reason to feel that those areas should fall into their own respective spheres of influence. Conflict with China over primacy in Taiwan or Korea, or simple insecurity at such developments as Korean reunification, could someday trigger a major expansion of lightly armed Japan’s military capabilities although the Japanese public today clearly seems opposed to such an eventuality. Any moves a more forceful Japanese defense posture could, in turn, dangerously deepen Sino-Japanese rivalry.

The volatility of “Asia’s deadly triangle” urgently dictates much broader economic and diplomatic initiatives and forms of organization .With the end of the cold war the rise of China and the reemergence of Japan, international relations within Asia-Pacific begin to take on a more dynamic tempo changing the security architecture.

New Players

In the new Asia’s political scene, seven distinct players have emerged to join the Asian power game . Apart from the Cold War superpowers (the United States and Russia), the emerging superpower (China) and an economic giant (Japan) there are India with over a billion people, nuclear capacity, and major economic potential, Vietnam with the largest and toughest conventional armies in the world, and its economy is growing explosively and Korea the thirteenth biggest economy in the world which will in all probability be reunited with the North

A new unified Korea will be a major force in Northern Asian affairs, not least in military terms. North and South Korea together, have more men under arms than either of the superpowers, the United States and Russia. But even a combined North-South force of one-third current levels would be formidable. A unified Korea would also have a population 90 percent the size of Germany’s and a GNP approaching that of Brazil.

Korea’s reunification will pose complex new challenges for Japan-Korea relations – and for the U.S.- Japan Korea relations. Korean reunification could also fan nationalist sentiments within Korea and could therefore accelerate pressures for an American military withdrawal from Korea, which could in turn intensify parallel pressures within Japan for an American withdrawal. A combined withdrawal of U.S. forces from both Korea and Japan would also probably intensify pressures for expanded military spending in Japan, and the dangers of a Sino- Japanese arms race.

The clearest and most obvious point of contention – for literally all of Asia’s major local powers – is the South China Sea. It is both an “energy” and a “territory” problem simultaneously – a volatile combination in the energy-short world toward which we may now be moving. Beneath that sea’s placid, lie substantial reservoirs of oil, which all the powers of the region covet. Moreover through its waters run shipping lanes to and from the Persian Gulf that carry 80 percent and more of Northeast Asia’s precious oil supply. An estimated 5 trillion dollars worth of trade passes through the sea that China claims 80 percent of an assertion debunked by the recent UNCLOS arbitration case filed by the Philippines.

The Drift toward “Arms Race Asia”

The uncertainties of the emerging East Asian power game, aggravated by energy shortage, when accelerated the dangers of a post-Cold War Asian arms race. The fact is, every one of the major nations of East Asia except Vietnam and North Korea, which already have two of the most formidable arsenals on earth, increased actual defense spending by more than 25 percent during the 1990-94 period. Indeed, most Asian nations boosted military spending by nearly double that ratio. This must be an unsetting element of the region’s prospective future, in light of the political rivalries discussed above. Indeed, even the lesser powers in the region, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and even Singapore, are also getting swept up in the broader regional arms race. All of them are transforming their naval capabilities from what have been essentially coastal forces into navies with greater range and a significantly broader variety of capabilities.

West Philippine Sea Standoff

China’s expansive territorial claims a virtually guarantee that foreign anxieties will persists and may undercut its successful soft power projections.

At the annual Shangri- La Dialogue, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, stated quite bluntly we might add that Beijing’s moves in the disputed body of water was intended to intimidate its neighbors. (To be continued)