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China Daily Global / 2023-06 / 26 / Page013

Not de-risking but de-stabilizing

By Zhao Hai | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-06-26 00:00

Next-generation security architecture for peace in Asia calls for bold and creative thinking

Editor's note: The world has undergone many changes and shocks in recent years. Enhanced dialogue between scholars from China and overseas is needed to build mutual understanding on many problems the world faces. For this purpose, the China Watch Institute of China Daily and the National Institute for Global Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, jointly present this special column: The Global Strategy Dialogue, in which experts from China and abroad will offer insightful views, analysis and fresh perspectives on long-term strategic issues of global importance.

It is becoming clear that the Asia-Pacific region as well as the world is going through tremendous changes, and the nature, drivers, direction, and impacts of the changes are still very much unclear. At the center of these changes are shifting perceptions of national, regional and global security, and the main driver causing widespread security concern is the general crisis of the international order which has roughly kept peace in the Asia-Pacific for nearly half a century.

The Cold War and geopolitics seem to be returning to the world and the Eurasia continent is once again becoming a "Grand Chessboard" for the major powers. In recent years, the trade war between China and the United States, the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukraine crisis, and the tension across the Taiwan Strait, along with the increasing pressures resulting from climate change and the rapid development of artificial intelligence, are shaking up the existing international order, forcing countries to rethink their security environment and make new strategies and preparations for a possible prolonged period of uncertainty. In the general context of major power rivalry, particularly when there are heightened perceptions of military conflicts, states in the region are increasingly falling, perhaps unwillingly, into a security trap or dilemma. That is, to make themselves more secure in terms of military deterrence, supply chain resilience and technological advancement, the measures taken by countries, such as new security pacts, weapons systems, trade remedies, export controls and financial sanctions, are in reality accelerating the fragmentation and disintegration of the established order that has successfully maintained peace and prosperity for decades.

There are three prominent features of the security situation in our time.

First, national, regional and global security concerns trump other priorities. For a long period of time, development has been at the center of many governments' agenda, and many people believe that economic growth is the best solution to almost all the problems, including territorial disputes. Globalization conveniently provides an ideal platform for many Asian countries to get on the fast track of industrialization and urbanization. Poverty and conflict are both reduced by economic interdependence. However, the failure to translate economic cooperation into political reconciliation and ultimately regional common security, accompanied by the latest weaponization of interdependence, has brought us back to old-school realism. But this time, the stakes of economic decoupling and military confrontation will be far too high.

Second, transatlantic intervention and the US' reforming of its regional alliance system are drastically complicating the security environment in the Asia-Pacific region. Instigated by the US, former colonial powers are flocking back into the region with military assets and joint operations to execute their role in the US' "Indo-Pacific Strategy". Meanwhile, a plethora of old and new alliances, from bilateral, trilateral, quadrilateral to multilateral, are busy showing their "power of denial" with constant military drills covering all the domains of a potential future conflict. Even the danger of nuclear arms race in East Asia is more acute than ever.

Third, misrepresentation of China's actions and intentions are so rampant and entrenched that a new version of "Yellow Peril" plus "Red Scare" is forestalling any meaningful and necessary dialogue on the future of the regional security arrangements. The animosity against China, dressed up as ideological or systemic rivalry, is deeply rooted in colonial/imperial history and modern racism, which is very much relevant to all Asian nations. Market competition nowadays is converted into national security violations, and protectionism is retrofitted into so-called modern supply-side economics. In fact, the continued efforts to artificially reallocate key tech supply chains outside of China is not "de-risking", but "de-stabilizing" the global trade and financial systems.

All of these new features are threatening to divide the world, as well as the region, into unbalanced parallel systems, which in turn will reinforce a trend toward political-economic nationalism and further risk systematic security and welfare degradation in Asia.

We need to look back and examine the historical evolution of the postwar security settlement to understand the problems we are facing today. The time between the end of World War II and the end of the "War on Terror" in Asia can be roughly separated into two eras: the era of revolution and war and the era of relative peace and rapid economic development. The watershed between these two is a set of geostrategic arrangements that integrated China into the global market and decreased the Cold War security barriers along the "first island chain". It was not just the Treaty of San Francisco and ensuing bilateral security alliances with the US that guaranteed the long peace across the Cold War and the "unipolar moment "afterwards; rather, it was the Shanghai Communique that cemented the architecture of peace in Asia since the 1970s.

Now there is more distrust, escalating disputes and great uncertainty, and the people of Asia have two choices of how to address the deteriorating security environment. One is moving back to the previous status quo. In fact, we are currently on this path because parties involved in the disputes are pointing fingers at others for breaking the status quo and trying to use whatever means necessary to push back the perceived revisionists. But the more countries invest in restoration, especially by involving external forces to counterbalance a natural power shift, the quicker they erode the foundation for the architecture of peace. The other way, perhaps an even harder path, is to be bold and creative, and turn the crisis into opportunities to build the next generation of peace through our common historical wisdom and experience.

Recent Chinese efforts to advocate new security concepts largely included in the Global Security Initiative reflect the general trend in China to leverage Chinese and Asian history to rethink the modern ideas that underpin the political-economic structures of the region. The theoretical reconstruction begins at home by focusing on the "Chinese path to modernization", but with more nations seeking to modernize on the back of their own culture, history and resource endowments, it is natural that Asian countries have very different visions of how to build peace in the future. For China, the vision of "common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security" is not a mere political statement to challenge the Western "rules-based international order", but an attempt to fundamentally achieve long-term peace collectively through regional awakening to the limitations and unsustainability of the "Pax Americana" in Asia.

We are realizing the idea of building a community with a shared future in the neighborhood by reviving the ancient Silk Road and mediating peace on top of modernizing infrastructure and enhancing interconnectivity. We are also integrating the Global Development Initiative and Global Civilization Initiative with the Global Security Initiative, making sure that the future architecture of peace in Asia is not based on coercive deterrence or ideological camps, but on mutually assured dependence and mutual respect for diverse cultures.

The future of Asia is not and will not be defined by vague historical traps, but generated by the interactions of choices.









The author is the director of the Foreign Policy Analysis Department at the National Institute for Global Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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