Creating Community: Managing Tensions and Building Relationships in Asia Pacific

By Rudd, Kevin | Harvard International Review, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

Creating Community: Managing Tensions and Building Relationships in Asia Pacific


Rudd, Kevin, Harvard International Review


Can you please briefly discuss the state of geopolitics and international relations in the region? The geopolitical situation in East Asia is a state of some challenge. The reasons are as follows. Firstly, it is a region characterized fundamentally by many unresolved territorial disputes whether it's between Russia and Japan, North Korea and South Korea, China and Japan, China and Taiwan, some resolved matters in Southeast Asia such as between Thailand and Cambodia, and others. Then you have the big two: India and China and India and Pakistan. So unlike in Europe, the challenge to existing security is the non-resolution of longstanding border disputes. Secondly, a number of states in the region also possess nuclear weapons. This compounds the complexity. North Korea, China, India, and Pakistan are nuclear states. The third reason is that since WWII, the underpinning security foundation of Asia Pacific is the strategic role of the United States and its alliances, Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Thailand. But with the rise of China, we have a new dynamic in maritime East Asia. The growth of Chinese naval capabilities affects issues concerning Taiwan, China is developing a greater strategic footprint in East Asia due to its expanded military capabilities, and China has been rubbing up against the United States more and more. Additionally, China's long-term territorial dispute with Japan has recently become a major diplomatic dispute over the South China Sea. The challenge for the United States is to deal with these dynamics while respecting Chinese-Americans and ensuring peace.

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What is the first step towards overcoming conflicts in the region, especially when many of them are grounded in historical tensions?

Let's consider the Senkaku/Diaoyu island dispute between Japan and China. There are many ways to respond to that. First is to do nothing and allow the conflict to drift.

The problem with that is the conflict may escalate. The second approach is to apply external military diplomatic and political pressure either against Japan or against China to force a resolution short of military conflict. The problem with that is it is likely to create a harder reaction from either side than the reverse. Third is to persuade both sides to step back through private diplomacy to find a temporary means to put the island dispute into a different process for the long-term future. On a broader level, because the competing nationalism between Asia Pacific states is strong, it is wise to begin developing a pan-regional institution to curb the edge of some of the nationalism. As I have promoted in 2008, there should be an establishment of the Asia Pacific Community. The community would address political, economic, and security concerns with the objective being to build new confidence and security across East Asia. This is similar to how the Europeans did it step by step in the 1950s, finally forming the European Union. This turned countries that had been enemies in history into close partners, namely France and Germany. Similarly, the Asia Pacific Community would allow Asia Pacific countries to reduce perceptions of differences, construct public goods, enjoy the benefits of collective cooperation, and avoid seeing wars as a natural means of statecraft.

What is the first step towards achieving the Asia Pacific Community you described?

The first step has already been taken by ASEAN, which made up 10 of 18 countries in East Asia. The community was first formed in the 1960s. In the beginning, the thought of communist Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos working closely with the military dictatorship in Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia appeared to be impossible due to the sharp differences in political ideology. …

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