PLA Views on Asia Pacific Security in the 21st Century

Article excerpt

Summary

Discussions between analysts from the Institute for National Strategic Studies of the National Defense University and China's Institute of Strategic Studies of the National Defense University of the Chinese People's Liberation Army convened in Beijing during March, 1997. During discussions PLA analysts:

* described a relatively peaceful region;

* criticized the U.S./Japan Security Treaty;

* showed no flexibility on Taiwan or the South China Sea;

* argued against alliances as outmoded and upheld Beijing's ties with Moscow as a model for a different form of regional security architecture;

* evidenced a desire for a more multilateral approach to regional security issues; and,

* indicated an interest in coordinating policies on North Korea and possibly on South Asia.

Introduction

PLA analysts are focused on maritime and littoral security issues such as Taiwan, the South China Sea, and relations with Japan. They expressed particular satisfaction with Beijing's ties with Russia and the CIS, and with South and Southeast Asia, suggesting that the consolidation of these sets of relations frees the PLA to look towards the significant challenges located to the east and south. Discussion of South Asia and the Korean peninsula revealed a confluence of U.S. and Chinese interests. Like Washington, Beijing has a strong interest in controlling proliferation in South Asia as well as in avoiding conflict on the Korean peninsula. Military analysts noted the desirability of coordinated policies with respect to these regions and issues.

On a different, and at times more contentious note, PLA interlocutors also presented an assessment of the forces and trends that define the region; sketched the broad outlines of what they referred to as a new concept of security better suited to the needs and desires of regional states; and, most notably, delivered an intense critique of the efforts by the United States and Japan to refocus their security alliance away from the defense of Japan and towards maintaining regional security.

PLA Views

The Regional Security Assessment. Chinese military analysts describe the present regional security environment as more promising than at any time since end of World War II. With the possible exception of North Korea, and unlike Europe or the Third World, failed or failing states do not challenge regional stability. Moreover, they note that the interests of regional states are converging. Focused as they are on economic development, regional actors wish to maintain the political stability necessary for continued economic growth. Indeed, in the PLA view, the desire to avoid conflict and settle disputes peacefully has almost reached the status of a regional norm.

As a result, apart from the Taiwan Strait, which remains volatile and on which they indicated no flexibility, PLA analysts think it unlikely that any of the well-known regional hotspots will erupt into conflict. Border disputes, and competing maritime claims are considered to be under control, or nearly so. Regional concerns engendered by conflicting signals of Chinese intentions in the Taiwan Strait and in the South China Sea are dismissed summarily as the result of misperception and bad faith. Even on the Korean peninsula, PLA analysts believe the parties concerned would rather find political solutions than resort to military force. In sum, China's military analysts describe an environment in which, except for Taiwan, there is little chance of major conflict. More significantly, they hold that the time has come to build a new regional security architecture. They assert that bilateral security alliances such as the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty are rapidly outliving their usefulness.

Towards a New Regional Security Architecture: the PLA Vision. PLA interlocutors argue that the future security structure should embrace an entirely new concept of security based on three overlapping principles:

* Common Security. …

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