Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Regional Security Issues

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Regional Security Issues

Article excerpt

The early 1990s saw the dismantling of Cold War power relationships in Asia while providing no clear guidelines as to what arrangements might take their place. The crisintegration of the Soviet Union meant that the Chinese, who had been skilled practitioners of triangular politics, could no longer play the United States off the USSR as effectively to their own benefit. The demise of the Soviet Union also removed the original raison d'etre for rapprochement between the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the United States just at a point of maximum friction between the two. Chinese resentment over American reaction to the PRC's decision to forcibly suppress demonstrations at Tiananmen Square was heightened by a long list of complaints from the United States on such issues as Chinese failure to protect U.S. intellectual property rights; the huge and growing trade deficit the United States was running with the PRC; sales of Chinese missiles to the Middle East; and China's continued nuclear testing. The fact that the United States took the lead in forming an international coalition to force Iraq out of Kuwait reinforced the PRC leadership's view that America, the only remaining superpower, intended to remake the world in its own image. This stimulated a policy of Chinese resistance to perceived U.S. attempts to contain the PRC, and a vigorous assertion of its international prerogatives.

Chinese suspicions notwithstanding, the United States was drastically cutting its defense budget. The consequences of downsizing its arsenal included withdrawing from its bases in the Philippines, reducing the number of American troops in South Korea, and renegotiating its Status of Forces Agreements so that its newly-wealthy Asian allies would assume more of the burdens of, and responsibilities for, their own defense. Initially, Asian commentators welcomed these changes. Relieved of the tensions of the Cold War, Asians, with what some saw as a distinctly Asian identity, would fend for themselves.(1) Others held forth the vision of a militarily peaceful and economically dynamic Pacific community with a unique "corporate culture" on regional security that combined the best on East and West: Western concepts of national sovereignty and organization plus Eastern attitudes on managing differences.(2)

While some continued to remain optimistic, others became concerned that the disintegration of the Soviet Union and potential withdrawal of the United States had created a power vacuum which would be filled by China, either as a new emerging superpower or as hegemon in the Asian region. The first of these contentions can be dismissed: Apart from trade, China has minimal global interests to protect, and minimal global reach by which to protect them. Regionally, it is otherwise. Unresolved disputes in which China has major stake include, in order of importance,

* the status of Taiwan

* the Spratly Islands

* the Korean Peninsula


Taiwan, known to its inhabitants as the Republic of China (ROC), is regarded by Beijing as a breakaway province. The issue of sovereignty is complicated. Taiwan was a province of the Qing(3) Empire from 1885 to 1895, when Japan annexed it under the terms of the Treaty of Shimonoseki. In 1945, the Allied Powers, victors in the Second World War, assigned Taiwan to China, which was then governed by Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang(KMT). Taiwan has remained under KMT jurisdiction ever since, though the mainland has been under the control of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since 1949. In 1991, ending four decades during which the CCP and KMT each claimed to be the only legitimate government of all China, the Kuomintang formally renounced control over the mainland. It did not, however, declare the island's independence since the CCP has stated that a declaration of independence will be met with armed resistance. The Taiwan government's official position is that it is part of China, but not a province of the PRC. …

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