Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

China's Engagement with Regional Security Multilateralism: The Case of the Shangri-La Dialogue

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

China's Engagement with Regional Security Multilateralism: The Case of the Shangri-La Dialogue

Article excerpt

Making sense of the implications of China's rise has become something of a scholarly industry. Given its scale, civilizational legacy and its place at the heart of the global economy, this is entirely appropriate. In International Relations (IR) debate the main focus is on whether China's economic growth is likely to lead to conflict with the United States and its allies. Some commentators argue that war between a dominant and rising power is almost inevitable, (1) while others contend that it can be avoided. (2) More liberally minded scholars make the case that China's interests are not well served by contesting power with the world's largest military, which also happens to be its biggest customer. (3) At the heart of this particular debate about the implications of China's rise is the extent to which a more prosperous and powerful China is likely to be a status quo or revisionist state. (4) Will a richer and more confident China accept existing arrangements or will it seek to rewrite the rules of the game? This question is of interest in many spheres, from trade policy to monetary arrangements, international institutions to development programmes; whether China supports or changes the established order has implications across almost every imaginable international policy field.

One of the most important developments in international security policy in the post-war period has been the emergence of multilateral security cooperation as a core part of almost every state's security arrangements. Prior to 1945, apart from some ill-fated experiments at the League of Nations, multilateral security cooperation barely existed. Groups might form strategic alliances--as they did so disastrously prior to the First World War--but there was nothing resembling the scale, volume or frequency of the gatherings that now so routinely occur. States today regularly gather in multilateral groupings to collaborate on a vast array of security matters. This includes everything from cooperation to combat non-traditional security concerns such as infectious diseases and organized crime to multinational humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/ DR) training missions, from institutionalized summitry to gatherings of defence college heads. Prompted by the expansion of security challenges caused by globalization, changes in the understanding of what constitutes a security threat and broader normative shifts in world politics--perhaps the most important being the strong norm curtailing the use of force--multilateralism in security policy has become core business for all states.

In Europe the embrace of multilateral approaches to security began shortly after the end of the Second World War. In the nascent structures of what became the European Union (EU), such as the Council of Europe, the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) and the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), states began to work collectively to advance commonly held security aims. In East Asia, the turn to multilateralism was rather more circumspect. During the Cold War, security arrangements were almost entirely in the hands of states themselves or organized through traditional bilateral alliances. Efforts such as the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) and the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) were very much the exception and at the margins of strategic influence. Beyond these, perhaps the only example of an institution associated with security multilateralism was the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that was founded in 1967. Intended to provide an international framework to produce more harmonious regional relations, and as a bulwark against communist insurgency, this new body had some security dimensions. (5) Yet it was still principally a means to support the broader state and nation-building projects of societies newly liberated from European and Japanese imperialism.

Since the mid-1990s, however, East Asian states have made up for lost time and have created a wide range of multilateral processes and institutions with security as a key part of their purpose and rationale. …

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