Managing Security in Asean-China Relations: Liberal Peace of Hegemonic Stability*

By Dosch, Jörn | Asian Perspective, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Managing Security in Asean-China Relations: Liberal Peace of Hegemonic Stability*


Dosch, Jörn, Asian Perspective


The management of security and ultimately order building in ASEAN-China relations are loosely embedded in a declaratory process of community formation. While this process has generated generally beneficial soft institutions in economic and other policy areas, the current state of relative regional peace is primarily attributable to China's emerging role as a hegemonic stabilizer. The PRC increasingly sets the rules and organizes a growing network of security-relevant relationships in both traditional and non-traditional security fields. Just as in the cases of Pax Britannica and Pax Americana, the up-and-coming Pax Sinica is characterized by the creation and enforcement of rules that are profitable to the dominant state at the center of the security order. At the same time the policies of China as a hegemonic power on the horizon also bring security benefits to the states in its zone of influence.

Key words: China, ASEAN, East Asian security

Introduction: Social Constructivism versus Neorealism

In November 2000 political leaders of the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China agreed to strengthen economic cooperation and uttered the words "free trade" for the first time. Since then academic analysis of relations between Southeast Asia and China has developed a strong emphasis on the proposed China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA).1 Under the Framework Agreement on ASEAN-China Comprehensive Economic Co-Operation, which was officially announced and signed in November 2002, ASEAN and China envision the liberalization of 99 percent of their bilateral trade in stages: by 2010 for the ASEAN-6 and China; and 2015 for Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam.2

The Liberal-Peace and Social-Constructivist Arguments

While most recent analyses deal almost exclusively with the economic implications of CAFTA, a sizable number of academic observers highlight the fact that the scope of the free-trade proposal goes beyond trade facilitation and tariff reduction.3 According to this view, CAFTA is only one of various examples in China-ASEAN relations of regional security coming into play even in the absence of an explicit political discourse on security between the two sides. In other words, the intensified building of economic institutions in Sino-Southeast Asian relations is expected to facilitate regional stability and security. States that trade with each other are less likely to go to war against each other. This liberal-peace hypothesis is of course almost as old as the study of international relations itself, and the ASEAN-China example seems to be just another empirical case to prove it. From this perspective, growing economic interdependence reduces the negative effects of anarchy and ultimately transforms the nature of international politics, moving it toward a "trading world." Interdependence, not insecurity resulting from anarchy, structures the behavior of states in the international system.4

The most popular incarnation of the liberal-peace argument in the study of Asian security follows Karl W. Deutsch's early work on the building of security communities. According to Deutsch, historical evidence suggests that stable and peaceful inter-state relations are the result of quantitatively and qualitatively increased transnational activities in multiple areas (such as cross-border trade, investments, telecommunications, and travel) and related intergovernmental institution building. If cross-border transactions continue to increase they will eventually reach a level of institutionalization at which military conflict between states becomes highly unlikely. At this point a pluralistic security community has emerged, characterized by the general absence of war as a possible means of problem solving in intermember relations. Instead, states "will settle their disputes in some other way."5

A rich (and growing) body of literature, not to mention countless master's and doctoral theses, identifies ASEAN as a pluralistic security community given the organization's four decade-long track record of having managed relations among member states in (mostly) nonconfrontational ways. …

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