East Asian Regional Cooperation: Challenges and Prospects

East Asian Regional Cooperation: Challenges and Prospects

Keynote address: “East Asian Regional Cooperation: Challenges and Prospects” by Dr. Jia Qinggu, Vice Dean, School of International Relations, Peking University

Contemporary Asia has diverse means of regional security cooperation.These include ASEAN Regional Forum, 10 +3, East Asian Summit (with India, Australia and New Zealand), 6-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear ambition, plus a host of other track 2 and track 3 dialogues.These frameworks, however, remain problematic due to persistent questions regarding membership by non-Asian countries (e.g. US, Australia and New Zealand). Continued suspicion and distrust also continue to hamper efforts by these regional security cooperation mechanisms beyond confidence building. China’s role as regional leader-wanna-be, by virtue of its unprecedented economic growth and matching military prowess, is hampered by suspicion of its imperialist motives.

There are several contending arguments for and against regional security cooperation in Asia. Pessimists argue that cooperation is not possible given several factors. Asia is home to different races, religions, cultures, languages, political systems and levels of economic development. This diversity does not make it easy to foment a supranational identity. Unresolved tension over Japan’s wartime record, particularly for China and South Korea, also deters cooperation.Leadership rivalry between China, Japan and ASEAN likewise makes it difficult to move things forward. The US’s prominence in the region,which is patterned towards bilateral cooperation in the mold of Cold War exclusive alliances is also seen as an obstacle to regional cooperation. Optimists, on the other hand, maintain that cooperation is attainable even with these challenges. For instance, leadership may not be limited to military or economic power, but can also be extended to non-zero sum aspects such as moral and humanitarian leadership. The US’s interest in the region can change from hegemony to access (that it could go in and out as it pleases), which can be accommodated through a regional framework that is not exclusive to Asian countries. The greater challenge is to convince the US that it has responsibilities inAsia, and that it must remain engaged in the region.

The debate whether regional cooperation is feasible warrants the question of whether Asia has a common identity from which cooperation may spring forth. Asia countries may lack Europe’s common Western Christian heritage as a binder, but a shared view of the region’s future, and the willingness to recognize and address common concerns (e.g. globalization, stable economic order, environmental problems, security interdependence) are strong bases for multilateral cooperation. Incipient attempts in this direction are evident in the steps taken by defense ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore to address piracy in the Malacca straits.