New Asian security architecture: seeking partners
By Bobby M. Tuazon
October 14th, 2014
Philippine Daily Inquirer, A-12

As the United States and Nato launch air strikes on Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq, and as Russia faces sanctions for aiding Ukrainian rebels, a new security architecture is taking shape in Asia and Eurasia. In these regions, the concept of a new security architecture is now the subject of discourse among governments and also scholars, think tanks, and peace advocates.

The new security architecture is an alternative to the present global strategy of the United States and its allies with its focus on unilateralism, defense alliances, and preemptive strikes against security threats. The concept contests this for its “cold war” mindset, failing to curb the roots of poverty and extremism, and single-power hegemony even as the world is shifting to multipolarity with new emerging powers.

Since it was proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping last May, the concept has raised suspicions that China aims to dislodge America for world domination. Indeed, China may soon overtake the United States as the world’s No. 1 economy even as reports show a leap in its military budget. As a result, China is flexing muscle over its territorial claims and is on a proactive mode whether in the United Nations Security Council or in conflict settlements.

But even as it rises exponentially, Beijing seeks no power hegemony and does not mean to edge out America, explain China’s think tank strategists on the new security template. The advice of China’s think tanks and academe is sought by the State Council as well as the foreign, defense and economic ministries. Given their rising influence in state policymaking, the proposed new Asian security system is drawing interest not only in Asia but also in Washington and European think tanks. The concept itself was the subject of talks among scholars, academics and peace activists from Asia, Europe, and North America in a series of international conferences in China recently.

To Xia Liping of Tongjin University and Shanghai Institute for International Strategic Studies, the world must now move away from cold-war power politics toward a new security era of multilateral cooperation in order to address traditional and nontraditional threats. The change, he adds, echoes the five principles of coexistence (mutual respect, nonaggression, noninterference, equality and cooperation, and peaceful coexistence) adopted by India, China and Burma (Myanmar) in 1954.

Unlike the current US global security system, says Fu Xiaoquiang, a director at China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, the alternative is inspired by Asian perspectives of consensus, mutual trust and cooperation, and is against the threat of force. “Security issues in Asia should be solved by Asians,” he said.

Similarly, Xing Liju of Shanghai Fudan University says that the new security system is not China’s alone but can be embraced by other Asian countries through diplomacy, culture and economic cooperation.

Thus, key to the proposed security architecture is a new grand economic blueprint that is fast developing in Asia and Eurasia, including western Europe. A new Silk Road for China and Eurasia revives the ancient silk road (200 BC-14th century). The new route envisions trade interconnectivity via expressways, transcontinental railways, oil pipelines, and industrial zones. A counterpart in Southeast Asia is the Maritime Silk Road with similar interconnectivity systems, which does not yet include the Philippines.

An infrastructure construction boom—much of it funded by Beijing’s $4-trillion reserves—will link China with Germany, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Russia, as well as Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka and other countries. New billion-dollar trade and investment deals have been signed with Malaysia, Vietnam and India.

Undoubtedly, China’s silk-road diplomacy is driven by both domestic and external interests. Ding Yifan, a fellow at the State Council’s Institute of World Development, admits that the silk roads are a response to the economic recession in the United States and Europe that has hurt China’s trade. The bold trade plan will rebalance China’s growth by linking its less developed western and central provinces with Eurasia and the rest of Asia. Security-wise, the new routes are an alternative to the Malacca Straits—a trade route for China’s oil imports where US naval presence has increased.

Threatened with sanctions by the United States and Nato, Russia is on board the Silk Road while the new security system is now on the platform of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Conference on Interaction and Confidence-building measures in Asia, and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

Both projects, however, do not sit well with Japan, a trade competitor and territorial adversary. The United States, most Chinese analysts believe, is not a concern and cannot prevent the Silk Road from taking off. But they see the new Asian security architecture as “inclusive”—i.e., with America playing a constructive role. US power cannot last forever and its military alliance system is outmoded, Fu Xiaoqiang notes. And Paul Evans of Canada’s University of British Columbia observes that power has shifted from America to Asia since the 1990s, and China is the new regional center.

Both the new security architecture and the silk road are intertwined. China’s rapid growth has stirred new security perceptions about Beijing’s intentions, which its leaders aim to diffuse. But it will take rough roads and persuasive diplomacy to erase doubts about the new systems. It will take US power to live with the emerging power relations allowing the new architecture to take root.

Bobby M. Tuazon is policy director of CenPEG (Center for People Empowerment in Governance) and a former head of the University of the Philippines Manila’s political science program.

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