Published: December 02, 2011
There is plenty of talk about the 21st century being an Asian century, featuring China, Japan and India.
There is plenty of talk about the 21st century being an Asian century, featuring China, Japan and India.
If one had any doubts about the world being in the midst of a huge power shift, events in November should have dispelled them.
From Europeans appealing to China to save the euro to US President Barack Obama arriving in Bali to lobby for Asian support, the transformation is evident. Less clear is who will lead the world in the 21st century and how. There is plenty of talk about the 21st century being an Asian century, featuring China, Japan and India. These countries certainly seek an enhanced role in world affairs, including a greater share of decision-making authority in the governance of global bodies. But are they doing enough to deserve it?
The intervention in Libya, led by Britain and France, and carried out by NATO, says it all. There is no NATO in Asia, and there’s unlikely to be one. Imagining a scenario in which China, India and Japan come together to lead a coalition of the willing to force a brutally repressive regime out of power, or undertake any major peace and security operation in their neighborhood, is implausible.
China and Japan are the world’s second and third largest economies. India is sixth in purchasing-power parity terms. China’s defense spending has experienced double-digit annual growth during the past two decades. India was the world’s largest buyer of conventional weapons in 2010. A study by the US Congressional Research Service lists Saudi Arabia, India and China as the three biggest arms buyers from 2003 to 2010. India bought nearly $17 billion worth of conventional arms, compared to $13.2 billion for China and some $29 billion for Saudi Arabia.
Chinese, Indian and Japanese foreign policy ideas have evolved: India has abandoned non-alignment. China has moved well past Maoist socialist internationalism. Japan pursues the idea of a “normal state” that can say yes to using force in multilateral operations.
But unfortunately, these shifts have not led to greater leadership in global governance. National power ambitions and regional rivalries have restricted their contributions to global governance.
President Hu Jintao has defined the objective of China's foreign policy as to “jointly construct a harmonious world.” Chinese leaders and academics invoke the cultural idea of “all under heaven,” or Tianxia. The concept stresses harmony – as opposed to “sameness,” thus signaling that China can be politically non-democratic, but still pursue friendship with other nations. China has increased its participation in multilateralism and global governance, but not offered leadership.
This is sometimes explained as a lingering legacy of Deng Xiaoping’s caution about Chinese leadership on behalf of the developing world. More telling is China’s desire not to sacrifice its sovereignty and independence for the sake of multilateralism and global governance, along with limited integration between domestic and international considerations in decision-making about issues of global governance. Chen Dongxiao of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies calls China a “part time leader” in selected areas of global affairs.
Japan’s policy conception of a “normal state,” initially presented as a way of reclaiming Japan’s right to use force, but only in support of UN-sanctioned operations, may sound conducive to greater global leadership. But it also reflects strategic motivations: to hedge against any drawdown of US forces in the region, to counter the rise of China and the growing threat from North Korea, and to increase Japan’s participation in collective military operations in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf regions.
Beset by chronic uncertainty in domestic leadership and a declining economy, Japan has not been a proactive global leader when it comes to crisis management. Its response to the 2008 global financial crisis was a far cry from that to the 1997 crisis, when it took center stage and proposed the creation of a regional monetary fund, a limited version of which materialized eventually within the Chiang Mai Initiative.
In 2005, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asserted that “the 21st century will be an Indian century.” Singh expressed hope that “The world will once again look at us with regard and respect, not just for the economic progress we make but for the democratic values we cherish and uphold and the principles of pluralism and inclusiveness we have come to represent which is India’s heritage as a centuries old culture and civilization.” In this ambition, India was praised by US presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the latter describing India as “a leader in Asia and around the world” and as “a rising power and a responsible global power.”
Yet the Indian foreign-policy worldview has shifted in the direction of greater realpolitik. Some Indian analysts such as C. Raja Mohan have pointed out that India might be reverting from Gandhi and Nehru to George Curzon, the British governor-general of India in the early 20th century. Curzonian geopolitics assumed Indian centrality in the Asian heartland, and envisaged a proactive and expansive Indian diplomatic and military role in stabilizing Asia as a whole.
Indian power projection in both western and eastern Indian Ocean waters is growing, thereby pursuing a Mahanian approach for dominance of the maritime sphere, named after US Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, rather than a Nehruvian approach. It is partly driven by a desire, encouraged by the US and Southeast Asian countries, to assume the role of a regional balancer vis-à-vis China. Like Japan, India has sought a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, a dream likely destined to remain unfulfilled for some time. India has engaged in the G-20 forum, but has not presented obvious Indian ideas or imprints to inspire reform and restructuring of the global multilateral order.
Asia’s role in global governance cannot be delinked from the question: Who leads Asia? After World War II, India was seen as an Asia leader by many of its neighbors and was more than willing to lead, but unable to do so due to a lack of resources. Japan’s case was exactly the opposite; it had the resources from the mid-1960s onwards, but not the legitimacy – thanks to memories of imperialism for which it was deemed insufficiently apologetic by its neighbors.
China has had neither the resources nor the legitimacy, since the communist takeover, nor the political will, at the onset of the reform era to be Asia’s leader.
In Asia today, although Japan, China and India now have the resources, they still suffer from a deficit of regional legitimacy. This might be partly a legacy of the past – Japanese wartime role, Chinese subversion and Indian diplomatic highhandedness. But their mutual rivalry also prevents the Asian powers from assuming regional leadership singly or collectively.
Hence regional leadership rests with a group of the region’s weaker states: ASEAN. While ASEAN is an useful and influential voice in regional affairs, its ability to manage Asia – home to three of the world’s four largest economies; four, excluding Russia, of the eight nuclear weapon states; and the fastest growing military forces – is by no means assured.
Greater engagement with regional forums is useful for the Asian powers to prepare for a more robust role in global governance. So many of the global problems – climate change, energy, pandemics, illegal migration and more – have Asian roots. By jointly managing them at the regional level, Asian powers can limit their rivalries, secure neighbors’ support, and gain expertise that could facilitate a substantive contribution to global governance from a position of leadership and strength.
This piece was first published on YaleGlobal Online by the Yale Centre for the Study of Globalization on December 1, 2011.
In a recent speech, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton outlined America’s vision for engagement with Asia, relating it to a ‘new American moment in international relations.’ The speech carries impor
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s “new American moment in international relations” speech, delivered to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington D.C. on Sept. 8, will be widely discussed and debated. Although the speech did not concern Asia only, it does signal important changes in the way the United States looks at Asia, especially its regional architecture.
One unusual aspect of the speech was the amount of space devoted to regions and regional organizations in general. Declaring that “Few, if any, of today’s challenges can be understood or solved without working through a regional context,” Clinton mentioned region (including “region,” “regional,” “regionally,” “regions,” etc.) no less than 24 times. There is an entire section on “Strengthening Regional Architecture” (excluding discussion of NATO, which is under a separate section on alliances, although NATO is basically a regional organization), and this discussion is longer than that on “Global Institutions in the 21st Century.” And in discussing the role of emerging powers, Clinton warns: “Countries like China and Brazil have their own notions about what regional institutions should look like, and they are busy pursuing those ideas.” This is another reason for the US to “remain robustly engaged and to help chart the way forward” in shaping regional architecture. This is a logic that applies especially to Asia today.
Moreover, the regional architecture section of her speech is broad and not Eurocentric. If anything, it is Asia-centric. The EU is mentioned in the speech four times (NATO also four times) compared to seven references to Asia-Pacific institutions, (including three references to ASEAN, two to the East Asia Summit, and one reference each to APEC and the Trans-Pacific Partnership).
This is not to say that the Obama administration is rooting for Asian regional multilateral institutions at the expense of the United States’ bilateral alliances. Clinton acknowledges that “The Asia-Pacific has few robust institutions to foster effective cooperation, build trust, and reduce the friction of competition.” But she adds, “So with our partners, we began working to build a more coherent regional architecture that will strengthen both economic and political ties.”
More important, the Clinton speech, which reiterates themes she touched on in her East-West Center speech in Hawaii in January, does clarify thinking about regional architecture in Asia. The US would actively pursue both bilateralism and multilateralism; the view that they might be mutually exclusive, questionable as it was before, is even more so now.
Both the Kevin Rudd proposal for an Asia-Pacific Community and the Hatoyama proposal for an East Asian Community, which dominated debate about regional architecture this time last year, now seem history, despite the fact that Rudd is now Australia’s foreign minister and may even have a free hand in running foreign policy under Julia Gillard, who is said to be more focused on domestic issues. Clinton clarified that the US would continue to value APEC, but supplement it with the TPP: they would be the leading vehicles for US multilateral economic and trade engagement in Asia. If so, then the East Asia Summit (EAS) becomes the main forum for multilateral security engagement with Asia. Although the US (along with Russia) does not formally join the EAS until 2011, Clinton will represent the US at the 2010 EAS to be held in Hanoi in October. Clinton sets an ambitious goal for the EAS: the US will be “encouraging its development into a foundational security and political institution for the region, capable of resolving disputes and preventing them before they arise.” But this is bound to concern China, which opposed similar efforts to introduce preventive diplomacy and conflict resolution through the ASEAN Regional Forum a decade ago.
With the demise of the Rudd proposal, the idea of an Asia-Pacific concert of powers might seem dead; could others fill the role? Instead of a core minilateral group comprising big players like China, Japan, India, and the US, and lesser ones like Australia, Indonesia, and South Korea, might we see a group of “mid-size powers” playing an active role in the development of regional architecture? The three most obvious mid-size countries (read powers) would be South Korea, Indonesia and (you guessed it) Australia. To some extent this makes sense: mid-size powers may be less controversial as chaperons of regional architecture than major powers like the US, China, Japan, and India. They are likely to play their role in different but complimentary ways – South Korea through the G20, where it is emerging as an influential member, Indonesia through ASEAN (hopefully the idea of a post-ASEAN foreign policy for Jakarta has been laid to rest), and Australia as a bridge between the West and Asia, with a demonstrated capacity for practical regional action.
The idea of a G2 persists as well. The idea of a G2 does not necessarily amount to strategic bipolarity or a Sino-US condominium, as some have assumed, but is an acknowledgement of the central importance of Sino-US relations and the need for these two states to manage their bilateral trade and security relations peacefully (rather than having sole responsibility of managing affairs of the entire region).
Finally, while the Clinton speech implies that the “new American moment” would have a strong element of multilateralism in pursuit of global and regional governance, this is not because such a stance flows naturally from the “declining hegemony” of the US, but because it would be consistent with Washington’s strategic and normative purpose.
Incidentally, the idea of a US “decline,” already dismissed in Washington, is losing currency in Asia, including in China. Of greater concern for Asia is the other “d” word: US disengagement. But like decline, rumors of US disengagement from Asia (now or in the foreseeable future) have been highly exaggerated. The Clinton speech should put them to rest. If anything, the Obama administration is reinforcing its bilateral military and strategic engagement with a healthy dose of multilateralism, without necessarily dictating the agenda of multilateral institutions.
Events surrounding the just-concluded US-ASEAN summit demonstrated that ASEAN countries want the US to remain in the region, and even have a voice in the South China Sea conflict, whether Beijing likes it or not. At the same time, by not mentioning the South China Sea by name, but by stressing maritime security and freedom of navigation, the summit clearly indicated that ASEAN does not want the US voice to be at the expense of their neighborly relations with China. By going along with this desire, Washington showed a mature and helpful hand. If recent US statements on the South China Sea succeed in prodding China and ASEAN to renew efforts to conclude the long-overdue code of conduct in the South China Sea, then that would be a worthy achievement of US diplomacy.
This piece was first published by Pacific Forum CSIS, PacNet #49, on Oct 14, 2010.