It is odd that many Asian countries rely on China for the economy yet lean to the US for security. This old yarn has been whispered for decades. The strong US presence in the region has brought great uncertainties. Because of this, there have been discussions about whether or not a new security structure should be created by regional stakeholders.China’s economic strength and influence as well as the US’ military might and prowess both far exceed that of other countries. At present, the two are engaged in a strategic competition given their comparable overall muscle and influence. Under such circumstances, other Asian countries cannot counterbalance either of the two single-handedly. Nor can they bear the consequences of going with either in a game of pick and choose.The best option for those countries is to strike a balance between the two. Countries that do this will maximize their interests. In this competing calculus, though, the regional countries’ such move could intensify tension between China and the US and thus further complicate regional stability.
The US-led Asian security pattern is currently comprised of the five US-centered alliances and the security partnerships the US has with several countries. However, this is limited. Not all Asia-Pacific countries are part of this coalition. Therefore, such a security pattern is not the collective security of Asia in essence. It is only a small group collective security pattern which aims to maintain US national interests.
Due to the narrowness and selfishness of such a security pattern, it is bound to set off clash of interests between the US and its allies on the one hand and other countries on the other. This will then trigger security dilemmas within the region. It could even lead to military clashes.
As the sole world superpower, the US has military strength and global prowess that is incomparable to any other country. Under such circumstances, some Asian countries willingly enhance their security cooperation with the US. But not all countries hope to rely on the US for security. Sometimes, the US forcefully steps into the security affairs of Asian countries.
While many Asian countries lack the ability to single-handedly solve regional security affairs, this does not mean Asian countries cannot construct their own security systems. They can make their own mechanisms that aim to promote security dialogue and cooperation. They can cope with their own emergencies and conflicts.
The US-led Asian security framework not only excludes China – it even views China as the principal strategic rival. This inevitably poses a huge challenge to Asian security. China is the most powerful country in Asia and the world’s second largest economy. China’s participation in any kind of Asian security mechanisms is indispensable. The US-led Asian security pattern will not boost regional peace and stability. Although it is an outsider, Washington cannot be completely excluded from the architecture of regional security. However, US influence in Asia actually hinders regional countries from establishing their own self-reliant security systems.
Therefore, an effective Asian security pattern should cover all Asian countries. A possible scenario for this will be to establish an Asian Union on the basis of regional integration. This will allow regional countries to manage their own houses. During this process, China should play its role as the major regional power and push forward cooperation among regional countries.
China can offer help because, unlike the US, it is not asserting absolute authority as its aim. China can work with its neighbors for regional security. China also has the ability to increase its strength and regional influence, and support ties with neighboring countries to create a better balance. Thus, it is helpful for regional countries to avoid being thrown off kilter with the competition between the US and China.
The author is an associate research fellow with the National Institute of International Strategy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.