China, India Taking Lead in Emerging Asia Security Architecture
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — China and India’s growing economic and military strength are driving profound changes in the region, said Singapore Defense Minister Teo Chee Hean in a speech given at the Statesmen’s Forum organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Jan. 15 in Washington.
“The new economic realities in the region will have long-term strategic and security implications. China and India will naturally seek to secure their interests, and their growing economic might allows them to progressively develop the military capabilities and diplomatic influence necessary to do so,” said Teo.
Teo believes potential flashpoints such as the Taiwan Strait, the security situation in Pakistan and the denuclearization of North Korea will be better managed by an emerging “multi-layered security architecture with a mix of formal and informal structures developing in the region.”
This includes the need for architecture capable of dealing with transnational security maritime security, energy security, weapons of mass destruction proliferation, health pandemics and terrorism.
“Effective international cooperation has become an imperative, as none of these problems can be adequately managed or solved by agencies or countries if they act alone,” said Teo. “Today, we see the emergence of a multi-layered security architecture with a mix of formal and informal structures developing in the region.”
At the multilateral level are security forums with broad memberships, such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) with 27 Asian countries. Though the ARF is normally a forum for defense and security issues, “it is beginning to take steps towards practical cooperation with for example, the Maritime Security Shore Exercise hosted by Singapore last year.”
Another key multilateral event shaping Asian security is the Shangri-La Dialogue, which has produced an informal “track two” that facilitates an exchange of views. “It is today, the only forum where defense ministers from the region and beyond get together. At the 6th Shangri-La Dialogue last year, 25 countries including 19 ministers, took part.”
At the regional level the East Asia Summit has the “potential to address complex and multifaceted security challenges in the region.” Teo also pointed to the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery and the Malacca Straits Patrol security initiative.
Teo hopes to see open, inclusive and rules-based security architecture in the region. “We believe that Asia needs a robust framework of cooperation for all countries that have a stake in regional security to work together. This framework should not only include countries within the region, but should also involve extra-regional countries like the U.S. who can make a constructive contribution to regional peace and stability.”
“I believe the U.S. shares the same vision about Asia’s future security,” he said. However, recently the U.S. has been pre-occupied with missions in the Iraq and Afghanistan and has “downgraded its level of representation at regional meetings and postponed the commemorative U.S.-ASEAN Summit that was planned for September last year.”
Teo points out that China, in contrast, has become actively involved in “ASEAN forums and engaging ASEAN countries in what some have called a charm offensive.” Teo said that China continues to be the “most dynamic of ASEAN’s Dialogue Partners.” In Nov. 2007, China hosted the ASEAN-China International Peacekeeping Symposium and has been proposing a joint ASEAN-China Joint Naval Exercise for 2008.
India is also becoming more active. It has formalized its partnership with ASEAN with the signing of the ASEAN-India Partnership for Peace, Progress and Shared Prosperity in 2004, and becoming more engaged in maritime security beyond the Indian Ocean to include the Straits of Malacca.
“Hence, we welcome the initiatives taken by China and India to engage the region in a constructive and responsible way so that we can work with them to develop solutions in which they must play a vital part. But at the same time, it is equally important and vital that the U.S. demonstrates its continuing commitment to Asia by actively engaging the region,” said Teo.
He believes that the U.S. must engage China and India bilaterally in constructive engagement and continue to be important stabilizing force in the region. “As the strategic and security landscape in Asia evolves, we welcome the involvement of the U.S. and other regional powers in building a robust security architecture that enables effective multilateral cooperation to address transnational security issues such as terrorism, and which furthers peace and stability in Asia.”