by Daniel Awigra
East Asia is the most dynamic and fastest growing region. As an economic promising region, East Asia still has a serious problem on its security aspect. The tension between Japan and China, Japan and North Korea, China and ASEAN’s countries on South China Sea, China and Taiwan still on the dynamic position; up and down.
It was a very recent phenomenon a month ago in the East Asia. Two cases have been increased in the same time. Those cases are conflict between China and Japan on Senkoku islands (Japanese term) or Diaoyu islands (Chinese term), and the friction between China, Taiwan and four ASEAN members; Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, and Laos on Spartly and Paracel Islands. Both of two conflicts have the same similarity, that is, China as the most important actor and China has been increased it aggressively.
To Japan, China spread this conflict not only to territorial problems, but also to linkage to economic problem. China warns to limit mineral export to Japan and this warning made instability on the industrial based on technology society in Japan.
With the four ASEAN’s members, China has kept fight to claim that Spartly and Paracel islands are belong to China as China’s historical claim. And China didn’t want to solve this problem on ASEAN level. China wants to solve with bilaterally way. Those conflicts, by nature, ‘invite’ U.S to intervene. The United States also played a significant role in the Diaoyu/Senkaku territorial disputes between China and Japan, at least at the initial stages. Even the current US position regarding this dispute remains ambiguously neutral. The historical fact is that when the United States returned Okinawa to Japan in 1971, the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands were included in the package.
China's primary claim has been that the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands are Chinese territory and should be returned. At the same time, Deng Xiaoping raised two points regarding this issue. First, he presented the idea of gua qi lai, meaning that the issue should be shelved for the time being, leaving it to future generations to resolve. Second, Deng suggested gongtong kaifa, which meant that China and Japan could develop the islands' natural resources jointly, thereby shelving the sovereignty dispute for the time being.
From this phenomenon it can be read as the obstacles to those countries on making stability in East Asia. This is a very complex problem when the scholars want to explore much about East Asia.
Like a ‘paradox’, on the one hand, China and some countries (Japan, South Korea) have signed some agreements on economic, politic, and security with ASEAN, and especially China signed a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. It means that China is going to be an active actor on making stability in East Asia on building regional multilateral institutions that serve to regulate exchanges, develop norms, and create regional identity. However, on the other hands, some countries on the region have made the military build-up policy rapidly.
The questions are how to explain clearly this phenomenon in East Asia? Is this small incidents in East Asia are bound to effect the stability and security of the region? And how those countries face China? This paper is trying to answer those questions.
On East Asia, almost every country is coming up with the military build-up project until 2050. Even though, China is the greatest power in this region. If we want to see the power distribution on East Asia, we can learn quickly from the historical side.
The historical background shows that during the Cold World’s era the real war happened in Asia (Korean’s and Vietnam’s war). North and South Korea are located in Northeast Asia, and Vietnam is located in Southeast Asia. Following what will happen in this regional level is a very challenging study. However, we have to see at least two important foundations: economy and security.
Both southeast and northeast Asia have different history after World War II. Southeast Asia countries have faced the common challenge during Cold War and they have made a new regional architecture forum, named ASEAN. However, Northeast Asia has failed to build any sub-regional institution; it has made somewhat more progress with broader institutions. Northeast Asia is still under the Cold War’s shadow. Northeast Asia still has North Korea nuclear crisis, Taiwan straits problem, and the competition between Japan and China.
Besides, the raise of China is the most fantastic world’s phenomenon. In January 2006, the People’s Republic’s of China gross domestic product (GDP) exceeded that of Britain and France, making China the world’s fourth-largest economy. In December, it was announced that China replaced the United States as the world’s largest exporter of technology goods. Many experts predict that Chinese economy will be second to the United States by 2020, and possibly surpass it by 2050.
Meanwhile, China has achieved a spectacular economic performance since 1978 when China began its reforms and Open Door economic policy, sustaining high growth rates (even with the slowdown from 11-12 per cent to 7-8 per cent since 1998), and escaping the Asian economic crisis of 1997-98. This expansion has greatly increased China's influence in regional and global affairs.
The rise of China spread out its influences to Southeast Asia. China has made some meetings to prepare on joining economy cooperation between China and ASEAN. On 2000, China wanted to support ASEAN. Premier Zhu Rongji expressed his government’s intention to positively participate in the process of regional cooperation. In a separate meeting during the summit, he suggested the idea of free trade between China and ASEAN.
The rise of China from ASEAN’s perspective is the major factor to analyze the stability on East Asia. ASEAN contributes at least in two important aspects; consists of the building of ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). AEC in 2015 has been signed by 10 ASEAN countries at the 13th ASEAN summit on November 2007 in Singapore. The purpose of AEC is to achieve regional economic integration so that ASEAN becomes a single market and production area. There are 5 pillars reinforcement performed from the economic side, which are; the free flow of goods, services, investment, skilled labor and more freely capital flows. All of these pillars are implemented gradually in accordance with the strategic schedule which has been agreed together. In general, since 2008 AEC has gradually liberalized each pillar. The stages are monitored by the ASEAN mechanism scorecard.
On the other hand, ARF has a vision; promoting peace and security through dialogue and cooperation in the Asia Pacific. It means ARF is ready and has a chance to cooperate with other countries in Pacific including Japan, South Korea and China.
ASEAN actually is still under the ‘shadow’ of U.S influences both on economic and security aspects. U.S has a close relationship in almost every ASEAN’s member. As the result, the if China will threat ASEAN, it is impossible if U.S keep silence.
The willingness of China to spread its influence (soft power) in Southeast Asia (ASEAN) could be seen as a light in the darkness for some ASEAN’s countries. China is starting to open its politic and economic foreign policy. And at least, for some ASEAN countries, it can be assumed that China needs ASEAN or at least, China will not become a threat. However, it will be different when we look at the U.S site.
Not just in economic aspect, China also strengthens its military buildup. China adopts an increasingly assertive stance on the regional stage; it will undoubtedly heighten perceptions of threat among policymakers in Washington. China has developed close economic relation with oil-rich countries such as Sudan, Iran and Venezuela which are viewed with strong suspicion by the United States. These relationships raise the potential for China’s geopolitical interests to clash with the United States.
China has a political plan to be a great power in the world. It means that it will be a challenge to U.S. The same interest for their energy security agenda in Balkan will make the bad tamper over both China and U.S. How to solve North Korea Nuclear crisis, and how to “manage” Southeast Asia are the other problems.
Mixin Pei argued, even though China has upgraded their military forces, but still, China’s forces only 1/3 from the U.S. “With the economic growth like this moments, it need 77 years latter to be equal with U.S gross domestic product”.
However, the fact is, deficit trading from U.S to China has made U.S changed its economic foreign policies. U.S also worried with the actual price of Yuan (China’s currency). China also bought U.S foreign exchange reserves $ 1,8 billion.
Therefore, if U.S. perceives China as a competitor; it may eschew minilateral forums in favor of broader cross-regional ones where China’s influence can be diluted. If, on the other hand, bilateral relationship between China and the U.S. get warmer Washington may play a larger role in creating and strengthening regional security organizations to share the burden with Beijing.
It’s could be read that China will challenge the status quo. As Evelyn Goh said why East Asia has enjoyed the relative stability on post cold war? The answer is so simple, she said that it was just because the dynamics of the great powers. China didn’t want to challenge the status quo. Perhaps, from this new phenomenon (Diaoyu/Senkaku crisis), it could be read as the change of China’s position on East Asia.
In general, both the United States and Japan view their alliance as the central point of their Asian policies. This position has been a clear landmark since 1945, the beginning of the American occupation of Japan, which was further confirmed in 1952 when the US-Japan Security Treaty was signed. According to Kenichi Ito, a Japanese professor of international relations, contemporary US-Japan relations can be divided into six stages: first, initial friendly relations (1853-19Q5); second, confrontation and conflict (1905-41); third, the war period (1941-45); fourth, the occupation period (1945-51); fifth, the Cold War alliance (1951-96); and finally, the post-Cold War alliance (1996-present).
Northeast Asia has been dominated by U.S in Asia Pacific since 1950s (San Francisco System including Japan, South Korea, and US relationship). The failure of this system made Japan and South Korea built their economy and security by themselves. There are so many actions campaigning anti-US sentiment in South Korea and Japan.
When the problem on Diaoyu/Senkaku was rising up, it was easy for Japan to invite U.S to balance China. As the result, from this conflict, some Japanese people protested to their government to change the article 9, the so-called “peace clause” on Japanese constitution. Like Goh said, that Japan is doing indirect balancing against potential Chinese (or other aggressive) power by facilitating the continued U.S. security commitment to the region.
Japan is in the difficult position. In general, both United States and Japan view their alliance as the central point of their Asian policies. This position has been a clear landmark since 1945, the beginning of American occupation of Japan, which was further confirmed in 1952 when the US-Japan Security Treaty was signed.
Historical rivalries have helped to foster threat perceptions on both sides, inhibiting the formation of any robust security institution in Northeast Asia. Similarly, the relationship between India and Pakistan is the key to the sub regional order in South Asia, and more broadly its relationship with the rest of Asia.
Evelyn Goh said East Asia has enjoyed relative peace after the Cold War when the great power like China has chosen not to be aggressive. This great power, however have also been influenced by the regional state actions. Goh, believed that the peace on East Asia can be found partly in great powers dynamics.
However, when China has willingness to grab the Senkoku/Daiyu islands and Startley and Paracel islands, it can be read as the change of power dynamic. Now, China is showing it aggressively. From this situation, the stability of East Asia is in danger.
The rise of China has made some countries in East Asia need to have a good relationship with the other great power, such as United States. This is called by some scholar as the indirect balancing. But in the same time those countries also have made a mutual relationship to China. This is kind of ambiguity. On one hand, the countries need the security guarantee from US on facing China. However, on the other hand they did not want to let China as a single player as a great power in this region
When China has shown the power, and there is asymmetric distribution of power on East Asia, it makes other countries except China doing “Self Help” system to protect their national interest. In other words, the stability on East Asia depends on every single actor on protecting their national interests.
The making process of regionalism depends on three major actors (China, Japan, and the U.S) and its dynamics. Like Vinold mentioned that the rise of China and the resultant triangular relationship among the U.S, Japan, and China is the major aspects to make regionalism in Asia.
The complex balance of power in this part of region does not allow a single pacesetter, thus motivating these major powers to consider sharing (and competing for) regional leadership and influence each other through minilateral economic and security forums, including the ASEAN Plus Three (APT), the East Asia Summit (EAS) and the Northeast Asian Cooperation Dialogue (NEACD).
Complex balancing is about deterrence, but it is combined with the more subtle aims of diluting, mediating, or rechanneling the military capabilities of potentially threatening powers, and persuading them to reassess their interests and thus policies.
Southeast Asian regional security strategies disregard the artificial boundaries between military, economic, and political power; ignore the simplistic distinction drawn between engagement and containment or balancing; and fundamentally challenge the assumption that the management of regional order is the business of big players. Complex balancing is to manage regional order rather than to bring about or to forestall a power transition. It is complemented by complex balancing, which is the Southeast Asian version of indirect balancing in bilateral or triangular relations, combined with a more ambitious aim of forging a regionwide balance of inºuence among the major powers using competitive institutionalization and diplomacy.
The conflict between China and Japan on Senkoku/Diaoyu islands (Chinese term), and the friction between China, Taiwan and four ASEAN members; Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, and Laos on Spartly and Paracel Islands are the sign that China has changed its international security policy.
The dynamics of the great powers in this case appear when China has increased its tamper aggressively and increased its military and defense budget. When China as the great power in East Asia increases its defense budget and being more aggressively, the other countries will follow what China did. This situation could be read by other countries as the real threat.
Like Japan and South Korea which has made closed relations with U.S, ASEAN countries are doing the same. Indirect balance is the way that they still believe on facing China. However, they didn’t want to let China be their enemy. So, the closeness between Japan, South Korea, and ASEAN with U.S could be read as a “self help” system for every country in order to achieve their national interests.
The making process of the regionalism on East Asia will be damage if this conflict could not be reduced. It proofs to the world that realism as a very classic paradigm still exists to analyze the security phenomenon on East Asia. The liberalism concept perhaps exists on the institutionalism on East Asia. However, almost countries also increase their military and defense budget.
The point is for what purpose they have increased their military and defense budget on military build-up project? The answer is to increase the bargaining positions of every country. This bargaining position will be appearing on every meeting during the making process of East Asia to a regionalism.
The dynamics process between China-U.S relations, China-Japan relations, China-ASEAN relations, and the U.S-ASEAN relations are the key to make stability on East Asia. ASEAN and Japan as non nuclear country have to have a guarantee from the other great power. US as the best choice, however, India could be the other option.
On Southeast Asia, especially to ASEAN, the closeness with U.S is not about balancing China and it is not about bandwagoning process. However, the prosess of making the complex balance here in order to achieve the national interest. This complexity, by nature is like the self help on anarchical system.
 From 1980-2003, East Asia’s average annual GDP growth was an impressive 9.2% compared to 5.9% for the rest of the world. See: Denis Hew, Economic Integration in East Asia
 Quansheng Zhao, The Shift of Power Distribution, Journal of Strategic Studies, 2009. pg. 63
 Mixin Pei, The Dark Side of China’s Rise. http://www.carnegieendowment.org/publications/index.cfm?fa=view&id=18110
 Ibid. pg 50
 Vinold K Arggarwal, Asia’s New Institutional Architecture, pg. 84
 Vinold, ibid. pg 295
 Great Powers and Hierarchical Order in Southeast Asia, pg. 113
 Quansheng Zao, The shift in power distribution and the change of major power relations, on Journal on Strategi Study. pg. 58
 Ibid. pg 296
 Ibid. pg 146
 Ibid. 154