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The Asian side of the world

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Jean-François Sabouret

Part one. Regional dynamics and globalisation

The “great game” of regionalisation in East Asia

Bertrand Fort

Testo integrale

1March 2006

2Eastern Asia has not been spared from the shock wave that followed the disappearance of the bipolar world and the Cold War. The traditional allies of the former Soviet Union in the Far East, Vietnam and Laos in particular, but also the diverse armed insurrections that it supported and, to a lesser extent, China and North Korea, were almost “mechanically” losing strong support.

3At the same time, ASEAN, which was mainly created to contain the Communist upsurge in South-East Asia, had to rethink its mission and reinvent a new raison d’être, following the example of NATO in Europe, while Japan, South Korea and Taiwan entered a period of reforming their strategic partnership with the United States.

  • 1 APEC: Asia Pacific Economic Forum; ASEM: Asia Europe Meeting; ARF: ASEAN Regional Forum, i. e. the (...)
  • 2 Bringing together the members of the Association of the Nations of South-East Asia and China, Japa (...)

4While the political and economical matters were gathering more and more attention worldwide, the process of regionalisation of security issues was slowly, but surely continuing within the regional multilateral (ASEAN, ASEAN+ 31) or bi/multi-regional (APEC, ASEM, ARF2) fora. It is, however, still too early to evaluate, in terms of security, the real impact of the recent East Asia Summit that was held in December 2005 in Kuala Lumpur.

5The fact remains that these multilateral consultations and accords, which traditionally address questions of conventional security are now attacking increasingly “non-conventional” security issues, e. g. terrorism, illegal migrant movements and human trafficking, money laundering, drug trafficking and other prohibited products, maritime piracy and health safety.

6On all these subjects, overcoming their traditional reservations on intergovernmental mechanisms of public security affecting the key sectors of national sovereignty, the East Asian government has initiated a cooperation that works at times “painfully”, after traumatic incidents (terrorism, tsunami, SARS and the bird flu epidemic, acts of sea piracy, etc.). Tight agreements thus began falling into place among the most affected countries, for various reasons and which were supposed to deal with each problem individually. Ad hoc tools, that could be described as “strengthening cooperation” in European jargon, were used.

7The European analogy must, however, end there. Eastern Asian stability depends on American power and influence much more than in Europe. In spite of the aforementioned beginnings of regional or subregional cooperation, no system of efficient public security has surfaced in the region, where the European Union continues to play a dominant role. It is the positive or negative relationship with Washington that more often than not determines the strategic analysis of each government, even more so than in Europe. North-East Asia is no doubt the region in the world in which the legacy of the Second World War and Cold War is the most noticeable: tense situations and potential conflict, for example in the Korean peninsula, the Taiwan Strait, tensions between the Chinese, Koreans and Japanese aggravating territorial and coastal disputes. On all these burning issues, the United States remains the central player. In South-East Asia, the situation is more contrasted with concerns (the south of Thailand, Central Sulawesi, Mindanao and terrorism), but also conciliation (in Aceh and the Moluccas, where the United States plays a prominent role).

8The economic and political emergence of China changes the game in several ways. It displaces the region’s centre of economic gravity, disrupting the trade flow and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI); it carries increased rivalries for both business opportunities supplying energy and raw materials and their delivery, via “southern roads” (Straits of Malacca, Indian Ocean) and “northern roads” (Central Asia, Siberia). The Chinese upsurge, is of course, creating military tension with the United States whose only prospect of not seeing its 7th Fleet mastering the game at 100% provokes astonishment and shudders at the Pentagon.

9It is therefore in this tense context that regional Asian organisations are developing today. China’s rise in power, Japan taking a more assertive position regarding military issues, doubts about America’s involvement in Asia, the awakening of India towards the East, in particular, all contribute to making this first decade of the 21st century a turning point in the balance of forces in Asia. The regional or sub-regional organisations naturally reflect this development.

10Europe would do well to follow this closely and adopt an open and reactive position if it does not want to miss this boat and be part of this large reorganisation, with all that it entails.

Note

1 APEC: Asia Pacific Economic Forum; ASEM: Asia Europe Meeting; ARF: ASEAN Regional Forum, i. e. the members of ASEAN+ 3 and, as observers, the United States, Russia and the European Union.

2 Bringing together the members of the Association of the Nations of South-East Asia and China, Japan and South Korea.

© CNRS Éditions, 2012

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