Valery Timoshenko – The Main Issues of contemporary international relations in the Asia-Pacific region

Based on the materials of the interregional round-table discussion “ Russia and Far Eastern Countries (China, Korea, Japan): history, culture and politics” , held in the Far Eastern Law School of the  Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation on the 10th April 2013.

The Asia-Pacific region (APR) is one of the most dynamically developing world regions. Since the beginning of the 80s, people were beginning to talk of the APR as of a new factor of economic and political development, which is different from European, Latin American and USA cultural and religion traditions.  Journalists and political scientists began to speak about the emergence of a new “Pacific century” in world history. Even at that time there were more than a half of the world population, about 60% of world Gross Domestic Product and 40% of direct foreign investment in the APR.

In 1989 APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) was set up. APEC is the largest economic grouping, the strategic goal of which is to make a free market system and a liberal investment regime by 2020. Today APEC has 21 members including the most dynamically developing countries of the region in particular and the whole world, such as Australia and New Zealand. Now APR is the third largest center of economic integration in the world after North America and Europe. It accounts to about 60% of world Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 1/2 of world trade, 40% of the population, 1/2 direct foreign investment. Even in case of a slight accelerating of the rate of growth the Chinese share of the world’s GDP will be equal to about 10% by 2020 – 2025. It will enable China to become one of the world leaders together with the USA and the European Union.

The main feature of contemporary international relations in the Asia-Pacific region is its unstable character. The Asia-Pacific region is the only region whose system of international relations did not change after the Cold War. Such countries of APR as the Chinese People’s Republic, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Vietnam and Laos preserve socialistic system. Resulting from the Cold War United States-Japan Security Treaty, U.S. military presence in South Korea, ANZUS and ANZUK military blocs remain unchanged. The Cold War impacted on the relations between Russia and Japan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea, Chinese People’s Republic and Taiwan, Spratly Islands dispute, etc.

Today the real danger of conflict in the APR is practically absent. Nevertheless, there are still a lot of destabilizing elements in the region. And all these elements can affect Russian position in the region directly and indirectly.

1. The central player in the Asia-Pacific region is the USA. It has deep connections with other countries of the region in such spheres as economy and politics.  In the territory of Asia-Pacific area there are a lot of American military bases with tens of thousands of soldiers. For many years the USA has headed military- political alliances of the region and supplied them with arms.

In spite of some reductions of the USA military capability, in fact it remains dominating in the region. The main motivation of American military presence is prevention of crises and defense of international naval communications, that is the implementation of the measures of the USA self-interest first of all, measures which can help the USA to be the “band-master” onstage of the APR.

In the region there are two opposite American military presence types. On the one hand, there is a remaining admission of its stabilizing role by majority of the countries belonging to the APR. For the most of these countries American military and economic presence in the region was and it is a way to ensure its rapid paces of economic expansion. These are newly industrialized countries (NIC) characterized by rapid economic expansion, mostly.

On the other hand, a number of states, including China, first of all, think that American military presence in the Pacific is a Washington’s aspiration for imposing its will concerning the “monocentric” model of state of affairs in APR and for reinforcing its military supremacy. This contradicts its vision of the region’s development and its expanding ambitions.

However,  there are not any serious contradictions and arguments for confrontation in the region. The main tendency of the USA policy in the APR is a counteraction of Russian efforts to join the system of economic and political relations in the APR as an equal partner.

At the same time Russia and the USA have some points of contact. Both countries have strong interests in the peaceful solution of problems on the Korean Peninsula, in the non-admission of Japan military “autonomy” and also in territorial problems existent in the region, which threaten to escalate into an armed conflict.

2. Rapidly developing China is the second instability factor of the region. There are two diametrically opposite points of view with regard to this issue. The first one is that a stronger China will be able to guarantee peace and stability in the region. Another is that a stronger China will be able to increase political tension in the APR, but not to reduce it. Supporters of the second point of view believe that a stronger China can destroy the stability of the APR. Firstly, China is disposed to enforce hegemonic foreign policy and, secondly, its increasing influence may provoke larger arsenals of firepower in Japan, resulting in a new security crisis.

Today China pursues a safe policy and tries not to have conflicts with the USA. It is obvious that the main cause of it is a growing economic interdependency. Chinese foreign policy ambitions are still not stated clearly. Beijing insists on returning of Taiwan to China, but refrains from expressing its point of  view concerning a number of international problems. Beijing is often contradictory: on the one hand it criticizes these or those USA actions and, on the other hand, it is rather careful or even vacillating in cases connected with the realization of its political initiatives, such as revitalizing of its role in SCO and expansion of military and political presence in Central Asia.

The biggest threat to Russia is not the China’s foreign policy, but its internal instability.  Disintegrating China might be more dangerous. In this case China’s nuclear capability may be out of control. Chinese migration to neighboring countries, including Russia may be enormous. More over China will not be able to play a “balancing” role concerning the influence of other regional centers in APR, which is explicitly not in Russia’s interests.

And that is why all Russia’s efforts in the sphere of security should not be oriented against China. At the same time Russia has an opportunity to cooperate with China to capture the economic and political benefits. Caution and suspension in such relations are very important for Russia.

3. The great security threat in the APR is the situation on the Korean Peninsula. Today it is the most conflict zone in the region. The cutting of the Pyongyang nuclear joint program with the USA, Japan and the South Korea is ineffectual. That is why North Korea continues the development of its nuclear program.

In these conditions Russia should stay in contact with both North Korea and South Korea to have an opportunity of influence on the situation in this region. Recession of relations with North Korea some years ago, including military-technical relations was a mistake of our country. It also made a negative effect on the security of SAA.

In the sphere of nuclear weapon and missile defense Pyongyang is self-reliable, because recently even China slightly moved away from North Korea.

Balanced foreign policy of Russia on the Korean peninsula may become one of the most important elements, which regulates relations in this part of APR to capture the economic and political benefits in the future.  At the same time the joint Russia’s and USA work in different spheres of policy on the Korean peninsula is desirable, because after the probable unification of Korea, Russia and USA may continue to cooperate, and that is very profitable. In this part of APR united Korea may become an important geopolitical ally.

4.  Important issues of the contemporary Asia-Pacific region are territorial disputes, such as:

– The territorial dispute between Japan and the Republic of Korea (Takashima Peninsula, the Sea of Japan), Japan and China (Senkaku Islands, the East China Sea), China and Vietnam (Paracel Islands, the South China Sea);

– Japan’s territorial claims on the Russian Kuril Island Arc;

– The Spratly Islands dispute between China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan;

Russia is not involved in these conflicts (apart from Kuril Islands), but in such circumstances we have not so big opportunity of influence on the situation in the region. At the same, time during resolving of these conflicts, Russia may play the role of “independent arbiter”, and to derive political and economic benefits.

5. In spite of that fact that the Asia-Pacific region is the most developing region, it has serious political and economic problems. Up till now the structure of the APR is not clear. The main political partners of APR are such international and regional associations and coalitions as SCO, ASEAN, NAFTA, OECD, Mercosur, and East Asia Forum. Establishment of such new organizations as Asia-Pacific Cooperation and East Asian Community has been actively discussed in resent two years. Analysts noted that unlike European integration consolidation in Asia can be based only on the unification of “little” partners around the biggest and more powerful one. In the long term, the leading powers of APR as China, India, the USA, Japan and the South Korea will not be prepared for allied relations. The development of shallow integration around China as the biggest “player” is possible. Today Russia has little to offer to APR member countries except for its natural resources. That is why there is a risk to become a raw-material appendage for leading countries of the region.

“Economic and social survey of Asia and the Pacific” is an annual publication of UN Economic and social commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). It predicts reduction in the development of APR member countries from 8.9 to 6.5 per cent that means that problems in spheres of unemployment and debts can become more critical, and it can also awoke an unpredictability of capital flows. Further liquidity “injection” to provide the financial sector in development countries increases the risk of emergence of new financial problems, such as exchange rate growth and acceleration of inflation. Protectionist measures more or less supported by the leaders of some developed countries can cause new trade wars, which can make the global economic recovery more problematic.

Caution and suspension in relations with Asia are very important for the Russian Federation. Moreover, political and economic relations with Asian countries should not contradict with European relation of Russia.  The main goal of our policy in Asia is development of eastern regions of our country.

The Far East of Russia is already joining the China oriented integration. APR member countries account for 85% of whole foreign commerce of the Russian Far East.  At the same time, there is a potential danger of re-orientation of Asian part of Russia towards regional economic relations and the danger of expansion from China which regards the eastern regions of our country, firs of all. This expansion caused not by “aggression” from China, but by poor economic and social development of the Asian part of our country. There is an assumption that “in case of continuation of the demographic tendency, by 2030 and 2040 years the Asian part of Russia will have been lost and there will be no one of our compatriots. Great territories and natural resources will be lost. Without solving the problems of the Russian Far East words about integration into the APR mean absolutely nothing.


Translated by E.Anipchenko, APIR Center

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