Security Environment in Asia-Pacific:

Opportunities and Challenges for China
 Ye Ru’an

Like the rest of the world, the Asia and Pacific region has undergone profound changes in the past decade and more. There are about 50 countries in this vast region with a population of 3.57 billion accounting for 60% of the world’s total. This is the region where four major powers, namely China, the United States, Russia and Japan converge. It is by no means an exaggeration to say that to a great extent, international security and stability hinge upon the security situation and the relationship among the major powers in this region.


This paper falls into three parts. The first part is about China’s development strategy, foreign policy and security concept. In the second part, I would describe the positive developments in the security situation of the Asia and the Pacific region, and in the last section, I will address some security issues that challenge China in the years ahead.


I - China’s Development Strategy, Foreign Policy And Security Concept


To help you better understand China’s development strategy and its foreign policy and security concept, I think it’s necessary for me to talk briefly about a bit of modern Chinese history and the developments in China in recent decades. After the Opium War in 1840, China was humiliated and bullied by imperialist powers for about seven decades during the corrupt Qin Dynasty, and the Chinese nation went through untold sufferings as a result of foreign aggression, domination and intervention. Shortly after the feudal dynasty was overthrown in 1911, the country had been war-torn for several more decades, suffering from fighting between warlords followed by protracted civil wars and the 8-year long Japanese occupation. The Chinese people fought bravely for national independence, liberation, democracy and freedom for over a century and more. During the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression in 1937-45, 30 million people lost their lives. For nearly three decades after the New China was born, the Chinese people led by the Communist Party had scored remarkable achievements in nation building. But China’s economic development was retarded for several reasons:


a)      rigid copying of the economic system of central planning from the former Soviet Union;

b)      waging of nation-wide political campaigns that led to ideological instability and even chaos from time to time within the Party and in society in general;

c)      returning home of the Soviet experts working in China, leaving the 156 major construction projects unfinished with serious economic losses;

d)      serious natural calamities in many parts of the countries in the early 1960s.

While a new technological revolution was sweeping across the world and a number of New Industrial Economies (so-called “Asian dragons”) were taking off in giant strides, China fell into economic dire strait and political turmoil during the chaotic “Cultural Revolution” from the mid-1960s through the late 1970s. Beginning in 1979 things took a fundamental turn for the better, the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping laid down new guidelines and policies of reform and opening up to the world and formulated a three-phase development strategy for national economy by summing up historical experiences and correcting past mistakes and erroneous policies. The central idea of this strategy is: unswervingly persisting in economic development as the nation’s top priority; making unremitting efforts for the modernization of industry, agriculture, science and technology and national defense; setting a long-term goal for China’s per capita GNP reaching the current medium-level developed countries by the middle of the 21st century; and steadily improving the standard of living of all people. One can conclude from the above that China wants peace and development and opposes war and arms race and that China needs a long-term peaceful and stable regional and international environment and wants to maintain and develop friendly, cooperative and mutually beneficial relations with all countries.


Ever since the founding of the People’s Republic, the Chinese government has been steadfastly following an independent foreign policy and a defensive national defense policy for peace. In the 1950s, China joined India and Burma (Myanmar) in initiating the famous Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, which were to become fundamental norms, guiding international relations. China always stands for equality among all nations, big or small, and for peaceful settlement of disputes between states. China’s land borders total more then 22,000 km and its coastline stretches about 18,000 km. There were boundary disputes between China and many of its neighboring countries left over from history. To ensure a long-term, stable peaceful environment on its periphery, China has made unremitting efforts in solving boundary issues and maritime demarcation issues through negotiations and in a spirit of good neighborliness. As early as the 1960s, China settled border issues with Korea (DPRK), Mongolia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal and Myanmar. In recent years, China has signed new border treaties and agreements with Laos, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Vietnam. Progress has been made in Sino-Indian boundary talks.


International arms control and disarmament plays a very important role in safeguarding would peace and security. China opposes any arms race and refuses to join any military bloc or form security alliances against third countries. Since China participated in the Second UN Special Session on Disarmament in 1982, China has been proactive in the international arms race control process in general and disarmament negotiations at Geneva in particular. China acceded to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1992 and worked conscientiously with other CD members in negotiating on the Convention on Banning Chemical Weapons and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and is one of the first countries that signed the two instruments. China unilaterally cut back its armed forces by one million in mid-1980s and additional 500,000 during 1997-99.


Looking back at the world in the last decades, one can see two tendencies: On the one hand, the world is moving deeper toward multipolarity and economic globalization, and the international situation as a whole is conducive to the relaxation of tension and world peace and development. On the other hand, the Cold War mentality and the old security concept based on military alliances and arms buildup still linger on. Certain powers carried out new forms of “gunboat policy” by explicit military intervention on so-called “humanitarian ground” and used force in the name of “counter proliferation”. International arms control and non-proliferation process has been in stalemate since the conclusion of the CTBT. The new US administration is bent on developing a vigorous NMD program and threatens to abrogate the ABM Treaty, which is universally recognized as the cornerstone of the world’s strategic stability.


Under these circumstances, it is imperative for the international community to explore for new security concepts for a new just and fair international order. In China’s view, the core of a new security concept should be based on mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and cooperation. The five principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality, mutual benefit and peaceful co-existence and other universally accepted norms governing international relations make up the political foundation and mutually beneficial cooperation and common prosperity constitute the economic guarantee for world peace and security. Dialogues, consultations and negotiations by parties concerned on an equal footing are the only way to resolving disputes between states, promoting healthy development of the disarmament process and ensuring for world peace and security.  Such a new security concept means that all countries, big or small, rich or poor, strong or weak, should have an equal right to security. No country should unilaterally seek absolute security by persisting in strengthening its both offensive and defensive military capabilities at the expense of the security of other countries.

II - Positive Developments In The Security Situation Of The Asia-Pacific Region

Due to its unique feature of political, economic and cultural diversity, the Asia and Pacific region, unlike Europe, does not have a region-wide security organization or mechanism. However, security cooperation at bilateral, trilateral and sub-regional levels has been growing rapidly in the past decade and more, which is conducive to a better security environment in the region and provides good opportunities for economic development in China and improved relations with her neighbors. Recent years have seen many positive developments in the Asia and Pacific region that have enhanced security and security cooperation. In my view, this is manifested mainly in three aspects.



First of all, the heads of state and government of China, the United States, Russia and Japan have had frequent exchanges of official visits and held bilateral summit meetings at multilateral conferences in the past few years. Whatever formulations they used to define each pattern of bilateral relationship in joint statements or communiqués, they all expressed readiness to develop a cooperative relationship or kind of partnership that is not against any third country and pursue common policy goals for maintaining peace, stability and security in Asia-Pacific. There is no denying that the four major powers play more important roles and assume greater responsibilities than other countries in regional security affairs. It is my view that in the last analysis, the fundamental guarantee and the bed rock for peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region is that these four countries maintain a sound, stable and cooperative relationship and properly handle their differences, frictions and disputes. China-US relations are of paramount importance to regional stability and security. The exchange of state visits by Presidents Jiang Zemin and Clinton in 1997-98 and Premier Zhu Rongji’s official visit to the US in April 1999 are milestones in the bilateral relations. There are differences of opinion in the US on how to define US relations with China, regarding China as America’s “strategic partner” or “competitor” and “regional rival”, or  “implacable enemy”. But I think it’s apt to say that China –US relations today are the results of three decades’ efforts by the past six US administrations, both Republican and Democratic, and three generations of Chinese leaders and by the peoples of our two countries. Both sides agree that China and the US have common interests in broad areas and that there exist major differences. To nurture a stable, long-term relationship of cooperation between the two countries is in the fundamental interest of our two peoples and conducive to peace and security in Asia–Pacific and the world as a whole. Vice-Premier Qian Qicheng’s visit to the US last week serves to enhance mutual understanding between the Bush administration and the Chinese leaders.


Secondly, we have seen more and more governmental and non-governmental forums, dialogues and consultations in a variety of forms, at different levels and through different channels in the Asia and Pacific region. Some regional or multilateral governmental forums, such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) and its annual informal leaders’ meetings and ministerial meetings, mainly discuss socio-economic and trade issues, exchange and cooperation in scientific and technological, financial and environmental fields, and security issues are not on their agendas, but nevertheless they serve to enhance regional security in general and promote better relations between states in particular. China supports regional security dialogue and cooperation, actively participating in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), Council on Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific Region (CSCAP), Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue (NEACD), Academic Symposium of China, the United States and Japan and other activities. Of all these, the ARF is the only region–wide official security dialogue and cooperation forum which covers a wide range of agenda items, including CBMs, PKOs, maritime research and rescue, emergency rescue and disaster relief, preventive diplomacy, non-proliferation, etc. I should also mention the successful Shanghai Five, an institutionalized dialogue forum consisting of China, Russia and three central Asian states. Moreover, China holds regular or irregular bilateral consultations on issues of security, defense and arms control with Russia, the United States, France, Germany, Canada, Ukraine, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, etc.


Thirdly, there have been dramatic, significant developments on the Korean Peninsula in the past year. The last Cold War iceberg in the world, which has lasted for half a century, is beginning to melt. The inter-Korean Summit last June was a major breakthrough. The two leaders showed unprecedented political will and courage for national reconciliation and quickly set in motion all-round exchanges in political, economic, cultural, journalistic and other areas as well as reunion of separated families. Pyongyang established diplomatic relations with many Western countries. US-DPRK relations were also improved markedly. A flurry of events and high-level contacts arrested universal attention: Secretary Albright met her North Korean counterpart in Bangkok last July; the US government partially lifted its trade embargo and economic sanctions against North Korea. In October, the two sides issued a joint statement denouncing terrorism; Albright visited Pyongyang and met Kim Jong-il and Kim’s envoy Jo Myong Rok visited Washington and met Clinton. The two sides expressed willingness to put an end to hostility and move toward normalization in their relations. As agreement was not reached in the US-DPRK missile talks and there were divergent views within the US government, Clinton did not go to Pyongyang as expected. Nevertheless, the relaxation of tension on the Korean Peninsula and Pyongyang’s improved relations with the United States and other Western countries point to the right direction in solving the Korean question and are in the interests of all countries concerned. What kind of Korea policy will the new Bush Administration pursue after a thorough review? This is a major concern of many countries. It seems to me that Secretary Powell’s statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Jan.17, 2001 on the Korean issue was rather positive. He said that the Bush Administration would “support and help facilitate a historic reconciliation” on the Peninsula and that the US would abide by the Agreement Framework and is open to a continued process of engagement with the North. But later on, one heard different voices from tough liners within the US government and Congress. The North Koreans reacted quickly and strongly. On March 14, the Nodong News, the official daily, carried several long articles and commentaries, vehemently attacking the United States. They have refused to attend the scheduled fifth round of North-South Ministerial Meetings. This indicates that there is a real danger of reversal in the reconciliation process on the Peninsula, and the resumption of US-DPRK confrontation. The Bush Administration should think twice before it makes its policy choice for the US’s own sake and for the larger interests of security in Northeast Asia. At this important juncture, China and the United States need to work together and in better cooperation for continued progress on and seek a final solution to the Korean issue.


III - Security Issues That Challenge China In The Years Ahead


Given the great diversity of the Asia and Pacific region, as I mentioned earlier, regional security issues are very complex and sensitive. Some are bilateral by nature, such as the dispute between China and the US over the Taiwan question, Russian-Japanese dispute on the Northern Territories, or Indo-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir; some are multilateral, such as the South China Sea issue with competing territorial claims, fishing and maritime disputes among several countries; still others are bilaterally and multilaterally mixed, as is the case with the Korean issue. Matters pertaining to national reconciliation and reunification should be handled bilaterally between Pyongyang and Seoul while a peace agreement replacing the Armistice Agreement has to be worked out through the Four-Party talks, as no other parties were involved in the War. With regard to issues that essentially fall into the domestic jurisdiction of a sovereign state, such as East Timor, foreign (multilateral) intervention, if necessary, must be carried out with utmost caution and the prerequisite of the host country approval and the UN authorization. So I think countries in Asia-Pacific should take different appropriate approaches to address and solve different regional security issues. Dialogues, consultations and negotiations should be conducted between the parties concerned.  Irrelevant parties should refrain from getting involved. To multilateralize bilateral issues or internationalize issues that are only related to a few countries would be counter productive and only make things worse and more complicated.


As far as China is concerned, the most important and challenging security issue it will be confronted with over the next decade or more is the Taiwan issue. This is because it is a vital issue that involves China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity and no Chinese leaders, present and future, can or will make any concession. It is also because the dispute is between the world’s two major powers, one being the biggest developing country with growing national strength and rising international status, the other being the world’s strongest nation, and both are UN permanent Security Council members and possess nuclear weapons. China is just not another Iraq or Yugoslavia. A direct military conflict would not only bring about devastating consequences for the two countries, but also seriously undermine peace and security in East Asia and in the world as a whole. It is universally accepted that Taiwan has been part of China since ancient times. The people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are one and the same nation. The division of China over the past half-century is the result of the Chinese civil war with direct US involvement during the war and decades–long US interference in China’s internal affairs on this question. The US side acknowledges “one China” principle and has reaffirmed it on numerous occasions, but more often than not, the US tolerates or abets the Taiwan authorities in their activities to create “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan” in the international arena and maintains de facto official ties with Taiwan; the US side made the commitment in the August 17 Communiqué that the US Government “does not seek to carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan, that its arms sales will not exceed, either in quantitative or in qualitative terms, the level of those supplied in recent years since the establishment of diplomatic relations...and that it intends gradually to reduce its sales of arms to Taiwan, leading, over a period of time, to a final resolution”. But in reality, the US has been selling an increasing amount of more and more sophisticated weapons to Taiwan in violation of the three China-US communiqués both in letter and in spirit. In recent years, China has been strongly opposed to possible sales of US TMD systems (PAC III, Aegis destroyers and missiles), long-range radars and submarines. There have been worrisome developments on the Taiwan question. The cross-strait relations have deteriorated since Lee Teng-hui publicly defined such relations as “state-to–state” relations and the DPP came into power. Chen Shui-bien and the DPP stubbornly cling to their platform for Taiwan independence and reject or evade the “one China” principle. In the Untied States, Taiwan lobbies and anti-China elements have stopped at nothing to vilify China and disrupt US-China relations by publishing the Cox Report and pressing for the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act (TSEA) in Congress. If the Senate passes the legislation and the President signs it into law, it would legalize the resumption of US-Taiwan military-to–military ties and further upgrade the level of US arms sales to Taiwan. As Republican Senator Richard Lugar noted, “the TSEA would move the US closer to state-to-state relations with Taiwan”. This is a very dangerous course of action on the part of the US. The three Sino-US communiqués constitute the very foundation for developing the bilateral relations. The new US Administration should strictly abide by these communiqués and all related commitments.


Another security issue that will pose as a major challenge to China as well as some other Asia-Pacific countries is the strengthening of US military presence in Asia-Pacific and the US-Japanese security alliance in addition to joint US-Japanese research and development of TMD systems. In 1997, the signing of the new US-Japan Guideline for Defense Cooperation raised deep concern and strong opposition of China. For under the new guideline, the scope of US security guarantee is extended from the defense of the Japan proper to the so-called “peripheral areas” including the Taiwan Strait. It means that the US and Japan may jointly intervene militarily in any event in the “peripheral areas” when they deem it necessary. More recently, statements by senior US officials and studies undertaken by certain US think tanks call for enhancing the US-Japan alliance and encourage Japan to play a larger military role in Asia-Pacific. Last October, a special report jointly sponsored by CSIS and NDU in Washington on US–Japan relations with Richard Armitage as a co-chair of the research team concludes that US-Japan alliance plays a central role in America’s global security strategy and that it is necessary to lift the restrictions on Japanese oversees military engagement. At a meeting with a former Japanese Defense Minister in Washington on January 23, 2001, Armitage reportedly called for the SDF to share responsibilities with the US military in Asia-Pacific, and said that closer US-Japan alliance relationship may serve to check disputes between China and Taiwan.



On the same day, Secretary of State Powell called for joint efforts and close consultations between the US and Japan to deter “provocative acts” by China or Taiwan. It seems more obvious that the US- Japan alliance is mainly targeted against China.


It has been a widely held view in Japan over the years that Japan should play a political role in world affairs that is compatible with its economic power. In recent years, Japan has been stepping up efforts for military buildup and preparing public opinion for the revision of the clauses in the Constitution that restrict the SDF. In the new fiscal year budget beginning from April this year, Japan’s defense spending reaches a record height of nearly US$ 50.0 billion, a larger portion of which is earmarked for new weapons and equipment and for enhancing Japan’s overseas combat capabilities. Japan has an ambitious ship building plan for a blue-water Navy. As a matter of fact, today the Japanese Navy is the second strongest naval force in the Western Pacific, only next to the US Seventh Fleet. The passing of the PKO Act in 1992 enables Japan to dispatch its troops overseas for the first time since the end of the War, which actually casts away the principle of “exclusively for self defense” as stipulated in the Constitution. Under the “Peripheral Events Act” passed in 1999, Japan may intervene with military force in a contingency surrounding Japan. In Japan, there are rising calls for revising the Constitution. All this would lay legal ground for Japan to become a military power. Unlike Germany, Japan has not, until today, thoroughly repudiated its war crimes of aggression against its neighboring countries. From time to time, Japanese political figures come out and deny, or even glorify, the Japanese aggression. The “text books” issue time and again crops up. One wonders what kind of a regional security order a dominant superpower in alliance with an unrepentant military power would bring to the Asia and Pacific region.


Finally, I would like to say a few words about the South China Sea Issue. The basic position and policy of the Chinese Government on this issue can be briefly summarized as the following: China always stands for negotiating a settlement to this issue according to international law including the principles and legal regimes set forth in the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. China has also proposed for “shelving the disputes and going for joint development”. In recent years, China has had consultations and exchanges of views on many occasions with Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia respectively and reached a broad identity of views. China maintains that all parties concerned should adopt a restrained, calm and constructive approach to the question and China attaches great importance to the safety and unimpededness of the international water lanes and has never interfered with free passage of foreign vessels and aircraft in this area. Related to this issue, I would like to draw your attention to the very positive developments in Sino-Vietnamese relations in the last few years. The two sides signed the Treaty of Land Border on December 31, 1999 and, a Joint Statement on All-round Cooperation in the New Century and the Agreements on the Delimitation of the Beibu Bay Territorial Sea, the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelves, and on Fishing Cooperation in the Beibu Bay by the end of 2000. In the Joint Statement, both sides indicated that they “will not take actions to complicate or aggravate disputes. Nor will they resort to force or threat of force. They will consult each other in time in case of disputes and adopt a cool and constructive attitude to handle them properly”. This is of great significance for maintaining peace and tranquility in the South China Sea area on a long-term basis, as the major parties in dispute are China and Vietnam. I predict that there will be no tension or crisis in that area in the foreseeable future.