Asia-Pacific needs to rethink
The region should utilize its resources for improving people's lives instead of in military races
The US government has recently announced its federal budgets for fiscal year 2024 stressing an increase in diplomatic and military inputs in the "Indo-Pacific region". It highlighted that the next decade will be decisive for the rivalry between China and the United States.
The US has used the Russia-Ukraine conflict to hype up the "China threat" and develop exclusive military and security blocs through the Pacific Deterrence Initiative and the "Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness" among other schemes, which will increase confrontation and instability in the region.
To improve strategic competition with China, the Biden administration has consolidated bilateral alliances with Japan, the Republic of Korea and the Philippines, and has been making lots of efforts in courting the regional partners of India and Vietnam in the Indo-Pacific. The US has been trying to improve security backup for the "Indo-Pacific strategy" by paying greater attention to the QUAD with Japan, India and Australia, developing trilateral security partnership with the United Kingdom and Australia, and bringing European/NATO forces to Asia.
Under the Biden administration's "Indo-Pacific strategy", the US-Japan-India-Australia Quadrilateral Security is aimed at building an overarching coalition to impose all-round pressure on China. Besides joint military exercises, the QUAD members are also engaged in increasingly close cooperation on economic, maritime and public health security, key and emerging technologies, cybersecurity, chip supply chain and space cooperation. The QUAD is also courting more countries in the "Indo-Pacific region", especially the ROK and Indonesia, to counterbalance China.
The India-Israel-United Arab Emirates-US (I2U2) cooperation mechanism may develop closer ties with the US-Japan-India-Australia mechanism. On Oct 18, 2021, foreign ministers of the US, India, Israel and the UAE held a meeting to discuss political, economic and trade ties, and maritime security cooperation, marking official establishment of the mechanism.
According to Kabir Taneja, a researcher at the Strategy and Technology Center of India-based Observer Research Foundation, the quadrilateral mechanism in West Asia shows that India-US cooperation has progressed further. The two quadrilateral mechanisms in the East and the West will reinforce each other to curb China's influence.
The US has also stepped up efforts to improve the trilateral security pact between Australia, the UK and the US, known as AUKUS which was established in September 2021. The three countries unveiled detailed measures on March 13 to help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines.
AUKUS also focuses on strengthening cooperation on cutting-edge military technology and defense industries, which reflects the US policy of "outsourcing defense capability." The mechanism focuses on cutting-edge military technologies including hypersonic and anti-hypersonic, electronic warfare, cyberwarfare, artificial intelligence and quantum technology. The military-industrial bloc of AUKUS is furthering cooperation, seeking to integrate defense supply chains and "Defense Industrial Bases" and launching research, development and production of military equipment and ammunition jointly.
The Biden administration has hyped up civilian security challenges through issues such as maritime security and further expanded the influence of the UK, the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the "Indo-Pacific region".The Biden administration has laid greater focus on addressing "civil security challenges" such as illegal fishing in the Asia-Pacific. The US seeks to pressure China through such "soft security" issues, increase costs for China to improve its global reputation and increase difficulties for China to handle relations with neighboring countries and promote regional cooperation.
The Biden administration has also expanded the link between Europe and the "Indo-Pacific geopolitical blocs" to back up its strategy of tying China and Russia and imposing pressure on the two countries to increase the leverage over China. In January, the UK and Japan signed the Reciprocal Access Agreement, an alliance-oriented security agreement. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Japan in March. Defense ministers of Germany and Japan said they will increase joint exercises and cooperate more on military technology.
With the promotion of the US' "Indo-Pacific strategy", risks of confrontation are rising, and military races are casting a shadow over the "Indo-Pacific region".
Countries in the Asia-Pacific region need to rethink the long-term challenges brought by confrontation, strengthen their strategic communication, and reduce misunderstanding and misjudgment. The countries should cope with fragmented regional security issues and utilize resources to improve people's wellbeing and development rather than on arms races so as to safeguard peace in the Asia-Pacific region.
First, countries in the Asia-Pacific region need to draw lessons from the Ukraine conflict. Confrontation between blocs will intensify countries' sense of insecurity and even lead to military conflicts. A new NATO with China as its imaginary enemy is not what the Asia-Pacific region wants or needs. The region needs common, comprehensive and sustainable security. Second, China's defense spending and military capabilities should not be exaggerated. The security challenges China faces come from the US and its alliances, whose overall military expenditure is much higher than China's. The Global Security Initiative proposed by China is not empty talk and the test is whether it can be implemented in the Asia-Pacific region. Third, we need to build up an Association of Southeast Asian Nations-centered security governance framework in the Asia-Pacific, maintain existing mechanisms such as ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting and the East Asia Summit, and address non-traditional security issues such as food and energy security and counter-terrorism that can affect long-term development of most countries in the region. Fourth, countries in the Asia-Pacific region need to engage in more dialogues on security challenges from emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, and address excessive securitization of the economic and technological relations which does harm to the region's stability and prosperity.
The author is a professor at the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University and a China Forum expert. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.