亚太安全合作理事会中国委员会 时间 : 2017-01-06 作者 : 宁团辉 责编 : 王海涵
On the US Alliance System and Security Situation
in the Asia-Pacific Region
By Ning Tuanhui
Today I am so glad to have the opportunity to share with you my thoughts on the US alliance system and security situation in the Asia Pacific region. First, I want to touch very briefly on the establishment of the US alliance system. As we all know, after the Second World War, there were several big events in East Asia, which totally changed the power structure in the region, as well as America’s strategic deployment. In 1947, when President Harry Truman announced the commitment to Turkey and Greece, which was widely known as the Truman Doctrine, the cooperation between the US and the Soviet Union came to an end and the Cold War started. When the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, China took several moves to strengthen its relationship with the Soviet Union, which, of course, had a bad impact on China-US relations. Moreover, when the Korean War broke out in 1950, the US and China finally started a 3-years-long military conflicts. In this context, the US began to support Japan and make it an ally of the United States, then established military relations with Thailand, the Philippines, Australia and the Republic of Korea, and eventually founded the alliance system in the region, which was also called the Hub-Spokes system. Obviously, the purpose of the system was to counter so called threats from the Soviet Union and China.
However, the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the late 1991 declared the end of Cold War, and before this, China and the US had already normalized relations and finally established diplomatic relations in 1979. So, my question is, after the cold war, when the perceived threats were gone, why does the US alliance system still exist? According to my research, I found that even for the leaders of the US and its allies, there was a time when they didn’t know where the alliance system would go. Then the US leadership swiftly adjusted the alliance system in the Asia-Pacific. They pushed forward a policy of “pivot to Asia”, and later on renamed it the “rebalance to Asia”, with the purpose of coping with regional hotspot issues such as the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula and dealing with new challenges as China’s rise in particular so as to maintain Washington’s political, security and economic dominance in the region.
After the Cold War, with the development of globalization, the world economy has been developing fast over the past two decades, especially in the Asia Pacific. And China has been developing rapidly and playing a bigger role in the region and the world over. Since 2000, virtually every country in the region has China as its largest trading partner. Most of these countries have also invested directly in China’s economy. In this context, the US lost its dominance in the economic field, and China, with its great vitality, is gradually becoming the economic center of the region. Though America has an obvious advantage in the security fields, people in Washington are so worried that the U.S. may lose its superiority in the Asia-Pacific.
When President Obama took office in 2009, the United States determined to withdraw its forces in Afghanistan and end the war in Iraq. America decided to shift its attention to the Asia-Pacific region, because they regard China’s rising poses a severe challenge to American vital strategic, security, military and economic interests in the region and in particular to American leadership in the region. The new strategic deployment was called pivot/rebalance to the Asia Pacific. As China’s strengths in Asia grow, it is more important for America to increase its strategic deployment in the region to maintain the credibility of its commitments to its allies and friends. America has taken several measures to enhance cooperation with its allies and make sure that the United States will stay here. In November 2011, the Obama administration publicly committed to devote necessary resources to sustain its leadership role in Asia, even as its domestic fiscal challenges threaten substantial cuts in the overall defense budget. By 2020, 60% of US air and naval forces will be based in the region. In the economic field, America joined the TPP in 2008, in order to, as Obama said, “write trade rules before China does”.
Then here comes the question, whether the US alliance system is the foundation of peace and stability of the region? We can see the answers from the leaders of America, Japan and Australia. Apparently, their answer is YES.
But from my perspective, I do not think the US alliance system is the foundation of security in the Asia Pacific. The US alliance system is exclusive、targeted and for military purpose, which damages the mutual trust between China and the US. Looking back to history, we can see that military alliance generally focus on security for countries within the alliances and often prejudices the interests of countries out of the alliance, which could lead to greater division in the region. Another problem is military alliance often draws a line between allies and non-allies when problems occur, and support will be given to whatever the ally does, regardless of whether it is right or wrong. Secondly, strengthening alliance system is America's approach to sustain its dominance in the region. Because of domestic fiscal challenges, America requires its allies to share military burdens and enhance cooperation to maintain the effectiveness of the alliance system. Thirdly, the US and China will remain the two important countries in the world over the forthcoming decades, and the security and stability of the region is up to positive interactions between China and the US. My point is that region’s stability and security could not be decided by only one side. No country can maintain regional peace and stability by itself, neither by the United States nor by China alone. Therefore, the military alliance is insufficient for meeting Asia’s security needs.
To illustrate my point, we can see America’s attitudes towards hotspot issues in the Asia Pacific region. The first is the South China Sea, for a period of time, the South China Sea, which used to be a quiet place before a huge potential of oil and gas was discovered, has become not so quiet. I don’t want to talk about the issue in detail, because I believe you all know something about this. The US says it doesn’t take sides on territorial disputes, but it has sent military ships and planes near the disputed islands on the pretext of freedom of navigation, and America’s allies, such as Japan and Australia, all express their support to America’s stance, in order to put more pressure on China. Of course, this truly deepens China’s distrust of the US alliance system. On the Korean nuclear issue, Chinese Government has already made it clear that China strongly opposes to the DPRK’s nuclear ambitions and would like to cooperate with relevant parties to solve the problem. However, the security situation in Northeast Asia has been more complex since the announcement of deploying THAAD missile defense system in the Republic of Korea by the US and the ROK. China is firmly against this action because this will damage the security interests of China and we do suspect America’s intentions. When it comes to the Taiwan question, China, as always, says that the Taiwan question is the most sensitive and critical problem. But US’s continues arms sales to Taiwan and America’s close-in surveillance activities off China’s coasts contribute to Beijing’s deepening distrust of America’s strategic intentions in security fields. All of these regional hotspot issues, if not properly handled, naturally cause mutual distrust and potential conflicts between the US and China. And the stability and peace in the Asia Pacific will be hurt.
There are five types of security mechanisms in the Asia Pacific: the first is the US alliance system, and I have said so much about this; the second is the ASEAN-led frameworks for regional security cooperation, including ARF, EAS and ADDM+. The mechanism provides a platform for countries to communicate with each other but could not directly solve problems. And the third one is for regional hotspot issues, for example, the Six-Party Talks for the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula, but it had stopped working since 2009; the Quadrilateral Coordination Group devote to the peace process of Afghanistan. The fourth one is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA). These two mechanisms have gradually expanded influence in the region and have been playing their respective bigger roles, but they still have a long way to go. The last type of mechanisms includes the Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD), Xiangshan Forum and CSCAP.
The most fundamental approach to regional security is to establish an inclusive, effective and comprehensive regional security dialogue and cooperation mechanism. President Xi Jinping of China made the proposal in 2014 when delivering the keynote speech at the fourth summit of CICA, which reflects China’s strategy to the security challenges in Asia Pacific. As a major power in the region, China hopes to cooperate with the US to safeguard regional peace and stability, which is based on mutual respect and understanding; China recognizes the role of US alliance system and we do not totally reject it, however the US should not resort its alliance system as a tool to counter China’s rise, which will deepen suspicion and cause serious problems.