The Asia-Pacific region is undergoing enormous change, fueled by high levels of economic growth and deepening levels of integration. These and other forces are generating a shift in the distribution of economic, political, and military power across the region. This changing security environment poses a major challenge for the United States, the historically dominant power in maritime Asia. Efforts to enhance regional cooperation, reassure allies, and deter and shape potentially destabilizing behavior are demanding a more complex mixture of U.S. skills and understanding. An array of current and likely long-term forces will drive both cooperation and conflict across the Asia-Pacific region.
There are five different security environments that could emerge in the Asia-Pacific region over the next twenty-five years (in order of likelihood):
Identify U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific. U.S. agencies should identify the United States’ longterm primary, secondary, and tertiary strategic interests in the Asia-Pacific.
Conduct an unprecedented U.S.-China strategic dialogue. An ongoing, government-supported but unofficial track 2 effort could eventually feed into a more formal track 1.5 dialogue in the military and diplomatic realms.
Undertake a range of strategic assurances between the United States and China. A variety of specific reciprocal and joint actions should be considered as near- to medium-term initiatives to provide greater strategic reassurance between Washington and Beijing.
Clarify and strengthen the U.S. position on maritime disputes. In the South China Sea, Washington should encourage all sides to lower the perceived value of the disputed islands by delineating joint fishing, hydrocarbon, seabed minerals, and environmental protection zones. The United States should also encourage the disputants to enhance crisis management.
Coordinate a force for sea lines of communication (SLOC) defense. Washington should undertake a sustained effort to establish a joint maritime force involving the United States, China, and other Asian states in SLOC defense.
Provide greater support for crisis management mechanisms. These mechanisms could help avert or manage future political-military crises over maritime territorial disputes and other contentious issues.
Establish a forum for the discussion of energy security issues. Such a forum would be a vital channel for addressing tensions over the control of energy resources and transportation routes in the region.
Strengthen engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and with individual member states. The United States should promote a U.S.-ASEAN free trade agreement and strengthen ASEAN institutions by endorsing their role as action-oriented bodies that are able to tackle regional issues.
The Carnegie Asia Program in Beijing and Washington provides clear and precise analysis to policy makers on the complex economic, security, and political developments in the Asia-Pacific region.
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