Asia-Pacific nations share the goal of preserving peace and prosperity, but countries have different ideas about how to achieve this goal. Chinese President Xi Jinping has proposed that Asian security be addressed by Asian countries through an institutional mechanism based on “common security” and “win-win cooperation.” Meanwhile, the United States sees its security presence and regional partnerships and alliances as key factors underwriting regional peace and prosperity. 

Ian Storey moderated a panel discussion between Chinese and international experts about the security challenges facing the Asia-Pacific and the prospects for forming a regional security architecture that can manage issues such as maritime territorial disputes, strategic stability, and nontraditional security challenges. 

Discussion Highlights

  • Trust Deficits and Security Challenges: Panelists agreed that maintaining peace and security in the Asia-Pacific is in the interest of all countries involved. They pointed out that many countries in the region have outstanding territorial disputes or long-standing security concerns, such as the divided Korean peninsula, maritime disputes in the East and South China Seas, and tensions between India and Pakistan.  Participants suggested that states must rely on clear-headed diplomacy and a commitment to settling disputes peacefully so as to avoid conflict.
  • A Viable Regional Security Architecture: In light of protracted regional security concerns, participants agreed that developing a more comprehensive regional security framework would be an important sign of progress. Their views on the shape of this architecture, however, were not uniform. Some panelists pointed to ASEAN as a venue for discussing policy coordination and defusing tensions in Southeast Asia, suggesting that ASEAN could serve as a foundation for a more inclusive and comprehensive institutional mechanism patterned after ASEAN+3 dialogues or the East Asia Summit. Other panelists viewed ASEAN as a largely consultative body that may not be ready to actively address the region’s complex security challenges. 
  • Nontraditional Security Challenges: Although traditional security issues and state-level military strategy tends to attract analytical attention, participants acknowledged that nontraditional security threats such as climate change, terrorism, natural disasters, and drug trafficking must also be addressed. They noted that climate change is an issue that provides an opportunity for U.S. and Chinese global leadership at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris later this year. One panelist pointed out that disaster relief and search-and-rescue missions are an opportunity for countries to cooperate and build trust, particularly in a region that experiences frequent typhoons and earthquakes. 
  • Regional Power Through Economics: Participants observed that trade volumes in the Asia-Pacific continue to grow, prompting further economic integration that may serve as an important counterbalance to regional security concerns. One panelist asserted that many regional actors have discovered that focusing primarily on economic power has yielded more long-term success than emphasizing military affairs. Panelists observed that the economic strength of countries like the United States, China, Japan, and South Korea demonstrates that the path to national power in the twenty-first century is to prioritize economic growth over military hardware.  Given the regional importance of economics, participants suggested that countries should strive to make institutional agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership complementary rather than competitive.
  • A Gradualist Approach: Given the complexity of the region’s security challenges, panelists suggested that an incremental approach likely will have the highest chances of success. One panelist suggested that both China and the United States take small steps to improve the region’s security environment: China could settle one relatively minor territorial dispute with South Korea and that the United States could roll back its surveillance activities along China’s coastline. Participants acknowledged that trust will only develop gradually as countries cooperate with each other more frequently in concrete ways.

Ian Storey

Ian Storey is a senior fellow at the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute (formerly known as the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies) in Singapore. He specializes in Asian security issues, with a focus on Southeast Asia.

He Yafei

He Yafei is the vice minister of the State Council’s Overseas Chinese Affairs Office. He previously served as representative and ambassador of the Permanent Mission of China to the UN Office at Geneva.

Ju Mengjun

Ju Mengjun is a senior journalist and the president of the Xinhua News Agency’s Asia-Pacific Regional Bureau. He previously served as the bureau’s deputy chief editor from 2000 to 2009.

Marty Natalegawa

Marty Natalegawa served as the foreign minister of Indonesia from October 2009 to October 2014. Prior to that, he was Indonesia’s permanent representative to the UN for two years. He is an adviser for the Imperial Springs International Forum.

William Overholt

William Overholt is a senior fellow at Harvard’s Asia Center and the Kennedy School of Government. He previously served as the Asia policy distinguished research chair and director of the Center for Asia-Pacific Policy at the RAND Corporation.