By Zhao Minghao Source: Global Times Published: 2017-9-14
With the UN Security Council passing new sanctions on North Korea, the possibility of armed conflict on the Korean Peninsula seems to be increasing. But we all should broaden our horizons as the risks are even greater. In fact, the North Korean nuclear and missile crisis conceals other major issues affecting Asia-Pacific regional security.
While China and Southeast Asian countries promote the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, the US military is increasing its so-called freedom of navigation operations.
On August 21, a tanker collided with the destroyer USS John McCain leaving 10 dead and five injured from the warship. Accidents have beset the US Seventh Fleet this year in the West Pacific. Many experts see these problems as a manifestation of declining US power.
Terrorism is a growing threat in Southeast Asia. Extremist forces and militants allied with the Islamic State have been fighting government forces in the Philippine city of Marawi, with extreme Muslims from Indonesia and Malaysia participating in the fight.
US intelligence officials are assessing how many of more than 1,000 jihadists who traveled from Southeast Asia to Iraq and Syria are returning home. US Defense Secretary James Mattis acknowledged the joint anti-terrorism task force in the Philippines ended too soon.
A speech by US President Donald Trump made waves in South Asia. Experts generally believe Trump`s new strategy for Afghanistan lacks detail and regard his "fight to win" goal as unrealistic.
Trump`s speech also sparked anger in Pakistan by accusing Islamabad of providing asylum to more than 20 terrorist organizations. Pakistan`s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said the country had made great sacrifices against terrorism and would not become the scapegoat for others` defeats.
Conflict between India and Pakistan is also a major regional security issue. It is believed India and Pakistan own more than 100 nuclear warheads apiece. The South Asian subcontinent is like a nuclear powder keg. Terrorists may exploit the hatred between India and Pakistan to provoke deliberate conflict. The Trump government`s policy of favoring India and pressurizing Pakistan will further deepen Islamabad`s insecurity.
Considering the discord between China and India over border issues, some worry that South Asia will gradually provoke new patterns of joint confrontations that no country can win, involving the US and India versus China and Pakistan.
It is obvious the security challenges facing the Asia-Pacific are diverse, complex and serious. The Trump administration`s Asia-Pacific policy has so far been crisis-driven, focusing overly on North Korea while lacking a comprehensive, coherent strategy. In addition, because of disordered White House decision-making as well as a deficit of appointed experienced senior officials, there is doubt about Trump`s ability to deliver on policy.
The US strategic circle remains divided on whether the US can maintain primacy in the Asia-Pacific. Frankly speaking, America`s narcissistic obsession with primacy is gradually impeding the US from accurately grasping the changing strategic landscape. US control over the Asia-Pacific is in decline, both militarily and economically.
Although the military gap between China and the US is still significant, China`s economic impact on the region is rapidly rising. According to Reuters statistics, Indonesia`s and Malaysia`s exports to China increased more than 40 percent in the first half of this year, while Thailand`s and Singapore`s increased nearly 30 percent. China has also invested in Asia-Pacific railways, highways, ports and telecommunication networks.
China has no wild ambition to replace the US as a regional hegemon, a costly and unsustainable venture. Besides, Russia, India, Japan and other countries would not accept Chinese hegemony. Instead, China is pushing for a connectivity-oriented grand strategy, promoting public goods which are more conducive to regional development like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
At the same time, China is playing an ever more important role in non-traditional security areas such as anti-terrorism, cracking down on transnational crimes and disaster relief.
Although crises may draw closer, there is still a need to look at regional security from a comprehensive, long-term perspective. With the decline of American influence, regional countries like China must assume responsibility for building regional security frameworks.
The White House is preparing for President Trump`s visit to China in a few months. Surly strategic issues like how to coordinate Sino-US relations in the Asia-Pacific will certainly be on the agenda.
The author is a visiting fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.