Event ReportsPublished on Dec 20, 2014
With the enhancement of power in the Indo-Pacific region, China is attempting to create new constructs in the security arena which will be exclusively for Asians and it will bestow primacy to themselves.
Chinese attempting a new security architecture in Indo-Pacific
The existing "world order", which is constructed by the US in the post World War II period, is increasingly being challenged by the "evolving order" that has begun to emerge with the rise of China.

This was noted by experts at a round table discussion on the "Evolving Security Architecture in the Indo-Pacific" organised by Observer Research Foundation on December 20, 2014. The discussion explored many aspects of the evolving security architecture with a special focus on India's role.

The discussion was chaired by Leela Ponnapa, former deputy NSA. While Dr. C. Raja Mohan gave the opening remarks, RAdm Raja Menon, Dr. P.K. Ghosh and Prof. Swaran Singh of the JNU made presentations on various aspects of the subject.

Scholars underlined that the Chinese are increasingly pinning the 'Asia for Asians' mantra to eliminate the presence of non residential big powers in the region. This debate, however, is being countered by the US 'pivot' which aims to re-establish American presence in the region.

The post World War II balance of power in the Indo-Pacific was defined by the maritime prowess of the US. By forging bilateral ties with South Korea, Japan, Australia, and the Philippines, the US ensured that its hold in the region was strong. The Collapse of the Soviet Union further enabled the US to consolidate its position. Over the years the idea of Pan-Asianism -- the notion that Asia is one -- has developed. The problem, however, with this notion is that within Asia itself, there are an immense number of power divisions.

Scholars noted that the rise of China is now dramatically altering the existing security architecture. It has created a feeling of vulnerability and nervousness amongst many smaller South-East Asian nations. Simultaneously to counter China's assertiveness, larger and more economically stable nations such as India, Japan and Australia have begun to play a more active role in this region. Additionally, a number of tri-lateral and bilateral partnerships are being formed along with major naval exercises amongst the key players of the region.

They noted that one fundamental flaw while dealing with China is that essentially China has been treated as an outsider. The Chinese for that matter are also no longer willing to follow the mantra of 'hiding your strengths and biding your time.' As an alternative option to constantly treating China as an aggressor, and a violator of human rights, which on occasion can trigger them to further push their nationalistic agenda, countries such as India should play a role in easing China into this architecture.

In the race for establishing this new architecture, China may be at the forefront due to its economic and military strengths. However, writing off Russia and Japan should not be an option. The Japanese under the leadership of Shinzo Abe are undergoing political changes that will better enable it to prepare itself, and to take more affirmative action in the future. The Japanese also have immense maritime capabilities, giving them a large advantage at sea.

The Indo-Pacific also has a number of regional institutions to discuss economic and security issues. Their efficacy and the outcome of their structures has been a topic of debate. Also, with the addition of South Africa, Indonesia, and Australia into the region, the regional dynamics have become a lot more complex. As these countries jostle for that strategic space, there appears to be a number of bilateral and regional institutions emerging in the region, each having varying degrees of effectiveness and inclusivity.

There were varying opinions on the relevance of some of the regional institutions in contributing toward the evolving security architecture in the region. Scholars noted that the IORA is seen as somewhat of a 'lame duck' in the region. There has been plenty introspection regarding the relevance of ASEAN, as well as the ASEAN Maritime Forum. The efficiency and the implementation of the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (Plus) is debatable; and so is the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). Despite having high objectives, the ARF suffers from inspection form within itself regarding its relevance.

Furthermore, scholars agreed that there is a need for India to engage in this debate and generate some kind of consensus. With a huge coastline, India's security importance has shifted from being essentially continental to enforcing maritime security. The last six months have also witnessed a hyper active Foreign Policy - defense agreements with Japan, and Vietnam are being forged; and India has also begun to engage with Island Nations such as Fiji. These events leave India in a very interesting situation, one it has never dealt with before. The rise of China has alarmed many nations, increasing pressure on India to play an active role in the security architecture of the region.

In conclusion, the discussion underlined that over the years India's cultural identity has tended to prevail or substitute the political interest of the nation. India is still in the process of transforming tremendous cultural consciousness into more strategic perceptions of where its interests lie. This is the ultimate challenge for India, that is, it must develop its own strategic thinking, especially if it wants to play a more dynamic role in the Indo-Pacific region.

(This report is prepared by Vindu Mai Chotani, Research Assistant, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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