Regional security in East Asia: Introduction

Posted: January 21, 2011 in Aileen Baviera, East Asia, Philippine foreign policy, Regional security

This is a cross-posting from the Forging a New Philippine Foreign Policy (FNPFP) blog which I moderate.  It is an introduction to a book entitled Regional Security in East Asia published by the Asian Center of the University of the Philippines written by a UP colleague, Prof. Aileen Baviera.



[Dr. Aileen San Pablo-Baviera is Professor of Asian Studies at the Asian Centre, University of the Philippines, where she has been teaching since 1998. Her immediate past positions were as Dean of the Asian Center, head of the Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies of the Philippine Foreign Service Institute, and executive director of the non-profit Philippines-China Development Resource Center. Just recently, she was Visiting Fellow of the ARC Centre for Policing and Security on joint appointment by the Australian National University in Canberra, and Griffith University in Queensland, Australia. She is also editor-in-chief of Asian Politics and Policy, published by Wiley-Blackwell.  Her research interests include contemporary China studies, international relations, Philippine foreign policy, Asia-Pacific security, and Asian civil society. She has edited and co-edited 11 books and monographs, and authored 5 books and monographs, 21 book chapters and 7 journal articles. Overseas, she has lectured or held visiting fellowships at various institutions in Japan, China, Taiwan, Malaysia and India. She also does volunteer work as a Trustee of a human rights organization in the Philippines called Economic, Social, Cultural Rights–Asia.]

IN NOVEMBER 2007, the Association of  Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) marked forty years of existence and its ten member states signed an ASEAN Charter that would provide the legal and institutional framework for the organization. The Charter, in its preamble, refers to their commitment to “intensifying community building through enhanced regional cooperation and  integration, in particular by establishing an ASEAN Community comprising  the ASEAN Security Community, the ASEAN Economic Community, and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, as provided for in the Bali Declaration of ASEAN Concord II.”

Even while it has taken ASEAN forty years to institute a for mal framework that would henceforth direct its efforts at building a Southeast Asian community, it has also been at the hub of parallel initiatives to involve other regional countries in multilateral cooperative arrangements, including the ASEAN Regional Forum, the ASEAN Plus Three, and most recently the East Asia Summit which is expected to pave the way for a putative East Asian Community. Beyond East Asia, ASEAN is actively engaged in trans- regional dialogues including the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) and the Forum for East Asia and Latin American Countries (FEALAC), giving substance to its principle of open regionalism.

A number of new trends and developments appear to be pushing the East  Asian community building project forward. At the global or trans- regional  level, these include the perceived shortcomings, in the face of increasing  interdependence and globalization, of more comprehensive regimes such as World Trade Organization and APEC, or even the United Nations, in  addressing  the challenges of  building the post-Cold War architecture for international politics and the international economy. By their default, states are opting for smaller and more manageable arenas where both collective rule-making and the promotion of national interests may be effectively pursued. Regionally, the more important factors driving an East Asian community at this historical juncture include the rapid pace of economic integration taking place, the rise of China and the strong need perceived by neighboring states to engage it, the weakened resistance by the United States to the idea of a regional grouping that does not formally include it, and crucially, ASEAN’s willingness to play the role of a norm-entrepreneur and organizer of the community building efforts, and other countries’ willingness to accept such a role.

There are indeed indications that community building is being driven by different and at times seemingly contradictory forces, such as the need to hedge against uncertainty – emanating from what Peou in this volume calls the Hobbesian/Lockean viewpoint, and on the other hand, the Kantian desire to construct a new social reality characterized by inter-state cooperation and harmony. Most authors in this volume also emphasize that community building in East Asia is work in progress, and moreover still in its early stages, being neither irreversible nor hopeless. But the careful analyses devoted by our chapter writers – and many others now adding to the growing literature on regional communities – give us a sense that we are standing witness to an important new phenomenon, perhaps one that may even have the potential to transform international politics as we know it. And perhaps not.

How ASEAN defines its own community building process in terms of the  three pillars – security community, economic community and socio- cultural community – raises interesting questions about the divisibility of such a  process,  or from the opposite view, the connectedness of  their respective goals of peace, development, and concord or harmony. While it may be conceivable to attain one goal ahead of the others, it seems close to impossible to imagine how any one of them might be sustained without attainment of the other two. Indivisibility and interconnectedness aside, one must acknowledge that it is in the domain of security where the community building process in this and many other regions of the world encounters the most obstacles and pitfalls. Power rivalries, territorial and boundary disputes, arms races, terrorism, human trafficking, resource competition are but some of the extant issues that come to mind.

Amitav Acharya, in Constructing a Security Community in Southeast Asia: ASEAN and the Problem of Regional Order (Routledge, 2001) examines the extent to which ASEAN may already have become a “security community”, as “a group of  states which have developed a long-term habit of peaceful interaction and ruled out the use of force in settling disputes with other members of the group”.  Acharya uses as his starting point the definition developed by Karl Deutsch and others in the 1950s, which looks at a security community as the terminal point or end product of a process of integration that was originally  intended to help cope with conflicts that arise from increased transactions and interactions among states. Acharya concludes, however, that the ASEAN approach to regional integration was different from what Deutsch understood of a security community, with cooperation being pursued even in the absence of high levels of interaction, and the vision of community preceding the reality of  interdependence. This, he attributes to ASEAN’s institution of norms of acceptable behavior, including non-interference in internal affairs, non-use of force, avoidance of collective defense and the practice of  the “ASEAN Way”. In  turn, these norms contributed to the development of a regional identity.

The present collection of essays looks beyond the ASEAN security community that Amitav Acharya, Jurgen Haacke , and Rizal Sukma among others, problematize, to explore the possibility that a broader East Asian security community might also come into being in the future. In comparison with ASEAN’s forty years of evolution and to the even older concept of “Southeast Asia” as a region, the concept of “East Asia” as a socially constructed – or imagined – collective entity encompassing both the states of Southeast Asia and those of Northeast Asia is not necessarily of recent vintage. Long before Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s doomed proposal for the formation of an East Asia Economic Grouping (EAEG) in 1990, Japan in the 1940s also had its dreams of leading a “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”, whose association with  imperialism, wartime expansion and domination had of course consigned it to the dustbin of history.

It was not until 1995 that the first collective, inter-governmental interactions exclusively involving ASEAN, China, Japan and Korea took place, spurred by the need for these countries to coordinate their positions preparatory to the first Asia-Europe Meeting held in 1996. Subsequently, the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis and the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) crisis underscored the importance of longer-term policy coordination among these countries, leading to the regularization of their meetings into what became billed as the ASEAN Plus Three. The first ASEAN Plus Three Summit was held in Manila in 1999, and since then there have been frequent meetings and agreements on a wide range of issues at different levels of policy making. An East Asia Vision Group (EAVG) was established upon the recommendation of South Korean President Kim Dae Jung in 1998, and subsequently an East Asia Study Group (EASG) was formed, both in order to consider specific areas for ASEAN Plus Three cooperation. In the process, a decision was made to convene an East Asia Summit as a step toward building an East Asian community. It was understood, however that the community building process would be a gradual process and that the East Asian community (initially referred to as “community” in lower case “c”, rather than as “Community”) would be a long-term goal.

These early efforts in visioning a shared future for East Asia were taking place against the backdrop of heightening tensions between the region’s two major powers China and Japan, fueled by continuing differences in their reading of wartime history but in essence a consequence of a changing balance of power and influence, as one power rose and another was perceived to be declining. Immediately following the decision to establish the East Asia Summit, controversy arose as to who should be the participants of the Summit, in anticipation of their becoming members  of the aspired-for East Asian community. Malaysia, with support from China, preferred that participation be limited to the ASEAN Plus Three countries, while Japan wanted Australia and New Zealand present, as well as India. Singapore and Indonesia endorsed India’s entry, presumably as a counterweight to China, as Morada notes in his chapter.

By the end of 2007, three meetings of the East Asia Summit had convened, involving the sixteen countries (the ASEAN-10, China, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and India) and narrowing down the agenda to cooperation on non-traditional security issues such as energy, environment and climate change. In the meantime, the community building process of ASEAN itself as well as the ASEAN Plus Three continue to be the primary mechanisms for East Asian regional integration.

This volume is a modest attempt to examine some of the issues, problems and prospects of laying the groundwork for an East Asian security community, or a “non-war” community in the East Asian region (consisting principally of the ASEAN Plus Three, while keeping an open mind to possible expanded configurations). It traces its origins to an international conference organized in November 2006 by the Asian Center, University of the Philippines, not coincidentally during the run-up to the 12th ASEAN Summit and the 2nd East Asia Summit which were held in Cebu City in January 2007.

The conference, which was supported by the Japan Foundation, pursued a number of objectives. It sought: (1) to review the concept of “security communities” and its relevance for East Asia; (2) to compare security perspectives and strategic cultures across the East Asian region; (3) to explore viable areas and modalities of multilateral security cooperation in East Asia; and (4) to examine the role and impact of actors outside East Asia on East Asian community building efforts.

Since the “East Asian Community” or EAC remains a long-term goal, to speak of an East Asian security community at this time may seem to some observers little more than an exploratory exercise, especially as ASEAN itself, which lies at the core and driver’s seat of regional community building efforts, is only starting to define its own modalities, norms and principles as a security- oriented organization. However, of what is known about international relations and security in the East Asian region, and of the impetus behind and the trajectory of integration and community building efforts, certain key questions surface and must begin to be addressed.  What does being a “security community” mean in both conceptual and practical terms? How inclusive should a security community be? Who should be leading or “driving” the community building processes? What role do common values and norms play in a security community? What degree of  formality,  structure or institutionalization will best serve the common security interests of the region? How will an East Asian Community relate to other existing multilateral arrangements such as ASEAN Regional Forum, APEC, and ASEAN itself ? What might be the scope and modalities for security cooperation?

The essays in this volume, together with lively discussions at the November 2006 conference, provide some initial – and not surprisingly disparate – assessments.

At the minimum, a group of countries that enjoy reasonable assurance that they will not go to war with each other in settling disputes can be considered a security community. Security communities must be understood as distinct from alliances, the latter being based on common short-term threats. In contrast, the members of a security community must have shared collective identity (a “we-feeling”) and a long-term interest in perpetual peace. By this definition, ASEAN may be said to be close to achieving a security community.

In his essay, Sorpong Poeu defines the concept of security communities, discusses the types of security communities, and looks into the role of democratic norms in security community building and maintenance. He argues that there are two crucial interdependent variables that must be present for security communities to succeed – shared fundamental democratic norms, and a democratic community leadership. He attributes this to three characteristics of democracies: they tend to be pro-status quo (in contrast to non-democratic states that tend toward revisionism), they tend to share liberal cultural values that promote the norms of nonviolence and mutual respect (rather than resort to war, power balancing and self-interest), and they tend to develop more stable institutions. Peou refers to this theoretical argument as “realist democratic institutionalism”. He then laments that there are very few liberal democracies in East Asia, and that while the ‘ASEAN Way’ may contain some liberal norms, it does not have its roots in a liberal democratic tradition. Thus, regional institutions in East Asia have remained underdeveloped.

Sung Chull Kim appears to disagree with Peou regarding the relationship between democratic norms and the propensity for regional cooperation, or at least the argument that non-democratic states are more prone to conflict. In his view, power distribution within a state (i.e. whether it is democratic or authoritarian) may be relevant to shaping values and perceptions but it does not determine a country’s propensity for either regional cooperation or confrontation. Citing ASEAN as his example, he points to the diverse political (not to mention, cultural, and religious) backgrounds that did not prevent them from “favoring security cooperation and engagement with the global economy”, or developing a “culture of consensus and openness” that led to the entry of Indochinese states into ASEAN and the formation of an inclusivist ARF.

The main purpose of Kim’s chapter, however, is to examine the security perceptions and relations of the three northeast Asian countries (China, Japan and  Korea) and their effects on community building. He discusses how security issues in the three countries are influenced by historical contexts (i.e. deeply rooted emotions or sentiment against the others), strategic contexts (i.e. national interest including the development of military capability and alliances), as well as imminent contexts (i.e. issues that demand a swift and urgent solution,  in the absence of which domestic politics may impede dialogue and regional cooperation). He forwards the interesting proposition that “the strategic context is the most salient context regardless of regime form”, i.e. whether a regime is monolithic or polyarchic does not matter. He notes, however, a “preferential correlation” between power distribution and the context, where historical context and strategic context are closely intertwined with each other in a monolithic regime like North Korea, whereas imminent context operates more sensitively in democracies, such as Japan and South Korea, than in other regime forms. Kim  concludes that it is possible to develop collective identity and a culture of  cooperation in Northeast Asia through frequent interactions, but that repeated self-restraint from provocative behavior is necessary.

Nobumasa Akiyama gives a Japanese perspective on Asian regionalism and Japan’s role in community building, and asserts the continuing relevance of the  1970s’ Fukuda Doctrine even in the new strategic environment, comparing the Fukuda Doctrine with Foreign Minister Taro Aso’s ‘Arc of Freedom and Prosperity’. He identifies the new agenda for Japan’s policy toward Asia as consisting of “profound challenges” such as how to deal with the rise of  China, how to participate in the politics of Asian regionalization, and how to contribute to peace and stability particularly in the areas of non-traditional security issues and peace building.  Pressures and expectations of Japan to pursue a “values-oriented diplomacy” based on the promotion of human rights and democracy in the region are difficult to fulfill, and place Japan in a hard spot between the United States on one hand and China and Southeast Asia on the other hand. Instead, among the areas where Japan can make a contribution to the region as well as promote some form of values-oriented diplomacy, are peace-building, disaster relief, and energy security. Akiyama believes that ‘open regionalism’ provides Japan a solution that will ensure she is in conformity with the goals of both the US-Japan defense alliance AND Asian regionalism.

The two contributors from China, Pan Yi-ning and Cai Penghong, present contrasting perspectives of the regional security environment and prospects for community building using the “ASEAN way”, or an “Asian way”.  Pan looks into the issue of whether the Asian approach of building cooperative institutions can be any more successful in addressing security dilemmas and resolving conflicts, compared to traditional realist approaches of self-help, alliances, or concert of powers. Examining the extent to which the confidence and security building measures introduced by the ARF have helped reduce arms build-ups, mitigate flashpoints in the Korean peninsula and sovereignty issues in the South China Sea, or decrease threat perceptions and mutual mistrust, she considers these as having limited success and nothing to get excited about. She professes doubt about there being such a thing as an “Asian way”, arguing that (1) East Asian security culture has largely become westernized (with strong belief in  nationalism, Social Darwinism, and Westphalian notions of sovereignty and power politics), and (2) while there may have been traditional East Asian security cultures, such as hierarchy and cultural moralism for the Chinese, or kampong-style consensus building for ASEAN, reviving the former will create a paradox of encouraging Chinese hegemony, while the latter does not find real resonance outside of Southeast Asia. Therefore, bringing “Asian way” arguments into  regional security cooperation efforts is not only conceptually confusing, but in substance the so-called “Asian way”- by its failure in managing traditional security concerns, even weakens the foundations of regional cooperative institutions.

Renato Cruz de Castro’s chapter expands on Pan Yi-ning’s discourse on Chinese strategic culture, this time applying elements of Sun Tzu to Chinese statecraft in Southeast Asia. He zeroes in on Southeast Asia as an arena of power competition between China and the United States. He notes that a key strategy that China uses to undermine U.S. strategic and political preponderance is “its attempt to co-opt Southeast Asian countries through its provision of side-payments to and fostering consultative relations with U.S. friends and allies in the region.”  Rather than trying to develop countervailing capability against a more powerful state with abundant resources and superior forward- deployed naval and air forces, China – in de Castro’s view – desires to formalize a cooperative substructure within the regional system in order to neutralize the United States.  Moreover, through its “soft power statecraft”, China stresses mutuality of interests, the idea of democracy in the international order, and the peaceful resolution of international conflicts while significantly downplaying any desire to dominate Southeast Asia.

Cai Penghong also examines Southeast Asia-China relations, with a focus on the role and prospects of non-traditional security cooperation. He traces how the discourses on non-traditional security gradually found their way into the thinking of intellectuals and some policy makers in China, departing from the conventional concerns of Chinese security specialists over external threats to state security and internal stability. By 2002, China was ready to sign with ASEAN the Joint  Declaration of ASEAN and China on Cooperation in the Field of  Non-Traditional Security Issues. The agenda for such cooperation includes transnational crimes such as trafficking in illegal drugs, trafficking of persons, sea piracy, terrorism, arms-smuggling, money-laundering, international economic crimes and cyber crime. But Cai considers energy security cooperation as the most vital area for the two sides because of its impact on development, on the environment, and its implications for maritime security.

Cai argues that non-traditional security is very much related to traditional security and is not superior to the latter. On East Asian community building in general, he underscores the point that China believes ASEAN should play the leading role. He considers the role and participation of the United States a complicating factor, for which reason an East Asian Community must develop independently of the US, but he argues that the US should not be excluded from the cooperative security processes, nor should China-ASEAN cooperation be aimed against it.

Complementing Cai Penghong’s piece, Noel Morada looks at the prospects for East Asian regional cooperation on traditional security concerns. He  provides an over view of  the existing mechanisms for East Asian cooperation, including the ARF, the ASEAN Plus Three, the ASEAN-China and ASEAN-Japan dialogues, the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN security community building process itself. One major contribution of the ARF that he cites is in encouraging China and ASEAN to agree on the 2002 Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. Subsequently, defense dialogues have also taken place where they discussed maritime security cooperation. As for an East Asian Community, he argues that it can play a vital role in confidence building as  well  as nor m-shaping – especially involving stakeholders across different sectors in the respective countries. Interestingly, Morada calls for EAC to help transform existing alliances into “a strategic partnership that allows the re-creation of a regional order that recognizes the legitimate interests of emerging powers such as China”. Deterrence against China, he argues, undermines the development of multilateralism in the region. Aside from encouraging trilateral strategic partnership between US, China and  Japan, the EAC may also look into cooperation against terrorism and for the management of territorial disputes.

Mohan Malik and Swaran Singh dedicate their chapters to the role of external actors in East Asian community building.  Malik, looking at three major external powers (the United States, the European Union and Russia), argues that it is not in their interests to have an East Asia Community dominated by one or more Asian countries or for an EAC to develop (even covertly) into an alliance or a collective security pact. In his view, the interests of external powers – and in particular, China’s relations with the United States, Japan, and India – will have a determining role on the future of EAC¸ along with such other factors as membership criteria, ASEAN’s will and capacity to remain in “the driver’s seat”, and how EAC will relate to APEC and ARF.

The United States, he posits, will likely support multilateral organizations for as long as they complement and reinforce the alliance network, help promote  freedom and democracy along with free markets, and remain committed to “open regionalism”. Fortunately for the United States, many countries in East Asia consider it the “balancer of choice” as it is a distant hegemon.  Malik suspects that Beijing wants the EAC to become like the China-led, anti-US Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which explains the catchy double entendre  in his title, emphasizing the need for Asian multilateralism not to be ‘shanghaied’.

The final chapter by Swaran Singh provides an Indian perspective on security community building. He argues that Southeast Asia and South Asia have long been seen as part of the same strategic continuum, with the security of one being integral to the other. However, historical as well as ideological factors  prevented earlier strategic cooperation and it was only India’s economic crisis, loss of Soviet support and ASEAN’s membership expansion in the 1990s to the CLMV countries that forced India to “look east”. Singh notes that it is concerns about China that have been critical to India’s vision of Southeast Asia and vice versa. India’s advantage, he says, is that it has managed to evolve strategic  partnerships with both China and Japan, maintain friendly ties with both the  United States and Russia, and it is acceptable to ASEAN. However, he believes India’s engagement with East Asia will be economics-led, specifically focusing on trade, and that security interests will be pursued in the “soft security” framework.  That said, he concludes that “India has critical stakes in ensuring the evolution of Security Community in East Asia and in exploring possibilities to replicate and expand that example to the wider Asian region…”

The nine chapters in this volume provide a wide range of thinking on an issue  that governments and analysts around and beyond the region are increasingly paying attention to. Building an East Asian Community – and presumably embedded in this: a future East Asian security community – is not an easy project, as all our authors seem to agree. The divergent and at times even competing perceptions, interests, and capabilities of the countries in the region  make it difficult to conceive of East Asia as a “non-war” community, especially when attention is drawn to the persistent power rivalries, and continuing military build-up across the Taiwan Strait, on the Korean Peninsula and of  missile defense systems. While ASEAN has been quite successful in making multilateralism work, as far as preserving peace and promoting regional stability in Southeast Asia are concerned, the “Plus 3” countries have had little experience of regional cooperation and coordination.

Some regional analysts stress the need for ASEAN, being the hub of multilateralism, to strengthen internal unity over which directions it should take  the  community building processes. Some sug gest focusing on successfully building the ASEAN community and its security community pillar before expanding the security community concept to ASEAN Plus Three/East Asia.   After all, security community building itself is a new project for ASEAN, although it has had decades of confidence building and preparation among members. Northeast Asian countries, on the other hand, do not seem to be ready for any serious efforts at security community- building, and may not be ready for many years yet. The Six Party Talks may prove to be a good first lesson in multilateral cooperation, but beyond the common concern over nuclear weapons build-up under the Kim Jong Il regime, it has been argued that there may be little that unites China, Japan, and Korea among themselves, or with the rest of Southeast Asia. The key role played by the United States and China,  and Russia’s participation in the Six Party Talks also raise doubts as to whether this forum might not evolve into a new battlefield for power competition, rather than a constructivist security community-building process.

The concept of “East Asian Community”, and perhaps even more so the concept of “East Asian Security Community”, should be developed a step at a time, focusing on the shared goals and the objects of cooperation rather than on the structures, institutions or membership. Non-traditional security issues may be prioritized in the agenda of an East Asian security dialogue (and indeed the East Asia Summit is looking at energy, environment and climate change), but in order to keep the big powers interested and engaged, as well as to strengthen the efficacy of multilateralism, discussion of traditional security concerns that greatly affect perceptions among the region’s great powers (such as arms build-ups and the role of alliances), can not completely be avoided.

While agreement on common values and principles (specifically, democratic values) as the basis for building a regional identity might be considered desirable by some, it is unacceptable to others. It would seem that for the moment emphasis should be  placed on mutual interests and shared goals as the foundation of  security community building.  In the absence of  common democratic values among prospective members of a future East Asian security community, agreement on certain norms of behavior (notably self-restraint, peaceful coexistence, and equality and mutual respect) and on certain approaches (“soft security” emphasis, consensus-building) can help break down the walls of distrust and nurture the community-building efforts, with the hope that shared democratic values may gradually evolve.


1. A “norm entrepreneur” is one who establishes new norms or helps develop further the existing ones. Henning Boekle,Volker Rittberger, Wolfgang Wagner. Norms and Foreign Policy: Constructivist Foreign Policy Theory. (Center for International Relations/Peace and Conflict Studies, Institute for Political Science, University of Tübingen, 1999).

2. Jürgen Haacke, ASEAN’s Diplomatic and Security Culture:Origins,  Development and Prospects (London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003).

3. Rizal Sukma, “The Future of  ASEAN: Towards a Security  Community”, Paper Presented at the Seminar on “ASEAN Cooperation: Challenges and Prospects in the Current International Situation”, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Indonesia to the United Nations, New York, 3 June 2003.


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