Scenarios for the Pacific Century

This paper was presented at the International Political Science Association Conference in Quebec, Canada in August 2000.  It will appear in the journal World Futures in 2001.

Abstract

Forecasting is fraught with difficulty, but the dynamic Asia-Pacific region is unlikely to remain static in its present configuration. This paper offers 7 scenarios for the future of integration of the Asia-Pacific that take into account economic, strategic, and cultural dimensions of change, and the kinds of events that could trigger regional reconfiguration. The scenarios are aligned along a continuum from low to high tension: 1) a formal, multilateral security regime, 2) a concert of Asia, 3) the status quo of integration under Western hegemony, 4) integration without China, 5) a neo-Confucian cultural zone, 6) tripolarization, and 7) a new cold war between the U.S. and China. The most important bilateral relation shaping the Asia-Pacific future is the U.S.-China relation. If this relationship is well managed, and if regional multilateral institutions continue to develop, tensions in the region are likely to remain low. But the potential for serious conflict over Taiwan, Korea, trade issues, and Asian vs. Western values remains very real.


 
 

SCENARIOS OF ASIA-PACIFIC INTEGRATION
 

Low Tension High Tension


 
 
 
 
 

Pessimistic Probability Estimate

Optimistic Probability Estimate

Formal
Multilateral
Security
Regime
 
 

7%
 
 

11%

Concert  of Asia
 
 
 
 

15%
 
 

22%

Integration under Western Hegemony (Status Quo)

33%
 
 

33%

Integration without China
 
 
 

11%
 
 

8%

Neo
Confucian
Zone
 
 
 

11%
 
 

8%

Tripolar-
ization
 
 
 
 

11%
 
 

8%

New Cold
War
 
 
 

11%
 
 

8%


 
 

Economics

Increasing pace of integration
Increasing pace of integration
Continuing

Integration

Continuing integration but China partially excluded
Severe trade friction with West

+

Increasing integration of East Asia

Severe trade friction with West

+

3 spheres of influence

Severe limits on US-China trade

+

2 trading blocs


 
 
 
 

Strategic


 
 

Multilateral security regime

Informal Concert of Major Powers
U.S.

Hegemonic

+

low conflict

U.S. hegemonic

+

moderate conflict of U.S. and allies

v. China

 


 
 

Japan aligns more closely to China than U.S.

Japan pursues independent line

+

U.S., China, Japan power rivalry

Military rivalry of U.S. and China

Japan aligns with U.S. (or possibly China)

Cultural
Multi-directional

Global-ization

Globaliza-tion under Western Hegemony
Globaliza-tion under Western

Hegemony

Globaliza-tion under Western

Hegemony

East Asia chooses Asian values over Western values
Cultural conflict between Japan, China, and West
Severe conflict between Asian and Western values
Possible

Triggering

Event

Peace deal on Korea or warming China-Taiwan relations
Peace deal on Korea or warming China-Taiwan relations
 
Conflict over Taiwan
Recession in U.S. or second Asian crisis + Renewed trade friction
Conflict over Taiwan or Korea +

Renewed trade friction

Conflict over Taiwan or Korea
 
I. Introduction

Although it is not conventional academic style, I begin this paper with an anecdote. A few months ago I attended an international conference at the leading university in Korea, Seoul National University, on the spirit of East Asian capitalism, where bright scholars from many nations in the Pacific Rim and even Europe pondered the relationship between capitalism and culture, many taking Max Weber's classic work as a common jumping off point to study their own country. In the best social scientific tradition each paper was carefully focused on reporting some empirical research, mostly survey data on attitudes in one nation toward work, company, profession, international business, etc. Each paper paid homage to the overall conference theme but rarely actually reacted to the other papers in any direct or even indirect fashion, and even more rarely offered or supported generalizations about East Asian capitalism as a whole. Following proper scientific procedure, scholars were especially cautious in drawing conclusions on the conference theme not supported by their data limited to a single country.

As the final wrap-up session approached I found myself mildly interested by all the data and analysis I had seen but essentially disappointed that my overall understanding had not been much advanced. I felt I had learned a lot of stuff, but not much about East Asian capitalism as a whole, where East Asian capitalism fit in the global system, or even whether the category of East Asian capitalism was a useful concept.

But the wrap-up discussion proved surprisingly different. Here things got really interesting as scholars abandoned their caution and discussed thoughtfully the most important issues. Was East Asian capitalism essentially similar to or essentially different from Western-style capitalism? Could the idea of "Asian values" or an "Asian way of development" be empirically supported? Would the direction of cultural influence continue to be overwhelmingly from West to East or would rising East Asian power eventually affect the culture of the West? These, of course, are questions that have no "answers" that can be empirically demonstrated. That was why each scholar had carefully avoided addressing them in their written work, subject as it was to criticism from discussants and other participants. But this discussion was passionate and fruitful nonetheless. It is the questions that have no answers that are always most interesting.

What follows might easily be dismissed as simply a trip lightly over issues more carefully examined elsewhere, lacking in depth. But there is something to be learned in considering alternative futures of the Asia-Pacific. Many scholars study the region by surveying national policies and strategies and/or examining bilateral relationships, and perhaps discussing each nation's view of multilateralism. Like the scholars at the conference on East Asian capitalism, they carefully build their case from the bottom up, but in the end too often provide limited insight into the future of the entire region. Other specialists do look at the entire Asia-Pacific region but fix on only one dimension--economic, political, military, historical, cultural, etc. In such cases broad geographical coverage comes at the expense of analyzing the complexity of interactions between different dimensions of regional development. In recent years more scholars have taken a multidimensional, region-wide perspective, but given the complexity of such analysis, they tend to abjure forecasting. In his summation of an edited volume on the "strategic quadrangle" of relations between the U.S., Japan, China, and Russia, Solomon even dryly quotes American baseball star Yogi Berra, "Prediction is very difficult, especially regarding the future."

But if the history of the 20th century has taught us anything, it is the potential for massive transformation in international systems. Periods of apparent stability and slow evolution have been shattered by abrupt, startling events in a pattern biologists call punctuated equilibrium. Only a decade has elapsed since the Soviet Union dropped out of existence, to the complete surprise of virtually every scholar in the field. But the demise of state socialism in the late 20th century was probably no less astonishing to us than the very fact the Bolshevik Revolution succeeded was to the experts of the early 20th century. Most intellectuals of the day were also caught completely by surprise by the phenomenon of world war. And while the rise of Asia-Pacific economies and the rapid integration of the region has been a sustained process rather than a single shocking event, how many experts of the post-World War II period or even of a generation ago truly foresaw the vibrancy or the cohesion of the region today? The history of the 20th century is full of both catastrophic events and fortuitous developments that have changed the world in largely unforeseen ways. Perhaps even more than careful empirical scholarship we need imaginative thinking about alternative directions of development of the Asia-Pacific.

So in the words of an old American pop song, "Fools rush in where wise men fear to go." Despite the obvious difficulties, this paper takes both a holistic and prospective approach, considering different scenarios of the entire Asia-Pacific region and examining how national policies and bilateral relationships might contribute to overall regional patterns. It looks at clusters of issues, or dimensions of integration, and considers different future trajectories of the region as a whole. These scenarios might be dismissed as simply mind games, but ultimately everything scholars do is in some sense just mind games. Given the massive uncertainties and complexities of relations in the Asia-Pacific, scenario writing is a useful enterprise.

Considering multiple alternative scenarios of the future is not common in the field of Asia-Pacific studies, but it is not unknown. Harding offers three scenarios of the future of China and its role in the Asia-Pacific: 1) a strong, reformed China enmeshed in growing economic interdepedence and thus constrained from posing a strategic threat, 2) a repressive political system using nationalism for legitimation, with growing power and assertiveness internationally, and 3) a weak, decaying China that would be not constitute an external threat but would be the source of many regional problems. Arase sees three choices for future Japanese security policy: 1) remaining under the U.S. security umbrella, avoiding involvement in international disputes, and focusing on economic growth, 2) striking out on an independent foreign policy course, and 3) incremental expansion of its military options coupled with greater political assertiveness.

Zhang and Montaperto offer three scenarios of the triangle of relations between the U.S., China, and Japan. In a "transparent" triangle "a pattern of benign trilateral security dialogue would emerge and greatly enhance security and stability." A "hostile" triangle would consist of two members allied to cut down the third, most likely the U.S. and Japan against China, although the other two configurations are conceivable. In a "loosening" triangle all three powers would be integrated "into a more diversified and multilateral framework of international relations."

II. Visions of Order, Fears of Conflict

Over the last generation the Asia-Pacific region has experienced remarkable economic and political integration that has dramatically increased the interaction among regional economies and polities. All the peoples of the Asia-Pacific have been touched to one degree or another by a vision of ever accelerating economic growth driving increasing economic interdependence, thus ensuring peaceful relations between ever more friendly neighbors. Some have even envisioned an emergent Pacific community based on a growing sense of mutual interdependence engaged in conscious construction of multilateral institutions not only of economic but also security cooperation. Over time such multilateral institutions could establish an economic and security order that eases military tensions and makes large-scale military conflict impossible to conceive. Nascent multilateral fora like APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation), ARF (Asian Regional Forum), and the 4 party talks on Korea have already established a track record, although their accomplishments are modest compared to their counterparts in Europe.

Yet, few thoughtful observers believe that peaceful integration of the Asia-Pacific will continue indefinitely without meeting any serious challenges. Flash-points like Taiwan and the two Koreas, territorial disputes between several states over various island chains, or ethnic clashes in Southeast Asia and China all remain serious security problems that could provoke rising tensions or even military conflict. The recent financial crisis in East Asia shows that even tigers are subject to the economic cycle. The sudden collapse of Asian economies that had been growing so rapidly for so long that they were thought invulnerable to reverses raises questions as to whether the so-called "new economy" on the other side of the Pacific, whose market is the target of so many of the exports that have driven East Asian economic growth, is truly immune to sustained downturns. While the Asian values movement has not yet proved to be a serious challenge to the ideological hegemony of the West, there is little reason to believe globalization will simply erase differences in culture and history or ethnic and national consciousness without producing some reaction.

Moreover, the end of the cold war has altered the political dynamics of the Asia-Pacific in some unsettling ways, reviving fears of dangerous great power rivalry. As power shifts to East Asia, uncertainty about the new roles and relationships of the U.S., China, and Japan grows. While global unipolarity has lingered more than its "moment," few maintain it can be sustained forever. For those who believe that American hegemony is the force that overcomes the inherent tendency of an anarchical state system toward conflict and confrontation in a region fraught with historical enmities, the eventual emergence of a more multipolar Asia-Pacific is an ominous trend.

Relations between the U.S. and China have become the crucial variable in the region. Buzan argues "the central actor in (the) Asian complex is China, which in some ways occupies a position in Asia similar to that of Germany in Europe." Solomon notes "the future structure of East Asia...is most likely to be shaped by the interaction of policies formulated in Washington and Beijing." This relationship has been quite mixed, oscillating between periods of rising tensions over Taiwan, security, trade, and human rights issues and periodic attempts at rapprochement. The future of the Pacific will be largely shaped by the triangle of relations between the U.S., China, and Japan. Japan will remain an economic power in the region. However, for a variety of historical and geopolitical reasons, particularly the gains it gets from its alliance with the U.S., Japan is unlikely to trigger a regional realignment. It is much more likely that the interaction between the U.S., with its vast political, economic, and military resources, and China, with its huge population, its ever more important economy, and its network of overseas Chinese strategically located throughout Southeast Asia, will determine the future dynamics of the region.

Lessons from History?: Europe and the Asia-Pacific in the Global System

In attempting to understand the future of integration of the Asia-Pacific, many western scholars look for models in the history of modern and contemporary Europe or the North Atlantic. Of course, any East Asian specialist can cite a number of reasons why European and Atlantic models do not really fit patterns of development in the Asia-Pacific region. The Asia-Pacific has greater cultural diversity, with traditions as disparate as Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam all intermingling, in contrast to the common Judeo-Christian heritage of most of Europe and North America. There is greater geographical and political variation in East Asia than in Europe. In particular, the large number of islands and the extended coastlines of continental nations makes regional maritime commerce and naval power more important factors and overland networks and armies less important than in Europe (Mak and Hamzah). East Asia has entered the modern world much more recently than Europe, largely through the force of external colonization rather than internally driven development. The very process of state formation and legitimation has taken a different path in East Asia than in Europe and North America. (Baker and Sebastian) As late bloomers in a rapidly globalizing world, East Asian states have played a different role in economic development than their European counterparts, and thus economic, political, and security issues have been much more interconnected. As a cumulative result of their individual cultural heritages, histories, and developmental trajectories, East Asian nations tend to place more emphasis on implicit, informal diplomacy rather than the explicit agreements and structures characteristic of the relations between Atlantic states. (Narramore, Evans, Morimoto, Deng)

Buzan points out that Asian history itself provides several different sources of cleavages within the Asia-Pacific, all of which are indigenous sources of insecurity.

There are several layers of history to choose from...that shape and constrain potential patterns of amity and enmity in the region...Cold War history is not entirely obsolete...If we go back to the first half of the twentieth century, the historical picture is dominated by the rise of Japan...Pushing back further into the nineteenth and eighteenth centuries brings the clash between Asian and European civilization into focus...Going back further...one finds a Sino-centric imperial power dominating the region.
Yet even acknowledging the huge differences between the North Atlantic and the Asia-Pacific there are still important parallels between the two regions. (Stuart) Both have experienced massive economic growth and sustained economic and political integration, although at different times and to different degrees. Both Europe and East Asia have oscillated between periods of high tension, conflict, and even war and periods of relative peace, prosperity, and cooperation. Both regions have not only experienced globalization but become driving forces in that process. Both also have had their regional dynamics shaped by the global hegemon and rising powers challenging that hegemony. While extrapolation from the Atlantic experience to the Asia-Pacific is fraught with logical pitfalls, the Atlantic provides the only relevant model for managing capitalist globalization in a rapidly advancing region.

However there are many different ways to draw parallels between the European history over the last few centuries and contemporary developments in East Asia. Liberal institutionalists tend to see the recent pattern of globalization, integration, and democratization in Europe under American political hegemony as the future of Asia as well. Many realists, however, look further back in European history and view nation-building, assertive states, and intensifying conflict as the more appropriate analogy between Europe and Asia, asserting that "Europe's past is Asia's future." Others (Stuart, Acharya, Kupchan 1999, and Betts) envision the 19th century concert of Europe as the pattern for the 21st century Asia-Pacific. Huntington looks even deeper into history and projects the Asian civilizations recovering from half a millenium of Western expansion and rising once again to challenge a receding West.

Hegemony, Stability, and Conflict

However perhaps the most useful lesson from European and global experience for projecting the East Asia future comes from the cycle of hegemonic ascendancy and hegemonic challenge. This cycle oscillates between relatively peaceful integration of nations into a global order, historically led by a hegemonic power, and disintegration of global order, hegemonic challenge, and war, hot or cold.

Different versions of the theory of hegemony are hotly contested in the field of international relations. Yet most researchers in the field of Asia-Pacific security or economic studies, describe a role for the U.S., and the West more generally, in the Asia-Pacific that, whatever it is labeled, clearly meets the basic theoretical description of hegemony. Whether it is called leadership or presence or hegemony, a paramount role is generally assigned to the U.S. that most analysts see as positive and stabilizing. In the early 1990s with the end of the Cold War, the apparent strength of the Japanese economy, the relative weakness in the American economy, and the withdrawal of American forces from the Philippines, many analysts agonized over the durability of a perceived stabilizing American influence in the region. Yet the doctrine that hegemony is a necessarily a benign, stabilizing force is questionable at best.

Hegemony is a complex and multifaceted concept used in many different ways in different fields, so it is worth being specific about the particular shadings of meaning that will be used at various times in this paper. At the most instrumental level hegemony refers to the political leadership of the United States as the most powerful nation in the world, including the Asia-Pacific region. At the most ideological level hegemony refers to the ability the West has had to at least partially refashion East Asian cultures, identities, and ways of thinking in its image. At the structural level it refers to the conscious and unconscious attempts of the U.S. and the West generally to create international institutions that reflect their interests and ideologies and to use them to shape political, economic, and cultural dynamics in non-Western nations. At times it is appropriate to refer to the political leadership of the U.S. as the instrument of hegemony, but with globalization generally and the integration of West in particular, I consider the ultimate hegemon the West as a totality rather than the U.S. as a nation. In the immediate post-World War II world perhaps the U.S. was hegemonic in all these senses, but with the revival of Europe and the integration of the West it makes more sense to think of hegemony a phenomena of the West as a whole than the U.S. alone.

Despite the many benefits that have been ascribed to hegemonic powers generally and in particular to the U.S. in the Asia-Pacific in the past half century, it should be clear that hegemony can foster instability and war as well as stability and peace. Periods of apparent hegemonic stability have been shattered by global wars twice in this century. For most of the so-called hegemonic stability of the second half of the 20th century the entire planet hung on the brink of annihilation and the Cold War transformed every local conflict into a global contest, often escalating the level of violence and suffering.

Contesting the claim that U.S. hegemony brought greater stability to the Asia-Pacific, Morgan argues "(a) drawback to the thesis is that for years American involvement directly contributed to some violent conflicts in the region and tended to exacerbate others." The so-called "hegemonic peace" of East Asia included two vicious conflicts, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, that were escalated by the hegemon and its challengers until millions died and even more were wounded or forced to flee.

In the end all hegemonic systems have eventually engendered hegemonic challengers, rising powers whose growth was severely constrained by the hegemon's desire to maintain the status quo and yet whose appetite was whetted by observing the privileges enjoyed by the reigning hegemon. History shows that what has been gained by eras of relative hegemonic stability has been more than paid for by ever more bloody contests over who shall be hegemon. Britain established its political hegemony after the first truly European-wide wars, which along with the concert of Europe, produced a measure of stability in Europe through the 19th century. But eventually Germany rose to challenge the British, leading to the polarization of Europe into two war camps resulting in the first global war in which perhaps 30 million lost their lives. In the 1920s, as political hegemony was passing from Britain to the U.S., an attempt was made to establish a more formal global order through the League of Nations and disarmament and non-aggression treaties. However, this new order failed to accommodate resurgent Germany and rising Japan, and, once again, Anglo-American hegemony faced a challenging war bloc. Another world war ensued, this time with perhaps 60 million deaths and hundreds of millions wounded and displaced.

The U.S. was ascendant after World War II and an even greater effort was made to create global institutions. However this new world order could not accommodate Soviet-style socialism. So the Soviet Union became the new hegemonic challenger until it collapsed, but not before the Cold War contest had escalated regional conflicts around the globe and populated the world with tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. In the past decade, the U.S. and the West have once more been ascendant, and perhaps, as many Americans and Europeans believe, this time a global order immune to challenge has been established. But it is an open question whether the current Western powers will be successful in incorporating the rising Asian economies into their system or whether a new challenge to the hegemonic order will emerge.

Looking through the lens of the peace/integration vs. disintegration/war cycle, the current period looks most like the post-World War I period. In the 1920s, like today, there was considerable optimism that in the wake of intense conflict a new world order could be created. In both periods major arms control treaties were part of the new regime of integration. In both periods international institutions took on new importance in regulating the affairs of nations. In the 1920s the League of Nations was launched while the 1990s saw the creation of the WTO and the increasing importance of the OSCE, the IMF, etc. Yet, by the late 1930s the illusions of a new world order had been shattered.

To briefly foreshadow my conclusion, many realists believe the idealists of the 1920s failed because order in a world of anarchic states is simply impossible or at least highly improbable. However the more compelling lesson to be learned from the inter-war period was the failure to create a system where rising powers had a stake in the system. Weimar Germany and Imperial Japan had only two choices--accept subordinate roles in the international system, or challenge the system itself. The U.S. and its allies may be fashioning a similar Hobson's choice for the newly rising Asian powers, particularly China. Calleo states well the peril in seeking "a unipolar Pax Americana, rather than a diverse and plural world where power has to be shared. The gap between our fixed uniploar imagination and the squirming pluralist trends in the real world is a growing danger."

Even many advocates of American hegemony recognize the problem. Kupchan (1998), for example, argues that the U.S. should "prepare for the inevitable decline of its preponderance" through a "benign unipolarity" of "regional spheres of influence...based on voluntary, not forced, participation" that "(dampen) competition among regions as well as within them." Kupchan advocates a kinder, gentler hegemony where the U.S. gets "what it wants--a regional order to its liking." But the rest of the region also gets "what it wants--the taming of (American) power by exposing it to the moderating influences of a multilateral framework."

Different readings of history and different theories about hegemony lead to different conclusions about whether the integration of the Asia-Pacific will accelerate, stall, or be reversed. Many analysts frame the question as whether American political hegemony can continue to maintain stability as power shifts toward East Asia. Perhaps a better question would be, will the inexorable decline of American hegemony in the Asia-Pacific, whether it comes in a decade or half a century, lead to anarchic, conflictual multipolarity, a hegemonic challenge by China that polarizes the Pacific, or a truly multilateral Asia-Pacific community?

III. The Dimensions of Integration

The integration of the Asia-Pacific has been proceeding on many fronts simultaneously, including economic, security, and cultural facets. Each of these clusters of issues needs to be examined in its own right, not only to understand how they have contributed to regional integration, but also to explore what problems and countervailing tendencies are still present. However, by deliniating different dimensions I do not mean to suggest these factors are independent of each other. On the contrary, their interaction is profound. One important purpose of the scenarios that follow is to consider how the interaction of these dimensions of integration affect each other.

For example, economic growth has had contradictory effects on security issues. On the one hand, the enrichment of East Asian nations gives them a greater stake in the status quo, with both more to lose in any military conflict and more to gain from cooperative security agreements. Yet on the other hand, economic growth allows and even seems to encourage acquisitions of military hardware that are unsettling to neighboring nations, spurring if not a classic arms race, at least a form of status competition that increases capabilities and perhaps the risk of hostilities. (Wattanayagorn and Ball)

Similarly, economic growth and integration have had contradictory effects on Asian values and culture. On the one hand, economic integration has encouraged greater commitment of East Asians to the global system and greater tolerance for American political hegemony and cultural westernization. On the other hand, the rise of East Asian nations in the global division of labor and their dependence on the viability of that system has given East Asians greater desire for a voice in shaping the content of the system. What Huntington has called the "Asian affirmation" raises prickly issues for the U.S. and the West, which have come to believe it is their prerogative to decide the rules of the global system. Increasing trade and economic interdependence heighten the frequency and importance of underlying value conflicts.

Security, economics, and values all get intermixed in the Asian context. In contrast to westerners, who tend to think of security primarily in military terms, East Asians are inclined to a more multidimensional concept of security which melds military and diplomatic concerns with issues of economics and state-building. Western nation-states evolved parallel to the establishment of the global system. East Asian peoples experienced imperialism first and only later modern nation-building. Legitimation of the state remains an ongoing task, particularly in the multicultural countries of Southeast Asia. Moreover, as the recent financial crisis illustrates, East Asian states remain highly vulnerable to the vicissitudes of contemporary markets, making economic security just as important as military security to East Asian regimes.

Simon (1996) notes that American preaching on human rights and democracy can be perceived as a threat to security. "To several East Asian leaderships...the United States is seen to be as much a problem as a solution to regional security. While the American military presence remains welcome as a factor promoting regional stability, Washington's pressures on human rights, democracy, and labor standards are perceived as threats to domestic stability."

At a deeper level, Narramore notes "a notion of what "we" are is intrinsic to an understanding of what "we" fear." The idea of some kind of security "community" is gaining ground in the Asia-Pacific. But it is still not entirely clear who is in this community, what goals it should be seeking, or what processes it should employ. Notions of identity are ultimately inseparable from issues of interest.

However, although the different dimensions of Asia-Pacific integration are tightly linked, analysis is by definition breaking complex systems down into their component parts. I begin with the economic dimension because almost all observers agree that economic integration has been driving the other profound changes in the Asia-Pacific.

The Economic Dimension

Changes in the economies of Pacific Asia in the last half century have been more dramatic than anywhere else in the world. It was not that long ago that Southeast Asia, China, and Korea were lumped with sub-Sahara Africa, Central America, and South Asia as the poorest areas of the Third World. The rise of the Asia-Pacific to become the second center of the world economy along with the North Atlantic has been as rapid as it has been remarkable. Not only has the region grown dramatically, increasing scales of production and marketing has spurred rapid integration It is the benefits of economic integration that have driven other forms of political and security integration in the Asia Pacific. The role of the IMF in the recent financial crisis, the formation of the WTO, and the preparations for China's admission to the WTO are all important signs that economic integration is continuing apace and that regional political institutions are also evolving.

Yet, there are countervailing trends to the process of regional economic integration, as was apparent at the breakdown of the WTO meeting last year in Seattle. Massive inequalities remain in the region. The Asian financial crisis, was a clear warning that rapid, straight-line growth and smooth integration cannot just be assumed. The short-term effect of the financial crisis was to heighten interdependence between East Asia and the West as several nations went scrambling to the IMF and other western institutions for help. But resentment over the stringent conditions placed on IMF loans and the flightiness of western investors was palpable, even though only a few such as Malaysia's Mahathir openly spoke out against their bankers.

If a second, more prolonged financial crisis with longer term impact on economic growth swept the region, nations that have been assuming that relatively open globalization is the optimal path for them might come to question whether integration into the western-led international economy at the middle to lower end of the global division of labor is a desirable future. On the other side of the Pacific, as long as the U.S. economy is riding high, unemployment is historically low, and foreign capital continues to flow in to subsidize current American consumption, there is little concern about the massive trade deficits with Japan and China. If an economic crisis either spread to the U.S. or originated there, U.S. demands for liberalization, which have been muted by the extraordinary American growth in the 90s, are quite likely to be revived with even greater intensity than was seen in the 80s.

There is little question that given the ever-greater scale of global production, economic integration will continue in the Asia-Pacific region. But integration could take different forms. Some see integration of East Asia proceeding more rapidly than globalization, suggesting regionalization will outpace globalization. As recently as 1985 intra-East Asian trade accounted for only 35% of regional exports and 42% of regional imports; but by 1994 they had grown to 47% and 51% respectively, indicating the growing importance of regional trade. (Guerrieri)

After a decade of stagnation of the Japanese economy, few talk about a yen bloc as the future of East Asia. Even Malaysia's Mahathir's modest East Asian Economic Caucus proved stillborn. However the "Asianization" of the Japanese economy has proceeded even during the recession, with Japan absorbing a higher proportion of imports from Southeast Asia and shifting its international investment increasingly toward the region. (Camilleri) Every nation in the region is also feeling the attraction of China's growing economy and the prospect that its more than a billion consumers will gain real purchasing power that begins to match their numbers. While Japan has become an ever-greater source of FDI in the region, China has become a magnet for investment from East Asia, attracting in particular capital from overseas Chinese businesses.

Under current conditions, globalization and regionalization is a both/and proposition. The vague goal of "open regionalism" pursued by APEC does not require any hard choices. APEC can even envision a Pacific wide free trade zone, particularly since implementation dates have been set far enough in the future to avoid facing the short term costs. But it is not hard to envision circumstances in which globalization and regionalization becomes and either/or choice. Moreover, trade frictions and differences in business practices between East and West remain a potentially serious problem.

Most American policymakers comfortably assume that market forces are working to reshape East Asian economies into a more western mode. There has been significant liberalization in Japan, China, and most of East Asia. Yet most of the larger East Asian economies remain largely globalist on the outside but mercantilist on the inside. Future recessions in the U.S. are sure to spark new American charges of unfair trading practices by China, Japan, and other East Asian nations. The U.S. will almost certainly resume its hectoring of the mercantilist governments of the region to liberalize along western lines, reviving threats of trade sanctions on those who do not.

Despite all the real progress that has been made on the WTO and related issues, the global trading system is still in fact based upon a fiction. The slogan of free trade is much like the slogan of peace. Everywhere in the world political leaders talk about peace, but they continue to maintain armies and prepare for war. Similarly, all world leaders talk about free trade, but they all maintain protectionist as well as liberalization policies. This does not mean that either peace or free trade is simply an illusion. The world can become more peaceful and the global economy can become more open. But those who see the 21st century bringing a world of virtually complete free trade are as deluded as those who see a 21st century of total peace.

However, friction between the U.S. and East Asian economies runs much deeper than simply issues of trade deficits and surpluses. Differences in overt trade policies are serious but are really only the lesser part of the problem. Business practices in East Asia differ in significant ways from those in the U.S. and the West. This is not really surprising. East Asian economies have evolved under different historical and cultural conditions, in a different place in the international division of labor. East Asian companies have grown up under the tutelage of developmental states more concerned about nurturing emerging industries trying to catch up with a technologically more advanced West, legitimating fractured, artificial polities, and securing some foothold in an international system run from far away places. To some degree, these differences in business practices are residues of basic cultural norms and differences in the trajectory of Western and Asian modernization, such as the general Asian emphasis on the relational over the instrumental. To some degree, they are structural, based on the different position in the international division of labor of East Asian nations and companies.

American economists discount these differences in favor of universalistic models of economic behavior, but as an American who has lived and worked in Korea and Japan for more than a decade, my experience has been that the differences in business practices between American companies, Japanese companies, and Korean companies are profound. Although businessmen have too much invested to trumpet their differences loudly and publicly, everyone who does business in these countries knows that cultural and national differences run much deeper than tastes in food and clothing; they go to the very way business and society are conceptualized.

While market-oriented economists tend to dismiss cross-national differences in business practices and treating them as mere deviations from rational (meaning western) norms, these differences are in fact based on quite rational calculations. Most East Asian nations would not have been able to grow at the rate they have without the instruments of the developmental state. Many East Asian companies would not be able to survive in competition against the Western transnational juggernauts without these practices, just as many western companies would suffer greatly without the more subtle forms of preferences, subsidies, and protections they receive.

Under conditions of mutual growth, these differences in business practices and trade policies can be smoothed over. As long as the U.S. and other western markets remain open and growing they are the glue that binds the Asia-Pacific. As Morgan puts it "the chief U.S. contribution (to Asia-Pacific integration) has probably been the availability of its market." However, in a prolonged recession on one or both sides of the Pacific, these differences could surface again with a vengeance, sparked by trade frictions, but expressing a much greater gulf in ways of thinking about the world in general and business in particular.

The Security Dimension

Security issues in Pacific Asia derive from a complex interaction of four major powers with the other nations of the region in a system that is increasingly multipolar. There are outstanding questions about the role each of these regional powers will play and how their relations might evolve. Will China mount a challenge to U.S. hegemony in the region? Will American troops remain stationed in the region for another half a century? Will Japan continue to subordinate itself to U.S. leadership or chart a more independent, self-assertive course? Is Russia still a major player in the region? Overall, is the Asia-Pacific becoming more or less secure? As Friedberg points out, "what is unfolding in Asia is a race between the accelerating dynamics of multipolarity, which could increase the chances for conflict, and the growth of mitigating factors that...improve the prospects for a continuing peace."

The most stable security arrangement in the Pacific has proven to be the U.S.-Japan alliance which has endured for half a century, through the entire Cold War and a decade into the post-Cold War environment. The most dangerous rivalry is between the U.S. and China, the current political hegemon and the rising power with possible aspirations of regional leadership. But the very fact that there are four major military powers in the region interacting with more than a dozen other nations over a wide range of economic, political, and cultural issues means that no bilateral relation, however important, exhausts the complexities of the region.

Most students of the region argue that classical western notions of security, such as balance of power, fit poorly in East Asia where the anxieties of states are more multidimensional and issues like economics, ethnic tensions, and legitimation of party and state are intermingled with concerns about external threats. Baker and Sebastian argue that the classical European security dilemma where the cumulative effect of several states responding to external threats by building their individual military capabilities paradoxically decrease relative security for all does not apply in the Asia-Pacific. Internal rather than external factors are the center of East Asian security concerns. According to Baker and Sebastian the problem in the Asia-Pacific is more that "individuals and groups acting to assure their own security create an environment of increased threat for most others within the borders of the state."

Yet there are also those in the West who see a classic threat to stability in the Asia-Pacific coming from a combination of American disengagement and an increasing threat from a rising China. Journalists Bernstein and Munro state the China threat thesis more baldly than do academics, "Driven by nationalist sentiment, a yearning to redeem the humiliations of the past, and the simple urge for international power, China is seeking to replace the United States as the dominant power in Asia." Careful comparisons of Chinese military capability to that of the U.S. and Japan rarely find any credible "China threat." (Roy, Nolt, Gurtov and Hwang) But there is little question that sustained Chinese economic growth will increase not only her military but also her diplomatic prowess. China may never be a global challenger to American power, but under conditions of heightened conflict, it could become the regional center of resistance to Western hegemony in the Asia-Pacific. If there is a "China threat," it lies not so much in China's military capability than in its potential future "soft power" as the head of a coalition of Asian nations alienated from the West's attempts to reshape the Asia-Pacific in its image.

The potential hot spots that engender tensions and could lead to conflict between the Pacific Asian powers are well known. Four stand out--Taiwan, the Koreas, communal conflict in Southeast Asia, and territorial disputes over islands. The two conflicts left over from the Cold War--Taiwan and Korea--are the most immediately dangerous because they could put American forces into direct conflict with Chinese forces close to the Chinese homeland. The problem of Taiwan leads the list because it goes to the heart of Chinese sovereignty and national pride. Both the U.S. and China have long standing and antagonistic commitments on Taiwan that are hard to back down from. The division of Korea is inherently unstable, particularly with the growing gap between living standards and technology between North and South. The potential for communal conflict within nations to involve neighbors and eventually the great powers is driven home by the recent slaughters in East Timor and various other parts of Indonesia. Tensions between Islamic fundamentalists, Christians, and overseas Chinese could someday boil over into prolonged civil strife leading to outside intervention and even possibly civil or international war. The risk is greatest in Southeast Asia but the various ethnic minorities within China also could intensify campaigns to resist Sinicization.

The territorial disputes over various small islands may seem relatively unimportant in and of themselves but in an atmosphere of heightened regional tension they could become symbolic issues which inflame nationalist sentiments and provide fuel for xenophobic campaigns against neighboring countries. Most nations of Southeast Asia claim part of the Spratly Islands and there are other island disputes between China and Japan, China and Vietnam, Japan and Korea, and Japan and Russia.

With the number of potential flash points and the presence of several major powers all undergoing transformation of their regional roles, multilateral approaches to security have gained much credence in recent years. APEC, ARF, and the 4 party talks on Korea are the most prominent examples of regional institutions that have developed to attempt to keep the uncertainties of the region from leading to instability, arms races, and confrontation. Multilateral cooperation is much less institutionalized in the Asia-Pacific than is the case in Europe in the past generation. But fora for informal dialog have been growing in importance, reflecting a growing sense of an "Asian way" in security matters.

The Cultural Dimension: Asian Way or Globalization under Western Hegemony?

Another set of issues influencing the future of the Asia-Pacific are cultural and ideological. Perhaps the most controversial debate in international relations in the 1990s was between Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations" thesis, which predicted that the key global cleavage of the 21st century will be between historical civilizations with different cultural traditions and values and Francis Fukuyama who foresaw the "end of history" in a global triumph of western values. Is the Asia-Pacific moving toward a universalistic liberal order similar to that in the North Atlantic community or will the West increasingly come into conflict with societies asserting "Asian values" or an "Asian way" in national and regional development? Or, more precisely, which of these two very real trends is stronger, western liberal hegemony or Asians' sense of their own cultural uniqueness? Both tendencies exist, so it is not so much a question of whether the glass is empty or full, but whether it is 2/3 empty or 2/3 full.

The harsh rhetoric of Asian values vs. western universalism has faded somewhat, but the concept of a distinct Asian way or "Asianization" is a more muted example of what Huntington has called the "Asian affirmation." Sperling argues "By attempting to graft western values onto Asian states, American policy runs the danger of creating an "us" that transforms the United States into a "them." Deng notes that "despite the diversity of the region and the contested nature of an "Asian identity," an Asian consciousness is apparently on the rise." Talk about a distinct Asian way has expanded in scope beyond issues of political development or human rights. Narramore points out that in multilateral Asian security discourse "the emphasis on procedural orientations such as informality, consensus, pragmatism, process and long-term planning bear(s) a striking resemblance to the values (at) the foundation of domestic...development in Japan and East Asia."

While economic and political interdependence is in many ways pushing the region toward greater integration, interdependence also heightens value conflicts. One can live in peace with a neighbor with which one has no interaction, but tensions can arise when your neighbor is in your face day and night. Good fences make good neighbors, but globalization without restraint bulldozes all fences. Interdependence often spreads profits around, but it can also sent a crisis cascading throughout a entire region. East Asian nations gladly accepted IMF money despite the harsh interventions into their domestic policies, but they also resented once again being dictated to by the West as if little had changed in the half century since most of them gained political independence.

Of course, critics of the Asian values movement are largely correct when they assert that in contrast to the relative uniformity of contemporary Western liberalism, there are a multiplicity of Asian value systems. The Asian values movement is not a consensus on one value system but a babble of different philosophical, historical, and national voices. However, under the pressure of western hegemony it could become a coordinated chorus of self-assertion. Western scholars are prone to see clearly the distrust and friction between various East Asian nations but more rarely recognize clearly the distrust East Asians feel toward the hegemonic power of the West.

Critics are also correct to point out that Asian values are largely synthetic, that they are not simply residues of the different histories and philosophical systems that shaped Asian societies prior to globalization. Rather, these value systems have largely been created in response to challenges different Asian nations have faced since the intrusion of the West. The Meiji Restoration in 19th century Japan, which "restored" an emperor cult that had never before existed was the first successful Asian values movement. From 19th century Chinese admonitions to use western technology to Chinese ends through Maoism to socialism with Chinese characteristics, China's sense of what makes it unique has gone through many twists and turns. Certainly the "Confucian values" so touted by admirers of the Asian economic miracle are not the classic values of Confucian scholars, who despised commerce, but the adaptation of some of Confucius' secondary teachings to the imperatives of the modern world.

The creation of synthetic value systems only tenuously linked to historical philosophies stems not only from the urge to resist western hegemony but also from the need to legitimate relatively young and artificial nation states, particularly to mute ethnic conflict in multicultural states like Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, etc. where different religions and philosophical traditions divide Asian nation-states. Pancasila, the national ideology of Indonesia, utilized by leaders as diverse as Suharto and Sukarno, is perhaps the most self-conscious example of an Asian value system designed to legitimate regimes, but similar dynamics can be found throughout the region.

The most serious criticism of the Asian values movement is that it serves as refuge for dictators, a ready shield to rebuff charges of abuses of basic human rights. Despots who have enthusiastically pursued materialist capitalist values counter to their historical traditions have often only cried out against Western cultural penetration when it threatened their power or their profits. It is true that Asian values have often served as a thin veneer for suppression of truly democratic movements. But it is also true that western liberalism has often served as a facade for transnational corporate interests or American political control. Sophisticated observers recognize the dual nature of western liberalism both as an authentic system of values and as a cover for more predatory western interests. The Asian values movement should also be seen in the same light--both as a cynical ploy to protect power and privilege and as a legitimate expression of traditions that people hold dear.

Most westerners have a deep commitment to basic human rights. But the very notion of the universality of human rights is undermined when the U.S. uses the issue as a crude propaganda tool, as it did during the Cold War and as it continues to do into the 21st century. Flat U.S. judgments on human rights performance of sovereign governments virtually requires resistance and only strengthens the idea that human rights is an alien imposition rather than a universal concept. One only needs to consider how politicians in the U.S. would react to sustained vocal international pressure on American governors to cease executions of minors and the mentally incompetent (as is banned by conventions the U.S. has signed) to see how counterproductive unmodulated public pressure can be.

After all, real democracy should be measured not only by the existence of U.S.-style election campaigns or even constitutional protections of individual rights but also by self-determination of peoples. The basic notion of human rights may be universal, but concepts of which human rights take highest priority may be context-specific. For example, Harding suggests that in return for China strengthening its commitment to the international human rights regime, the U.S. should broaden its conception of human rights to include the social and economic rights which are also embodied in the UN Declaration but which it has long disregarded. After all, community implies two way communication and adjustment.

The very form the synthetic Asian values of the 21st century take will largely be shaped by the greater political and economic environment. If there is relatively little real political and economic conflict with the West, the Asian values movement may matter little to the form of the Asia-Pacific political economy. If conflicts between the U.S. and China are intense, the assertion of Asian values will be quite vocal, at least in some quarters. National rivalries, internal ethnic conflicts, and the relations between overseas Chinese and other ethnic groups in various states, will all play a role in determining the degree to which various nations and political parties emphasize the benefits of globalization vs. the importance of Asian values.

So in essence I am asserting that while cultural issues are an important factor in the evolution of the region, in the complex interaction between culture, economics, security, and politics, culture is more often a dependent rather than independent variable. The impact of the Asian values movement in the long run depends largely on who Asians come to believe they are and what they believe about their relationship to the West. If conflict with the West is intense, Asians are likely to see their historic identities and philosophies as antagonistic to Western liberalism. If integration of East and West is relatively smooth, Asians are likely to see their Asian heritages as easily compatible with Western values.

IV. Scenarios of Disintegration of the Asia-Pacific

The Array of Scenarios and the Probability Estimates

Seven different scenarios of the Asia-Pacific future are briefly summarized in the schematic on the front page. These scenarios can be arrayed on a continuum based on the degree of political tension in the region and the quality of U.S.-China relations. For each scenario the schematic summarizes developments on the economic, security, and ideological/cultural dimension and identifies events likely to trigger movement in that particular direction.

The schematic includes estimates of the likelihood of each of these scenarios coming to pass. These probability estimates are hardly scientific, but only the roughest of educated guesses, and I would certainly not put too much emphasis on them. Primarily they are an attempt to make clear that no one of these scenarios is "likely." In the short term, something that looks like the status quo is most likely. But if we consider the massive upheavals that the Asia-Pacific has experienced just in the past century, from the rise of Japanese power, to world war, to decolonization, to cold war, to economic development and integration, it is hard to argue that in the long run the status quo is likely to be maintained.

Devising these probability estimates was in fact a useful mental exercise. Explaining how they were arrived at will both illustrate their heuristic purpose and demonstrate the tenuousness of the particular numbers. At first cut, I assigned equal probability to each scenario. But of course, none of the scenarios of change seemed nearly as likely as maintenance of something like the status quo, so I tripled the estimate on that. That lead to a breakdown of 33 for the status quo, 11 for all the other scenarios. On the optimistic side, I felt Concert of Asia was nearly twice as likely as Multilateral Security, so I adjusted those numbers to 15 and 7 respectively.

Then I realized that since I had more scenarios for disintegration than rapid integration, I was in effect asserting that things were more likely to get worse than better. On the one hand, this reflected my feeling that things have gone incredibly smoothly in the region for a long time now, so hidden tendencies toward disintegration need to be taken seriously. On the other hand, the first cut estimates did seem too gloomy. So I took the first cut estimates as the pessimistic end of the range. Then I gave my optimistic scenarios of greater integration equal probability to all the pessimistic disintegration scenarios and to the status quo. This is what I have labeled the optimistic range of estimates.

U.S.-China Conflict Leading to Regional Disintegration

Let us begin with the scenarios that foresee some interruption or reversal of the tendency toward regional integration, because given recent history, they seem most counterintuitive. Disintegration of the Asia-Pacific region could be triggered by either sustained economic crisis or by erupting military conflicts. The Asian economic crisis is over for the time being, but who can say if another deeper and/or more sustained recessionary cycle is in the cards? The potential military flash points in Pacific Asia are well known--Taiwan, the Koreas, ethnic and communal conflicts, and disputes over islands--each of which could inflame tensions in the region quickly and dramatically. But a simple flare up of one or more of these hot spots or an economic crisis in and of itself would alone not immediately lead to regional disintegration. There would have to be interaction between the different dimensions, with negative military, economic, political, or cultural events adversely affecting developments on the other dimensions.

In particular, there would have to be a much more general deterioration in U.S.-China relations. All of the scenarios of disintegration are driven by worsening relations between the greatest rivals in the Asia-Pacific in the post Cold War era--the U.S. and China. They all foresee an inability for the U.S. and China to cooperate in creating institutions and practices that will ensure peaceful integration of the region. Rather, they predict that the U.S. and China will come into increasing conflict, with repercussion that spread throughout the region. These scenarios differ on the form and degree of conflict between the U.S. and China, the success China would enjoy in such a conflict, and perhaps most importantly on how Japan and the rest of the region would react to a deterioration of relations between the U.S. and China.

Regional Integration without China

The disintegration scenario that differs least from the status quo is the continuance of regional integration but the exclusion to one degree or another of the Chinese from full participation in this integration. In this scenario the general trend toward integration continues, but because of internal crises and conflict with the U.S. and others in the region, China remains isolated. China does not emerge as a major power capable of challenging American leadership and Western hegemony.

In this scenario China remains relatively weak. Economic growth slows or even reverses and domestic political instability plagues the regime in Beijing. The liberalization demanded as the price of fuller participation in the international economic system proves incompatible with maintenance of the power of the Communist Party. The Middle Kingdom undergoes another in its historic cycles of national disintegration, with provinces, regions, ethnic minorities, etc. demanding autonomy from central control. Serious conflicts between coastal vs. interior provinces and/or northern vs. southern factions emerge, drive by differential rates of development, different levels of ties with overseas Chinese not subject to control by Beijing, different perspectives on the international system, etc. The regime in Beijing faces an unavoidable choice between maintaining its control over the country and the demands for liberalization as the price of participation in international institutions. There is little doubt that faced with a choice of maintaining a destabilizing liberalization or asserting control what Beijing would do. If central control begins to unravel, China will almost certainly crack down on dissidents, intensifying conflict with the U.S., the West, and its neighbors. To the degree the crackdown is successful, China faces political and at least partial economic ostracization from the international trading system. To the degree the crackdown fails to restore order, Beijing's control over its own polity, economy, and eventually over its resources and its people slips away. In either case, a domestically weak China would pose little threat to Western hegemony.

A New Cold War between China and the U.S.

However, in some future period of regional disintegration, China could prove to be much more than a paper tiger. Looking at the giant strides China has made in recent decades, most observers project that China will be an ever greater force as the 21st century progresses. If China maintains its vibrant economic growth and its political leadership remains relatively strong, China will be an ever more important power in the Asia-Pacific. China is already a considerable magnet for East Asian business and investment, particularly from the overseas Chinese spread throughout Southeast Asia. Some even foresee China emerging as a serious challenger to U.S. political hegemony in the Asia-Pacific.

Of course, China's economic growth and rising political power in the past two decades has been accomplished during a period of rapid integration of the Asia-Pacific and been based on a policy of opening up to the current international system dominated by the U.S. and the West. But it is possible that China could someday reach a threshold where it could continue to grow as an economic and political force in the region even if its political relations with the U.S. deteriorated. Perhaps its has already passed that threshold. The short term costs of confrontation with the U.S. would be daunting, but perhaps even if relations with the U.S. deteriorated, the growth potential of China's markets would continue to attract East Asian business. Certainly in some future polarization the flow of capital from Taiwan and other overseas Chinese sources would be interrupted, but perhaps the trend toward consolidation of a "Greater China" would not be completely reversed.

The paradox of China as a hegemonic challenger is that many of the conditions which have allowed China to rise to its current level of prosperity and influence would vanish if China chose sustained confrontation with the U.S. rather than cooperation with it. However, the current system also has its contradictions. The integration of the Asia-Pacific has taken place under the hegemony of the West, based on the economic, military, and political superiority of the U.S. and its allies. Asian nations have had a subordinate position in this regional order, even economic giant Japan. Although East Asian economies have grown more rapidly than the West for several decades, there has not yet been a corresponding shift in political power.

Alliance Systems in a U.S.-China Cold War

If the U.S. and China enter into a sustained confrontation, how other nations in the region react to this development would be crucial. In the history of the Cold War, once the U.S. was able to forge an alliance system which included all the major European powers and Japan and then the Soviet Union lost its only important ally when China split away, the outcome of that struggle was largely sealed. For China to have any success in a prolonged political struggle with the U.S., it would need allies. For the foreseeable future China is no match for the U.S. in military capability, economic power, or political reach. An isolated China could never be a serious challenger to American hegemony. Hegemonic status is the result of a complex of alliance systems. A real hegemonic challenger needs to upset the existing alliance system of its rival and bring converts to its camp in order to have a chance of success. Even with allies China might not pose as great a threat to U.S. global interests as the Soviet Union did, but China linked with important allies could become a considerable competitor to the U.S. in a region of the world second in importance to the U.S. only to Europe.

Potential regional allies of China in a Cold War with the U.S. include various Southeast Asian nations, Russia, and Japan. The smaller nations of Southeast Asia face a classic choice when contemplating a rising China--to try to accommodate or balance this new power. At present China and many Southeast Asian nations are entangled in disputes over islands in the South China Sea. The emergence of the Asian Regional Forum (ARF) as an outgrowth of ASEAN has generally been interpreted in the U.S. as a sign of nervousness among Southeast Asian nations about China's growing power and even as an nascent anti-China configuration. Currently, access to U.S. and Western markets is much more valuable to ASEAN nations than access to the growing, but still mostly potential, Chinese market. And the U.S. still patrols the sea lanes.

Yet trade and investment between China and Southeast Asia is growing rapidly, facilitated by overseas Chinese. In most of the nations of Southeast Asia there are large ethnic Chinese minorities who play a disproportionately leading role in business and finance. Resentment of their economic success at times makes them a target in the ethnic politics of their nations. But in any future polarization of Pacific Asia, these ethnic Chinese business elites could play a significant role both indirectly by tying the fate of their nation's economies to that of China and more directly in persuading their nations to take a more favorable attitude toward China. Moreover, nationalists in China and Islamicists in Southeast Asia share a "sense of grievance at the long global domination of the West" and resentment at U.S. pressures for economic and political liberalization. (Bernstein and Munro, Huntington) For example, the deeper and longer the West is involved in the ethnic and secessionist movements in Indonesia, the more Indonesian Islamicists are likely to look to China for aid in holding their state together.

Another potential ally of the Chinese would be Russia. Since the fall of the Soviet Union Russia has shown great determination to join the Western world. But its increasingly unclear what Russia has really gained from this effort. The Russian economy has shrunk, the welfare of the people has declined, NATO has expanded to the Russian border, and Russia was ignored and humiliated in the Kosovo crisis. So far Russia has remained dazzled by the promise of becoming a fully westernized nation, bearing huge costs in the hope of some huge future pay-off. Perhaps the payoffs will soon come. Perhaps Russian elites gain so much from their relation with the West they do not care whether the nation as a whole gains or loses. But perhaps the Russian people will eventually lose patience and begin to blame the West rather than the long gone Soviet system for their troubles. Russian-Chinese ties are better than they have been since the Sino-Soviet split, in large part because each side wants a counterweight to the hegemony of the West.

Which way Russia tilts would be a key question in any sustained struggle between the U.S. and China, but the most important third party in such a conflict would be Japan. In a serious, sustained confrontation between the U.S. and China Japan's behavior would certainly be crucial.

The Role of Japan in Scenarios of Disintegration

The Japan-U.S. Alliance

At first it might appear the scenarios presented here focus too much on the relationship between the U.S. and China and take too lightly the role of the third member of the strategic triangle of the Northeast Asia, Japan. Japan has certainly become a leading economic force in the region. Despite its recent stagnation, the Japanese economy is still the second largest in the world. Yet in the post-World War II era Japan has not exercised political or military power that matches its emergence as an economic superpower, preferring to let its ally the U.S. play the leading political role. In fact, despite the end of the Cold War Northeast Asia has remained bipolarized, with the U.S. and Japan closely allied, first against the Soviets and now implicitly against a potential Chinese threat. The 1997 agreement on new guidelines for military cooperation show the Japan-U.S. alliance is still strong. Although Japan's economic power could make it a growing political force in the Asia-Pacific, Japan is unlikely to emerge as a hegemonic challenger to the U.S.

Over the past half century Japan has reaped great benefits from its alliance with the U.S. Under the American security umbrella Japan has been able to rebuild its relations with the nations it once invaded. By subordinating itself to the U.S. on political matters Japan has been able to free-ride on the U.S. security system, bearing few of the political or economic costs of the system which has proven so profitable to it.

Japan is unlikely to on its own to challenge U.S. hegemony. Japan, Inc. benefits too much from peace and regional integration. Japan has neither the motivation nor the will nor the capacity to seriously contest for regional supremacy. Although Japan has built up its military forces and become somewhat more willing to use them beyond its own immediate territorial perimeter, the Japanese military is designed to complement U.S. forces and could not effectively operate beyond its territorial area without U.S. support. Minimal Japanese participation in UN peacekeeping missions or reluctant financial support for the U.S. in the Persian Gulf War hardly evokes memories of imperial Japan. Japan just does not have the independent military capability or the will to use it to further national power to alone challenge the U.S. The success of anti-militaristic ideology which blames Japan's humiliation in the last war on militarism and attributes Japan's postwar success to eschewing military might and methods has a stronger impact on current generations than the imperialistic, militaristic codes of prewar Japan.

Nor does Japan have the political assets that the U.S. has built up through generations of being the hegemonic power in the region. It does not have the inherent sympathy of a powerful and far-flung overseas network of ethnic descendants as do the Chinese. It is just too easy for the Japanese companies to do business and make profits under the protection of the U.S., let the U.S. pay the economic and political costs of basing military forces abroad, and let the U.S. take the heat for locally unpopular actions.

The Japan-U.S. Alliance and Potential Conflict with a Rising China

Japan has had good reasons for maintaining its alliance with the U.S. for more than half a century and thus Japan is highly likely to remain under the U.S. security umbrella in the near term. Yet the Japan-U.S. alliance has not been without its frictions. Trade has been the most visible source of discord as Japan has run a cumulative surplus of trillions of dollars with the U.S. over the past two decades and the two nations have squabbled over trade barriers and ways of doing business. Regionally, the U.S. has generally pursued a more openly critical policy toward non-liberal regimes in East Asia, including the Chinese, while Japan has been less vocal and less committed to western norms of conduct. But simple policy differences are not enough to undermine such a successful alliance. It would take a severe crisis to unravel the close ties between Japan and the U.S., something like a war scare or actual military clashes over Taiwan or Korea or a depression or sustained recession that upset the global trading system. But such events are not beyond the realm of possibility.

Certainly if relations between the U.S. and China deteriorate and Japan finds itself in a position where its security relationship with the U.S. put it in the middle of sustained conflict between the U.S. and a rising China, Japan's cost-benefit calculus could change dramatically. If a deep and broad conflict between China and the U.S. unfolded, the short term behavior of Japan would be easy to predict, but the longer term position of the Japanese is much harder to envision. At first the Japanese would reflexively line up with the U.S.

But whether Japan would follow the U.S. into a stance of long term confrontation with her giant neighbor is not at all clear. Calleo disputes the view of many American strategists that in a serious confrontation with China "Japan will be our major ally--the supplier of the conventional forces needed for flexible response, the Asian Germany in the new Eastern Cold War with China. Instead, he argues the Japanese "may well prove reluctant to sign on as America's principle assistant in an alliance likely to alienate them still further from China." Zhang and Montapero concur, "Japan will not be readily called upon by the United States in a major conflict. Domestic Japanese resistance to a major war with China or use of force overseas should not be underestimated."

If tensions between the U.S. and China rose, Japan's position as an ally of the U.S. would make it a target of Chinese hostility, a problem that might be alleviated by Japan detaching itself from its close association with the U.S. Japan would basically have 3 choices--remain allied with the U.S., detach itself from the U.S. and pursue a more independent course, or align itself more closely with China.

Tripolarization

In a deteriorating regional security and economic environment, Japan might see its alliance with the U.S. as drawing it into extended, unwanted conflict with China which perceived Japan to be colluding with the U.S. to maintain regional hegemony. Under those conditions, Japan might choose instead to chart a more independent course, turning the deepening struggle into a tripolar contest. In a period of regional confrontation, Japan could tip the bipolar balance by aligning with either the U.S. or China, but it might also choose to stamp its own mark on the region. The distinctive element of the Tripolarization scenario is Japan taking an independent line rather than continuing to line up with the U.S. or swinging over to a more pro-China position.

There have been forces within Japan which have called for a more assertive role for Japan ranging from those who call for a more independent Japan that can "say no" to the U.S. to those who want Japan to become a more "normal" country, meaning a more self-assertive player in the international system. (Ishihara, Ozawa) However under peaceful integration of the Asia-Pacific, the benefits to Japan of subordinating itself to the U.S. have just been too great to renounce. In a worsening security environment, however, these voices would not only become louder, they would attract more adherents. Fears of a unilateral, unprovoked Japanese remilitarization are unfounded. However, extended conflict between the U.S. and China is the one scenario which could conceivably detach Japan from subordination of its security policy to the U.S. Those who find Japanese remilitarization unpalatable should find intensifying conflict between the U.S. and China unsettling.

A Neo-Confucian Zone Born of Trade Friction and Cultural Distance

The Neo-Confucian scenario envisions East Asia as a whole, and China and Japan in particular, as gradually coalescing into a distinct economic and cultural zone based on shared Asian values, mutual distaste for Western hegemony, particularly American pressure for human rights, and common difficulties dealing with an international trading system based on American precepts of free trade. To the realist a Neo-Confucian Zone is the most difficult scenario to envision but to the culturalist it does not seem so unlikely.

When the Japanese economy was riding high in the 1980s and the EU was emerging as an economic force, many observers saw the possibility of a Japanese led yen bloc. Huntington and others have foreseen conflicts between a rising China and the U.S. on human rights and other cultural issues as mobilizing overseas ethnic Chinese and anti-Western Islamic forces in Southeast Asia to challenge Western cultural hegemony. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir and former Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew have been outspoken critics of the West and advocates of a more vocal and unified East Asia to ward off Western cultural and economic encroachment. While neither a Japanese yen bloc nor a sweeping Asian values movement has yet materialized, greater self-consciousness and self-assertiveness of East Asia could conceivably emerge over time.

The development of a Neo-Confucian Zone would depend on both the presence and the absence of certain trends. The development of a Neo-Confucian Zone might be the result of severe economic conflict between Japan and China on one side and the West, particularly the U.S., on the other, but a lack of intense military confrontation which would polarize the region along different lines and push security rather than cultural and economic issues to the fore. A Neo-Confucian Zone might evolve if there were increasing trade and cultural friction between East and West but the absence of any trouble spot igniting a serious or sustained military confrontation between China and the U.S.

A Neo-Confucian Zone would require Japan to consciously choose East Asia and China over the U.S. and the West. Under current economic and political conditions that is unlikely. The formation of a Neo-Confucian Zone is most likely if cross-Pacific political and trade frictions, perhaps as the result of sustained recession in the U.S., push Japan and China away from the U.S. and toward each other. A sustained recession in the U.S. coupled with high levels of Western trade protection directed against Japan and China would lessen the value to Asian powers of good political relations with the U.S. and increase the value of closer economic and political relations between Japan and China. It would also engender a sense of the difference between Asia and the West and feelings of kinship among East Asian nations that would facilitate the emergence Neo-Confucian ideology as an anti-Western, anti-hegemonic force.
 
 

Determinants of Japan's Choices under Regional Disintegration

If political conditions in the Pacific deteriorate, Japan would play a key role in determining the fault lines of confrontation. Under conditions of protracted conflict between China and the U.S. it is possible that the Japan-U.S. alliance could be undermined. Over time it is even conceivable that Japan might end up aligning closer to China than the U.S. A sudden, complete, dramatic shift of Japanese alignment is of course possible, but seems unlikely. More likely differences in economics, ideology, and strategy toward China would weaken Japan-U.S. ties, slowly revealing strains in the alliance, and eventually detaching Japan from alignment with the U.S. Depending on circumstances a more independent Japan might then over time move closer to China than the U.S.

Different kinds of crises would have different effects on the Japan-U.S. alliance. For example, although some Japanese feel residual kinship with Taiwan from the colonial era, few Japanese feel the same intense ideological commitment to Taiwan typical in the American foreign policy elite, particularly its more conservative wing. If Taiwan were the triggering conflict, Japan might be particularly reluctant to challenge China on what China clearly feels is its vital interest, fearing being dragged into a dangerous and enduring conflict. Similarly, if a confrontation with the U.S. were sparked by domestic unrest and repression of dissidents in China, Japan would reluctant to follow the U.S. in trying to punish and isolate the Chinese, as can be seen by the difference in the U.S. and Japanese responses to the Tiananmen incident. U.S. human rights preaching sounds to many Japanese too much like American hectoring of Japan over American concepts of economic freedom. On the other hand, the Japanese fear that North Korean nuclear and/or ballistic missile capability might be targeted at them as the former colonizer of Korea, and thus seem much more likely to side with the U.S. in the event of renewed military conflict on the Korean peninsula.

Japanese behavior would also be influenced by her assessment of which power was likely to gain ascendance in such a struggle. Japan has a history of allying with the hegemonic power in the region. Since the Meiji Restoration Japan has usually lined up with what Japan perceives as the strongest power globally and regionally, beginning with the British in the late 19th and early 20th century and later with the U.S. The one exception was the disastrous alliance with hegemonic challenger Germany which has implanted in the minds of Japanese policymakers the lesson of carefully choosing partners.

V. Visions of Multilateral Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific

Of course, the foregoing scenarios of disintegration of the Asia-Pacific are not the only possible futures. Integration of the region under Western hegemony could conceivably continue indefinitely, leaving the region looking not much different in a few decades than it does now. Neither the current dynamism of the region nor its 20th century history gives much reason to believe that regional development will simply freeze in its present form, but the upshot of all the contradictory currents of cooperation and conflict could conceivably be a period of relative political immobility.

The Potential and Limits of Multilateralism

There are reasons to hope for an acceleration of the pace and intensification of the degree of Asia-Pacific integration, transforming the region which seen so much bloodshed in the 20th century into a relative zone of peace. In recent years economic cooperation has been increasingly supplemented with multilateral security cooperation that could provide the institutional basis for an extended peace in the Asia-Pacific.

Any substantive security regime in the Asia-Pacific would of necessity be multilateral. The very fact that there are four major powers in the region interacting with many other nations over a wide range of military, economic, political, and cultural issues means that no bilateral relation, however important, exhausts the complexities of the region. However the very asymmetries of power and interests and complexity of issues that might make a multilateral security regime in Pacific Asia seem desirable also make such a regime difficult to construct.

Nolt cites 6 obstacles to the future of multilateralism in Asia: 1) historical animosities against former colonial powers, particularly Japan, 2) gross asymmetries among Asian countries in size, economic development, and political systems, 3) the intense competition between East Asia's protectionist mercantilist economic systems for exports to the West which inhibits true economic interdependence, 4) the preference of U.S. policy makers for bilateralism, 5) lingering tendencies of the U.S. to try to isolate China, and 6) the ongoing conflict between Asian demands for national sovereignty and American concepts of universal human rights.

Sperling identifies 3 more systemic reasons why the kind of formal security regime constructed in Europe has not emerged in the Asia-Pacific: 1) Asian nation-states are at a different stage of evolution where they do not perceive as great a need for security cooperation, 2) the regional context lacks "amity" so states "remain defensively positional...more concerned about their relative power position than assuring cooperative outcomes that maximize absolute gain," and 3) there is no "emergent collective identity in Asia."

Yet in recent years support for a multilateral security regime in the Asia Pacific has grown among Southeast Asian nations, Japan, Russia, and even in the U.S., which has historically preferred a "hub and spokes" approach which routed all dialog through Washington to the possibility of a truly multilateral regime.

Southeast Asia has already developed complex multilateral institutions in ASEAN and ARF (Asian Regional Forum). After some initial sparring over membership, APEC has brought together Pacific Rim nations for dialogue not only on economics, but security and other issues as well. The United States, China, and the two Koreas have sporadically conducted the 4 party talks on Korean reunification which played a role in setting up the historic summit between the two Koreas. As the two Koreas deepen their direct dialog, the status of the 4 party talks is unclear, but Simon suggests that "if Seoul and Pyongyang agree to denuclearization and arms reductions, Japan, Russia, China, and the U.S. could serve as guarantors." Sustained progress on the Korean peninsula will likely require some kind of 6 party Northeast Asia agreement and could trigger the formation of a regular 6 party Northeast Asia security venue.

Among the 4 leading powers in the region, the key to the development of a successful multilateral system is, once again, the U.S.-China connection. Russia and Japan, for different reasons, are the most eager to play a role in multilateral Asia-Pacific fora. Russian power in the region has declined, but Russia remains a factor. Multilateral systems provide a way for residual Russian military power to be translated into political influence at relatively low cost. Multilateral systems allow Japan to exercise influence in the behind the scenes mode she prefers. Much like the case with the Japan-U.S. alliance, working through multilateral fora helps allay fears that Japan is seeking to revive her empire. A visible role in Asia-Pacific security might partially compensate for the long denied seat on the UN Security Council Japan has so coveted.

The ARF Experience

However, in the 1990s the initiative for the development of multilateral security fora came not from the great powers but from ASEAN. ASEAN was the driving force in the creation of ARF, which has expanded beyond its original membership to 21 members including all the major regional powers. While clearly influenced by the successes of the new European security regime, the founders of ARF explicitly rejected the European model as either inappropriate or premature for the more diverse Asia-Pacific. Instead, they sought a more self-consciously "Asian way" toward improved security. Ball identifies several dissimilarities between this "Asian way" of multilateralism and the European regime: longer time frames, bilateral conflict resolution, pragmatism, informality, valuing process as much as substance and objectives, consensual decision making, non-interference in internal affairs, and a comprehensive, multidimensional approach to security. (Ball 1993 cited in Narramore)

The founders envisioned ARF following a three stage process: confidence building, followed by preventive diplomacy, eventually leading to conflict resolution. Assessments of the performance of ARF range from qualified endorsements of modest achievements to pointed criticisms of its obviously limited effectiveness in solving difficult problems. Simon (1998) identifies three contributions ARF has made to regional security: promoting strategic transparency, building trust through military exchanges and cross-training, and developing habits of cooperation.

Foot identifies several gains from ARF engagement of China. China has adopted rhetoric of peaceful settlement of issues (excluding Taiwan), begun to think more in terms of collective security, accepted the importance of the principles of transparency and confidence building, published somewhat more forthcoming documents on arms, recognized competing claims on the Spratly Islands, and accepted the Law of the Sea treaty as a basis for solution of island disputes. On the other hand, Foot sees limits of ARF impact on China. China still resists further institutionalization of ARF and greater security transparency. There has been little real progress on island disputes, and China has actually used the Law of the Sea mechanism to expand its claims of territorial waters in the South China Sea. Recently China has begun using the rhetoric of multilateralism to contest U.S. bilateral alliances, particularly the new U.S.-Japan military guidelines.

Garofano is more critical. He finds ARF's emphasis on inclusivity, unanimity, and consensus as making real progress on tough issues virtually impossible. He argues ARF risks becoming increasingly ineffective and irrelevant unless it moves beyond symbolic confidence building to tackle difficult issues like conventional arms and the substance of the Spratlys dispute. Narramore argues that in some sense "the trend toward multilateralism in the Asia-Pacific is itself a reflection of the limited nature of regional security discourse." The focus on dialogue, inclusiveness, and consensus papers over inability to overcome fundamental differences in perspectives, substituting breadth for depth. Symbolism thus disguises a lack of a true sense of community of values and interests.

Perhaps the most incisive criticism of ARF is that its process has been broad but shallow. ARF's inclusiveness and confidence building may have fostered a greater sense of security community in the Asia-Pacific, encouraged a new style of diplomacy more suitable to East Asian conditions, and paved the way to more substantial conflict resolution. But for greater progress to occur the locus of action may have to shift to sub-regional fora, particularly in Northeast Asia. Moreover, the leadership of the smaller and middle powers of ASEAN can only go so far in a region where the interests of several great powers intersect.

A Concert of Asia

Sustained progress on the contentious security issues that are potential fault-lines in the Asia-Pacific will eventually require the involvement of the four regional great powers. In recent years several scholars have recommended an informal "concert" of Asian powers much like the one that emerged in Europe in the 19th century as a desirable and feasible future for the Asia-Pacific. (Stuart, Acharya, Kupchan 1999, Betts) Stuart notes that despite all the obvious differences between 19th century Europe and 21st century East Asia there are two essential similarities. The crucial common denominators are fundamental economic, social, and political transformation and a genuine fear of major war.

Acharya sees a potential concert of Asia as a "managed balance-of-power system rather than a security community...the middle ground between the more idealistic notions of collective security and the extreme forms of balance of power...a mixed bag of competition and collaboration." He delimits four principles that bound together the concert of Europe that could serve as the basis for a similar system in Asia: 1) multilateral consultations among the great powers, 2) agreement on territorial stability, 3) a shared commitment to protect members of the regional state system, and 4) equal status for the great powers.

Of course, the concert of Europe was a product of the age of imperialism. A contemporary concert of Asia could not ride roughshod over the other states in the region, but would have to recognize the rights and sensitivities of lesser powers. While a concert is in some sense an exclusive club, decisions made by any 21st century concert would have to reflect a broader sense of regional community. Acharya suggests "A modern Asian concert is likely to be based on the same set of norms that underpin the ARF, and it may prove more effective in crisis-management and preventive diplomacy."

An informal concert of great powers in the region would have advantages over legally binding pacts and agreements. Stuart points out that the informality of the "Asian way" is more like the old European concert system than contemporary European institutions and that "informality was, in fact, one of the greatest strengths of the 19th-century system." Given the huge gaps in capabilities, interests, levels of economic development, culture, and ideology, an informal concert seems more feasible than the formal structures characteristic of European integration.

A Formal Multilateral Security Regime

But although an informal concert of powers might be easier to implement, it could achieve much less than formal multilateral agreements and institutions. An informal concert alone could not effectively commit powers to serious and sustained arms or troop reductions. Because it would not yield binding agreements, an informal concert would be much more likely to unravel quickly if tensions in one or more hot spots flared. An informal concert would not exert the kind of international pressure to live up to commitments that formal agreements do. Nor would it fundamentally transform expectations of behavior as has occurred in the new Europe. Basically, an informal concert would be easier to construct but less likely to achieve a permanent reduction of tensions in the region. After all, the concert of Europe was ultimately unable to restrain great power rivalry and keep the peace in Europe.

The lack of concrete security agreements arising from the emerging multilateral institutions in the Asia-Pacific certainly is in stark contrast to the web of pacts that characterize the new European security order. Garofano argues that wholesale rejection of the lessons of the European experience is as unwise as simplistic attempts to apply European models to Asian problems. He proposes a "third way" between European legalism and Asian informality, a "flexible, pragmatic approach that emphasizes near-term solutions to hard problems."

Perhaps despite all the difficulties and the very real differences between Europe and the Asia-Pacific, long term stability in the region might eventually require a series of formal multilateral security agreements. Even accepting the huge differences in the history and contemporary dynamics of Europe and East Asia, the security system in Europe could serve not so much as a model to be unthinkingly emulated, but as an example of the huge gains that can come from formalizing multilateral cooperation.

The U.S., China, and the Future of Multilateralism

Of the four major powers in the Asia-Pacific, Japan and Russia have been the most supportive of multilateralism, while China has been the most resistant. Historically, the U.S. has taken a "hub and spokes" approach to East Asian security, trusting in bilateral relations with reliable allies such as Japan and South Korea. But it the 1990s the U.S. has become increasingly comfortable with multilateral institutions in the Asia-Pacific. Morgan sees three possible motives for the shift toward multilateralism by the U.S.: 1) a way of pushing its economic agenda as it reduces its military commitments, 2) a prospective attempt to head off regional fragmentation and maintain American influence, and 3) a natural outgrowth of the success of multilateralism in Europe and American expectations that all its allies should have friendly relations with each other.

China has been the most resistant to the idea of a formal multilateral security regime. China tends to view growing U.S. and Japanese interest in such a regime as an attempt to rein in rising Chinese power, as a new, more sophisticated version of containment. (Wang, Nathan and Ross) The liberal institutionalist school of thought that has grown up in the West in recent decades has little counterpart among Chinese security specialists who tend to think in more realist terms complemented by residues of traditional Chinese and 20th century Marxist influences. Until there is some political resolution to the Taiwan problem satisfactory to China's sense of sovereignty, China is highly unlikely to enter into formal agreements that would restrict its ability to use force or at least plausibly threaten to use force in the contingency of a Taiwanese declaration of independence.

However, China has shown a willingness to participate in multilateral institutions, particularly when China has a role in shaping outcomes. China has signed various important international arms control agreements on nuclear testing and non-proliferation and chemical and biological weapons, and has followed to one degree or another the guidelines of the missile technology control regime. China has played a constructive role in the 4 party talks over the future of Korea, helping to pave the way for the historic summit between Kim Dae Jung and Kim Jong Il. Although initially resistant, China has entered into discussions about South China Sea issues with ARF. Significantly, China took the lead in forging multilateral accords with Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which it touted as a "new model for safeguarding regional security."

Frankly, at the present time China's sense that a multilateral security regime could work to contain the growth of Chinese power is an accurate assessment. One only has to look at the recent U.S. understanding of existing global arms control treaties to see the double standard the U.S. applies. The U.S. uses the missile technology control agreement to bash China's transfer of technology to regimes the U.S. does not trust, yet the U.S. designs these regimes to allow the transfer of key technology and weapons to its allies and friends, ranging from Israel to Taiwan. Despite its stated desire to slow technology in the missile field, the U.S. proceeds with plans for theater missile defense weapons, again inflaming Chinese sensibilities, particularly by including Taiwan as a partner.

Nathan sees the fundamental problem between the U.S. and China as "structural: an established power is attempting to induce a rising power to comply with its preferred norms." Gurtov and Hwang concur "Chinese leaders keep stressing the need for an equal partnership and respect for the PRC's sovereignty, while U.S. leaders insist that China play by international rules that have been largely written and enforced by Americans." Lampton argues that in an ironic reversal the U.S. has become the "revolutionary" power trying to transform the system of state sovereignty while China has become the "conservative" power, defending traditional notions of the state.

Levine puts it more colorfully,

The United States define(s) the problem as...how to integrate China...into a well-established, albeit constantly evolving, system of international institutions, norms, and regimes the United States had played a key role in design(ing), construct(ing), and operat(ing)...In scrutinizing China's qualifications and behavior, Washington functioned like a self-appointed Credentials Committee that had the power to accept, reject, or grant probationary membership in the international club.
It is not just that the U.S. wants to restructure Pacific systems to its convenience, it also holds a double standard when it comes to human rights, continuing its Cold War practice of selectively bash its competitors while excusing its friends. For example, it is difficult to see the important differences between the killings in Kwangju, South Korea and Tiananmen in the 1980s. In both cases autocratic regimes under great pressure attacked peaceful opposition groups. The important difference was not in the act, but in the American response--quietly accepting the behavior of its ally but trumpeting the misdeeds of China for more than a decade.

Regardless of the actual intentions of Western intellectuals and policymakers who advocate a multilateral security regime, until American leaders and institutions accommodate themselves to a greater voice for China and other regional powers in actually shaping such a regime, its real effect would largely be to formalize U.S. hegemony.

There is something to be said for the Wilsonian impulse to transform the parameters of the international system which has driven American support of multilateralism. The state system of the 20th century wreaked havoc across the globe which no one wants to see again. Yet the key question is, transformation into what? To turn most of the world into clones of self-indulgent American consumers, to make the world safe for transnational corporations, should not be the objective. To transform international politics from a system of war-like Westphalian states into one of true multilateral cooperation is a more worthy goal. On the U.S. side, this would require a foreign policy that was neither Wilsonian nor realist, but truly globalist. The goal of international institutions should be not to enforce the self-proclaimed moral superiority of the West nor the military superiority of the U.S., but to create true partnership based on mutual respect.

Since U.S.-China relations will be crucial to any positive movement in the Asia-Pacific, rethinking of the foundations of U.S. policy toward China will be required. Metzger and Myers argue

The American public easily understands two paradigms: "we should try to get along with the Chinese because they are gradually becoming more like us"; and "we should stand up to the Chinese because they refuse to become like us."...The American public needs to grasp a third paradigm: "we should try to get along with the Chinese even if they refuse to become more like us."
New Opportunities for Multilateralism in Northeast Asia

Despite all the obstacles to cooperative multilateralism there are also positive signs. The agreement between the U.S. and China over China's WTO membership is one indication that the U.S. is willing to accept the growing importance of China. The moderating of American rhetoric about the Asia-Pacific from "democratic enlargement" to "constructive engagement" reflects a greater sensitivity to the "Asian way" of diplomacy. U.S. and South Korean attempts to engage China in a final peace settlement on the Korean peninsula is another encouraging sign that the U.S. could accept a greater role for China in regional security.

The momentum for multilateral cooperation may be shifting from Southeast to Northeast Asia. It is much too early to know where the direct dialogue between the two Koreas is heading. Certainly hopes have been raised on the Korean peninsula before, only to be dashed. Yet Gurtov and Hwang argue the U.S. and China have converging interests in Korea.

Northeast Asia is one sub-region where China would seem to have strong incentives to participate in multilateral-security efforts...a stable, peaceful, and nonnuclear Korean peninsula is one of the few interests that China and the United States seem to see eye to eye on in Asia Pacific. China's participation in a Northeast Asia dialogue forum on security would seem to be squarely within the scope of its current security concerns.

Interest in a great power conference has already been expressed among policymakers in Northeast Asia. Prior to his 1998 summit meeting with Russian President Yeltsin Japanese Prime Minister Hashimoto tabled a proposal for a regular summits between the U.S., China, Japan, and Russia on Asian security issues. South Korea's President Kim Dae Jung has proposed a Northeast Asia Security Dialogue between the four regional powers and the two Koreas.

In fact, if agreements for a broad based reduction of tensions and eventually military forces on the Korean peninsula could be reached by the two Koreas and guaranteed by the U.S., China, Japan, and Russia, it could provide both the forum and the momentum for broader, more comprehensive confidence building measures and eventually arms reductions across Northeast Asia.
 

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