Blue Horizon: United States-Japan-PRC Tripartite Relations
TRANSFORMATION IS INEXORABLE AND POSSIBLY THE KEY CONSTANT variable in international relations. Cataclysmic change is rare, yet it is becoming clear that changes that have taken place since 1989 are of this category. The emerging world order is very much different from that found since the Second World War and this has greatly affected inter-state interactions, especially among the great powers. The fundamentals of international relations have altered, forcing states to quest for new paradigms. Participation in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) represents one such quest, where for the first time all the major great powers with interest in the Asia-Pacific region, including the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, are gathered in a common regional security forum.
Unlike the past, where major wars and peace accords marked the onset of the new era, the new order was ushered in peacefully. In the post-Cold War era, change has come almost in a domino manner, with events such as the cascading collapse of communism in Eastern and Central Europe; the implosion of the USSR, ending Moscow's internal and external empires; the peaceful unification of Germany; the emergence of Japan and Germany as economic superpowers; and the emergence of the United States as the "sole superpower," signaling that a "shift" in the Cold War paradigm had been made.
Bilveer Singh is Senior Lecturer, Department of Political Science, National University of Singapore and Coordinator, Research and Publications, Singapore Institute of International Affairs. His research area is Regional Security in the Asia-Pacific; Defence and Security Policies of Indonesia and ASEAN.
Together, they marked the relegation of the Cold War into history, signaling the death of the largely bifurcated world order, in place since the Second World War. Hence, the onset of the post-Cold War epoch. While there have been both optimistic and pessimistic scenarios painted of the new era, it is better to be sanguine about an era that is still evolving and in a state of constant flux. This makes understanding the nature of the change all the more important.
The Cold War was essentially a conflict of the "North" even though the "East-West" contest was played out throughout the Third World. As the Cold War was essentially "duopolitistic" in nature, it had a stabilizing effect with the "fear of escalation to global nuclear war" a major inhibiting factor for both the superpowers.(Note 1) The following were the key elements of the Cold War:(Note 2)
In part, this situation arose because of the post-Cold War era that permitted regional issues and conflicts to be decoupled from the rivalries between the two superpowers from 1947 to 1991. Thus, even though President Bush proclaimed in 1990 that the "New World Order" had arisen, an era "free from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace, an era in which the nations of the world can prosper and live in harmony,"(Note 4) the reality that unfolded was far different with many conflicts seemingly "out of control." James Schlesinger has argued that the post-Cold War order was likely to resemble politics of the interwar years, between 1919 and 1939, and to be dominated by power politics, national rivalry, and ethnic tensions.(Note 5) Developments to date have proven James Schlesinger to be close to the mark even though cooperative endeavors are being undertaken at various levels.
The West has been forced to respond, as the expected "peace dividends" did not materialize. Instead, new situations developed forcing the West to coin new military strategies. One such response was articulated by The Economist in 1992.(Note 6) While conceding that a "new era" had emerged, it also noted that the new world order (or rather disorder) was far more diversified and plural than had been expected. As conflicts were surfacing all over the world, especially in areas where the West had important political, economic and military interests, it was necessary to develop a "response strategy". In view of this, two types of wars were deemed justifiable in the new era:
THE TRIPARTITE RELATIONSHIP IN A NEW ERA
The end of the Cold War has forced countries fundamentally to re-orientate and re-examine their security policies. In this regard, what has preoccupied the attention of most states is the emergence of the triangular balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region involving the United States, China and Japan. What most states want is a favorable and amicable balance of power and this is viewed as the sine qua non for peace and stability in the Asian-Pacific region. It is believed that the tripartite balance of power among the three great powers will shape the strategic and security environment in the Asian-Pacific region for the remainder of the 1990s and beyond. What most countries are hoping for is the emergence of predictable and constructive pattern of relations among them even though the future role of Russia and India cannot be ignored in this power configuration.
As far as the United States is concerned, it remains the leading power in the region and world. However, it can sustain an effective role in the region only if it restores its economic health. Otherwise, its credibility in the region will suffer. Japan has been playing a bigger political and security role in the region, supplementing its dominant economic position. While there is no consensus in the region of what specific role Japan should play, anxieties about past Japanese atrocities continue to linger and have actually worsened: first, by Japanese leadership's unrepentance about its past cruelties, and second, by Japan's growing military power. While the growth of Japan's military outreach can be explained in terms of "burden sharing" in the context of American "burden shedding," countries in the region continue to view the United States-Japanese strategic partnership as being critical, almost the linchpin, for stability in the region.
While China was important in the past in balancing the two superpowers, in the new seucurity envirnment China has emerged as a great power in its own right, benefitting greatly from the downsizing of American and Russian military power in the region. China's rapid economic growth, as well as its translation into a military power of the first order, has raised concerns about Beijing's real intentions toward the region as to whether it will be a friend or foe, especially as it becomes a leading regional superpower in the coming years. As China cannot be ignored or isolated, countries are generally of the view that it must be engaged and given a stake in the emerging Asian-Pacific community.
While all three major powers, the United States, China, and Japan, are undergoing transformations of some kind or another, the most fundamental in China and the least in the United States; all the three powers are in a new era of peace and close cooperation with one another. All three powers are also looking inward, with the object of developing their economies to a higher level. However, many countries in the region are worried as tensions seem sharper among the three great powers in the Asian-Pacific region, and this is likely to work to the detriment of regional and global security. In addition to the trade frictions between Japan and the United States, there are territorial and historical fears between China and Japan as well as wideranging political, economic, socio-cultural, and security differences and disputes between the United States and China. While there is a possibility of a three-cornered conflict in a new tripolar order, there is also the possibility of various permutations of alignments emerging such as the United States and Japan or China and Japan joining forces against China or the United States. Therefore, it is critical to understanding the tripartite relationship as it has the potential to make or break the peace of the new era.
THE UNITED STATES
For the United States, the end of the Cold War era required a revision of policies which were driven essentially by the adversarial relations with the Soviet Union. Despite the mammoth changes, the United States continues to posses the strongest economy, has the most powerful and modern military capability, and diplomatically carries the strongest clout in the world. It continues to be the fulcrum of the power balance in the Asian-Pacific region and world at large. At the same time, what cannot be ignored is that it has been in a state of relative decline economically, especially when compared with its global standing since the Second World War. For instance, its share in the World GDP has fallen from 35 per cent in 1965 to 26 per cent in 1991, with the downward trend unlikely to be reversed. Also, with the disappearance of a "superpower enemy," the Soviet Union, Washington's ability to mobilize the people at home and abroad for various foreign policy missions has suffered. It is in a state of "demoralisis," even paralysis, with some kind of crisis of confidence affecting its bodypolitic, which raises questions of its political will and credibility abroad.
The United States faces a new paradigm in its foreign policy and the challenge is basically one where the policy is in search of a focus. In the Cold War era, there was a common unifying basis for the country's foreign policy. From 1945 to 1991, national security issues were uppermost, and the question was essentially one of dealing with who was friend or foe. The policy thrust was rather clearCsupport the friend and contain the foe. Since the fall of communism, this unifying cement has disappeared and the United States is struggling to put out a common "front" and in the light of the new circumstances. Readjusting to the new realities the White House is confronted with a plethora of competing claims that want to be projected as "the national agenda," including that of democratization, human rights, and economic development. It is unlikely to find a common ground, hence the sense of drift in Washington's foreign policy. Just as the United States is struggling to find a common foreign policy front, countries in the world at large, including both China and Japan, are also struggling to come to terms with the adjustments of the United States.
While much has been made of the growing weakness of the United States, one must not exaggerate the supposed marginalization of the United States. There has been a clear shift in the power equilibrium, especially compared with the last 25 to 30 years, where the United States was certainly "the first among equals." What has happened since then is not so much that the United States has weakened but that others have grown in power. In a sense, while the United States remains as a great power, it has had to accommodate new members to the club, a fact that must be understood and appreciated. The United States is still the most powerful country in the world, and while it cannot do everything everywhere, it can still do much at the place of its choosing. It is still the most important country politically, economically, militarily, diplomatically, technologically, and culturally. In the words of Henry Kissinger, "America will be the greatest and most powerful nation, but a nation with peers; the primus inter pares but nonetheless a nation like others. The American exceptionalism that is the indispensable basis for a Wilsonian foreign policy is therefore likely to be less relevant in the coming century."(Note 10) In many ways, the United States will remain a superpower for a long time, as no country is likely to replace the United States as a great power in its totality in the near future.
As the United States is undergoing transformations, as it restructures its economy to become more competitive, many of its policy changes will have widespread ramifications for the world at large. For instance, because of political, economic, and security imperatives, it had to restructure its defense capability, especially its forward deployed units, including those in the Asian-Pacific region. The United States has departed from its past strategy of relying on fixed bases in favor of lift capability, especially air and sea power. To be sure, the United States has already downsized its military presence in the Asian-Pacific region to about 100,000 personnel, equal in number to those in Europe. It would, however, be a mistake to interpret this as growing American isolationism. The United States has learnt a bitter lesson where it dismantled its forces after the two world wars only to see itself embroiled in an even bigger war. While the United States is likely to restructure and downsize its military presence, possibly by some 25 percent, it cannot withdraw from the region altogether as many alarmists have indicated. Here, the words of Admiral David Jeremiah, the Vice Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, are worth citing: "I can tell you that the United States has absolutely no intention whatsoever of ending its military presence in Asia and the Pacific."(Note 11) The reason for this is enlightened self-interest.
Why is the United States unlikely to withdraw from the region militarily?
With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, I sense a degree of uncertainty in both the United States and Japan as to the continuing rationale for America's forward deployed presence in East Asia. This is understandable but I believe the reasons for America's military presence in Asia are as compelling as ever: American is a Pacific nation, with a stake in the security of the region.(Note 12)
Despite the drawdown since 1989 and the loss of its military facilities in the Philippines, American military presence in the region has largely remained intact, especially within the overall strategy of "cooperative engagement." Hence, the likelihood of continued American military presence even though it will continue to be rationalized by the exigencies of domestic and foreign policies. In these circumstances, the right question to pose is not whether American military presence in the region should be maintained but what kind of structures the region should develop to sustain a presence that would be acceptable to both the United States and the region as a whole.
In this context, where more continuity than change can be expected in U.S. foreign policy toward the region, its concerns have become more domestic and economic. With more than U.S. $400 billion deficit, an accumulated national debt of nearly U.S. $5 trillion, there is no doubt that the United States is in an economic crisis. While it is becomming more inward-looking, it is not in its interest to become isolationist. It has tended to be global in outlook and to this extent, it can be expected to play a positive and constructive role worldwide. Thus, even though there has been a rise of skepticism in the region about the credibility of American commitments to the region, especially in view of growing tensions with both Japan and China, on the whole, there also appears to be a greater consensus that the United States will continue to play its old role, though somewhat modified, as a new regional strategic architecture emerges.
Here, the economic aspect of U.S. relations with the Asian-Pacific region takes on an important meaning. Should the United States view Asian-Pacific economic dynamism as a threat or an opportunity? Most responsible Asian leaders and observers would like to see the United States regard East Asian phenomenal economic growth and prosperity as a challenge and opportunity. For instance, Professor Tommy Koh has argued that this can be gleaned from the following:
At the same time, U.S. security interests are strongly embedded in the region. This can be seen in terms of U.S. security strategy toward the Asian-Pacific region, which has basically remained to support regional stability and a balance of power that facilitates free access to the resources, markets and capital of the region. Essentially to achieve its strategy, four pillars are vital to this:
As a result of various modernization programs, China has emerged as a major power of global significance. If anything, the rise of China as a great power represents the single most important development in the last decade of the present millennium. Since China launched its Four Modernizations in 1978, its economy has doubled every 72 years, with the World Bank projecting it to become the biggest economy by 2020.(Note 16) The rise of China has had widespread political and security implications for the Asian-Pacific region and the world at large. In this regard, much has been made of China's military modernization, and where with a bigger financial base, it has been able to acquire state-of-the-art power projection assets, especially for the air force and navy. This has led observers to argue that China has abandoned its Maoist strategy of guerrilla warfare and substituted it with a new concept of "forward defense," leading to the development of its blue-water navy and air-refueling capability for its air force. The emphasis here has been the acquisition of military technology and rapid reaction forces at the expense of its traditional defense-oriented "people's war." With China having territorial disputes with 10 of its neighbors, the rise of China's military capability has been a major cause of concern, especially since China has demonstrated its capability and will to deploy and utilize its military power, as seen in the Mischief Reef occupation in the South China Sea in late January 1995.(Note 17)
The rise of China as a great power has brought tensions between it and the other two major powers, the United States and Japan. Following the breakdown of the Cold War order, relations between China and the United States have worsened, reaching an all time low in 1989 following the crackdown at Tiananmen. In the main, a number of issues have troubled bilateral relations between the two countries.
Notwithstanding these tensions, what must be recognized is that China is an old civilization and has the means to remain isolationist as long as it wants. One must remember that the internationalization of China is a very recent phenomena, and despite being cut off from the outside world for more than 100 years, in which time, many countries have come and gone, China has remained intact and largely unmoved, maintaining its Middle Kingdom complex. If anything, the single most important development that has occurred in world politics is that the Chinese dragon has awakened and, more importantly, has begun to move. This makes it a new force of immense importance and this must be understood by all, especially the great powers. Under these circumstances, if China is not integrated into the international system as a legitimate and responsible member, then it has a great potential to undermine the emerging international order.
In the present international setting, only two major powers, the United States and Japan, have the capability to influence the course of China's development. Even though Russia, India, ASEAN, Australia, and New Zealand are somewhat important, and can moderate the dynamics of relations among China, the United States, and Japan, only the United States and Japan can fundamentally determine the course of the "Chinese ship." The point that must be understood is that the rise of China can fundamentally affect the existing status quo. While the Chinese cannot be described as a "revolutionary power," it will still not qualify as a status quo power in today's terms.
While China has the potential to challenge the existing international system, one should not exaggerate China's potential. China has and is developing economically, providing resources for military modernization. However, technologically, especially with regard to military technology, China will still require one to two generations before it can become a first rate military power in the league of the United States. Thus, while there is no doubt that China is emerging as a great power economically, as far as the balance of technology is concerned, it is still backward. While the Chinese will no doubt narrow the gap, especially through importation of Western technologies and local improvisation, on the whole, the American superiority in military technologies will mean that China's ability to project military power globally will remain limited. Hence, the unlikelihood of China emerging as a complete superpower in the near term.
Nevertheless, its military capability can affect the regional setting, especially with regard to the contiguous zone. It is here that a potential conflict zone exists and how this is managed will go a long way toward enhancing peace in the region. In the main, the key challenge for China is how to earn respect on the world arena. By now it is also clear that economic and political power alone are no longer sufficient to earn international respect, as was learned by Japan in the Gulf War. In these circumstances, how China will behave internationally becomes a major question; while there is very little to go by, the most important litmus test would be the manner Hong Kong would be incorporated and more important, how Beijing will handle its conflict with Taiwan and in the South China Sea region.
Here, the following would constitute the main challenges for the United States and Japan as far as the rise of China is concerned:
Whatever policies the United States pursues, it must also bear in mind two points: first, China has embraced market-oriented policies, and if these are fully successful, it will bring about a certain degree of political liberalization in the political system; and second, China is an old civilization,with its own ways of doing things. This must be understood and respected. At present, if there are differences, especially at the ideological level, they are temporary in nature. With time, many changes are likely to take place and thus containment should not be pursued to change the directions of China. Thus, even though the Chinese do see American actions in containment terms, this is more a problem of perception rather than an understanding of the objective reality. For the Chinese, they tend to be suspicious of any pressures from outside and it is here that the region and the world can do much to open up China, educating her about the advantages of the new way. What is clear is that the Chinese civilization can cope with difficulties and it is not inferior to the Western one. What needs to be done is to reach an understanding whereby the Chinese will find it to their advantage to undertake political, economic and social reforms with the world showing understanding of the various constraints the Chinese government faces.
Here, the best strategy would be to engage China so that it becomes enmeshed into the regional and global structures and community. If this is successfully undertaken, it will be very costly for China to disturb the peace, be it in the military, political, economic or even social arena as this would in fact threaten her very survival. The Chinese must thus be given a tangible stake in the post-Cold War political, economic and strategic order. Thus, a policy of enmeshment which benefits the Chinese and the world, a win-win formula, is the best option that should be pursued with the Chinese brought into the various regional and international frameworks, such as APEC, ARF and WTO. Here, the role of the United States and Japan is particularly important as they have far greater power than other players in the world. While Southeast Asia is important, it is definitely much weaker and needs to be cautious lest it be caught in the interstices of great power rivalries.
Concomitant with the growing strains in American-Chinese relations have been the intensification of differences between the United States and Japan, the two former Pacific rivals turned allies throughout the entirety of the Cold War. Following the San Francisco Peace Treaty, close ties developed between the two countries, largely on American terms. Japan was weak, demilitarized, and humiliated and posed no military threat to the United States. The United States endured an emerging asymmetry of Japanese economic gains to revive the country, as in the case of Germany, so that it could assist Washington in containing the far more dangerous Soviet Union. Under these circumstances, close U.S.-Japanese ties developed, with the Americans providing military protection and a huge market for Japanese exports in return for Japan acting as America's "unsinkable aircraft carrier" in the region. As Japan's economic power and status grew, Japanese investments in the United States helped to finance the American budget deficit, with Tokyo providing political support for American preponderance in the Asian-Pacific region which helped to maintain the peace there. However, throughout the Cold War era, Japan was largely obliged to do America's bidding as Washington had two leverages over Tokyo: the threat of removing the security umbrella and restricting the huge and profitable American market from Japanese exports.
However, once Japan emerged as a major power, on the way to becoming a "normal nation," especially in the early 1970s, tensions in bilateral ties emerged and these became exposed in the 1980s when the American public and politicians expressed concerned over Japan's trade surplus, best personified in Tokyo's capture of the American car market. While Japan remained one of the most important strategic, political and economic partners of the United States, increasingly, it came to be seen as an "adversary partner" as Japan emerged as a powerful political and economic actor on the world arena in its own right. This was further exacerbated by the end of the Cold War with the removal of the Soviet Union as the common enemy, the principal bond that glued ties between the two countries.
The primary impetus in the growing tensions between the United States and Japan was provided by the growing economic clout of the latter. In 1990, U.S.-Japan trade exceeded U.S. $142 billion, being twice Japan's trade with the European Community. At the same time, Japanese overseas investments in 1990 amount to U.S. $27 billion compared to only U.S. $10 billion of the United States. Japan was also the largest donor country in the world. While Japan's economy registered a healthy surplus with much envied foreign reserves by the 1980s, the United States had become the largest debtor country in the world. Thus, as the Cold War ended, a major shift took place in American public opinion, which registered suspicion of Asia's economic growth and viewed it as a new source of threat to U.S. well-being, especially by friends and allies of the Cold War era.
With Japan's economic power came growing political and strategic independence, and this was where the new fault line was drawn between the two allies, becoming worst with the end of the Cold War. As Japan tried to break out from its self-imposed hermitage and develop a new relationship with the United States based on political, economic and strategic interdependence, rather than dependency, tensions also increased. While the highly interdependent and cooperative partnership had proved durable in the past, the post-Cold War architecture posed new challenges to the relationship. With Japan becoming relatively strong, with a modern military capability and the second-largest defense budget in the world, how Japan perceives the security environment around her takes on new importance as this will have serious ramification for security in the Asian-Pacific region.
While the tensions in U.S.-Japan relations are far less serious than, say, between the United States and China-primarily because Japan is a status quo power, has developed deep and profound ties with the region, and suffers from various structural and constitutional impediments-the challenge posed by the growing tensions in U.S.-Japan relations and to the United States-Japan Security Treaty, by far the most important security arrangement in the Asian-Pacific region, is real. The growing power of Japan and the changing security environment has pushed Japan to play a larger security role in Asia; while the scope of this would be of great interest to countries in the region, at the same time, Japan remains the key link between the United States and Asia even though the changing security orientation of Japan is also bound to affect the security climate in the region. Thus, as the region enters into an uncertain future, U.S.-Japan security cooperation has also come under strain, especially as bilateral issues have widened the gulf between the two countries, which was made worse by President Clinton's failure to attend the APEC Leaders' Meeting in Osaka and the outrage in Japan over the assault and rape of a school girl by three American servicemen in Okinawa.
In this context, the future importance and relevance of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty loom large. This would be affected by various factors, including the rising tide of nationalism in Japan and the United States, the continuing troubles in U.S.-Japan bilateral ties, the continuing decline in American military presence and influence in Asia, and the rising nature of regional threats in Northeast Asia (the situation on the Korean peninsula, Russian Far East, and China, especially if Beijing uses force to claim back its "loss" territories in Taiwan and the South China Sea region).
Notwithstanding pressures from some quarters for the dismantling of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty and the withdrawal of American forward deployed forces from Japan,(Note 19) on the whole, the consensus emerging in the region as a whole is that while modifications can be expected, the bilateral security arrangement should be retained for the benefit of both countries, the region, and world at large. The treaty remains relevant and important as it:
Thus, against the backdrop of growing diversities, pluralism and contradictions in the region, ushered in by the paradigm shift of the post-Cold War era, the U.S.-Japan relationship, especially its security partnership, has taken on a new meaning. The stakes are simply too high, the consequences too great for both countries and the region as a whole, if the treaty is ruptured. While recognizing that there are growing strains in the overall bilateral relationship- brought about by the relative weakening of the American economy, the decreasing deference in Japan for the United States, the disappearance of the Cold War fears, the rush to the fore of new differences in the new era, especially the intensification of U.S.-Japanese economic frictions and finally, the growing differences in the arena of foreign policy, with Japan wanting to assert its independent role-there is the overpowering need for restrain.
While Japan is in search of a new security policy and role, driven in part, by the end of the Cold War, the disappearance of the Soviet threat, the reduced credibility of the American security umbrella, the replacement of military rivalries by economic contestations, the fact that economic power cannot earn a country international respect, as the Japanese discovered the limits of their "checkbook diplomacy" in the Gulf War and the pressure for Japan to play a bigger political-security role consistent with its economic power, there is also the need for Tokyo to be sensitive of the fears in the region. The post-Cold War era will means Japan will no longer act as a passive follower but rather have a more active role. Japan must realize that the U.S.-Japan security treaty is greatly needed in the light of historic perception of Japan as an aggressor in the Asia-Pacific. The fear that Japan might greatly rearm and militarize itself because it has the capabilities with various trigger-factors present, thereby setting in a chain reaction of insecurity and instability, is a factor Japan must deal with in its overall relationship with the United States.
Japan has no friend like the United States, and there is a need to rationalize its relationship in a more modified and acceptable manner while maintaining the basic security framework contained in the U.S.-Japan security treaty. Here, both countries must be warned of the perennial dangers that may emerge from rash decisions, driven largely by parochial constituencies, interests and needs. At the same time, the American public and policy makers must realize that the United States needs Japan even more today than in the Cold War era. As an "unsinkable aircraft carrier," Japan provides the Pentagon with the means to place military power, facilities, logistical support as well as political support for U.S. operations in the Asian-Pacific region; without them, the United States would be in a far weaker position.
At the same time, the United States must desist from presenting a picture that it is "bullying" Japan as this will only fuel anti-American nationalism in Japan. The perception that Japan is a free-rider must be corrected: it is not. At the same time, while the United States must not use Japan as a scapegoat for its domestic malaise, Japan must also cease protecting its domestic markets from foreign competition. The United States must not feel threatened by Japan and should avoid taking measures that would appear to be nothing more than a "containment" exercise.
In view of the high stakes, what is needed is a redefinition of U.S.-Japan security ties. As the treaty was born in the context of a specific past, where Japan was an aggressor, many things have changed and the power shift should be recognized. Becasue of its past, Japan was prepared to act as a "client state" as well as accept a situation where its security role was minimal. It was largely an "economic state." However, with the massive progress Japan has made since then, the pattern of relations should be reviewed with Japan viewed not as a "client" but more as a "partner." This partnership will define the security relationship but where Japan must still be exercised by military restraint with the United States provided with certain economic privileges and advantages in compensation. Only when this understanding is reached will a degree of stability return to U.S.-Japan relations, something which is vital for the stability of the Asian-Pacific region and world at large. Japan's permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council will have a socializing effect on Japan and its public on how to behave in the world as a responsible great power.
WHAT THE ABOVE SIGNALS:
More importantly, what would this mean for regional security in Southeast Asia? If the three powers work together, does it necessarily mean that it is a good thing? If this happens, stability could be secured and will be good for development and security, that is, if status quo-oriented policies are pursued. However, if the three powers decide to carve out a "sphere of influence" for themselves, it may not be necessarily beneficial for region as this would mean that one or two of these powers could emerge as the new hegemons in the region, leaving the regional states as the mercy of these powers. Thus, as the situation is in a state of flux, how the interests of the great powers would intersect and what this would mean for regional security remains to be seen.
1. The Asian countries must convince the administration in Washington that it is in America's interest to maintain a security presence in the Asian-Pacific region. Here, a quid pro quo could be worked out with the Asian economies opening up their markets in goods and services to the United States in return for the U.S. contributions to the maintenance of peace and stability in the region.
2. Maintain bilateral ties, especially alliances, in context of growing political, economic and security multilateralism where bilateralism and multilateralism can be mutually reinforcing, not exclusive. Thus, U.S. bilateral security commitments to Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, and Thailand should be enhanced even though various layers of multilateralism are being built and strengthened in the region.
3. Establish ad hoc, loose, issue-specific leadership in the Asian-Pacific region in the new post-Cold War era. Leadership is about commitment of resources and taking risks and the situation has emerged where no one country is in a position to act unilaterally in the political or military arena, and be decisive in any major crisis. Hence, there is the need for a number of like-minded actors to work together, where their interests converge and this is more likely to become the norm rather than waiting for the emergence of an all-dominant player on the regional or world scene, something which may not necessarily be desirable.
4. Strengthen the U.S.-Japan security treaty to ensure its durability, as this remains an important pillar. It may not be the pillar, but certainly remains a pillar of great importance. This is needed all the more in the current situation because of the uncertainties and tensions that have bedeviled the bilateral relations between the two countries and where doubts have been raised about the credibility and will power of the United States in the region. Its success also depends on what Japan can do, and even here Japan can be impeded by its public opinion. Even the United States, though a sole superpower, has problems with its delivery. Thus, there is a serious need to understand the treaty in a broader way and the need to involve others. It is not just a question of sharing the burden of the United States but also of Japan, among others, making the Japanese public more sensitive to regional needs and highlighting the importance and value of the treaty for both Japan and the United States.
5. Make efforts to discourage countries from adopting containment strategies, as this will not work and if anything, will be counter-productive. Containment is part of old thinking and is not relevant for the post-Cold War era.
6. As the three great powers attempt to work out a new modus vivendi, third parties are likely to take advantage of the situation, and make headway into the region. One such move has been the growing political and economic relations between the European Union and Asia, best evidenced by the Asia-Europe meeting between heads of government held in Bangkok in March 1996. This would indicate that third parties are likely to become more active in the region, especially in response to the direction of interactions among the three great powers, namely, the United States, Japan and China, and here, other than the EU, the role of Russia, India, ASEAN, Australia, and (United?)Korea should be closely watched. This should be encouraged as it will have a moderating influence on the overall triangular relationship and where through the widening of interactions among the major powers, with none excluded, the regional order that will emerge will be a win-win one with benefits being spread around and enjoyed by all.
Nancy Bernkopf Tucker
"IF CHINA ATTACKS TAIWAN...THE UNITED STATES WOULD HAVE NO choice but to help Taiwan-a flourishing free-market democracy- defend itself against attacks by Communist China. No treaty or law compels this response, but decency and strategic interest demand it."(Note 1) In the increasingly strident Taiwan Straits crisis of 1995-96, this judgment by the editors of the Washington Post may well reflect reality but is, at the same time, a chilling forecast of a grim future. Others, of course, would contend that the current struggle between China and Taiwan will, indeed could, not trigger an American military rejoinder: Taiwan is too far away, of too little concern to the United States which was bloodied and chastened in Somalia, hardly a competitor against the marketing and security colossus that is China, and, most damning of all, courting disaster by behaving recklessly. In truth, however, neither side in this debate can accurately predict the future. We are at the edge of a precipice, lacking road maps, signposts, and lifelines.
The crisis is particularly acute because all the participants are locked in political struggle at home that has the effect of skewing their approaches to policies abroad. In each and every case flexibility has been curtailed, and domestic pressures tend to produce greater belligerence and less inclination toward sober discussion than might otherwise be possible. Taiwan's Lee Teng-hui must position himself close to the Democratic Progressive Party if he is to prevent growth in the opposition's popularity. As some analysts assert, local issues and disenchantment with Kuomintang corruption and monopolization of the domestic political infrastructure have spurred DPP expansion. Nevertheless, the rising tide of nationalism in Taiwan, demanding a greater international role for the island and prestige commensurate with the society's wealth and democratization, has been an equal spur to DPP power. So Lee must pursue a difficult balancing act, almost but not quite advocating independence, aware that it would be dangerous to provoke China, but also perilous to disappoint the domestic electorate. The populace clearly does not want to incite an attack, yet they do not favor reunification and are unwilling to renounce the advances Taiwan has made in returning to the world community since 1989.
Nancy Bernkopf Tucker is Professor of History at Georgetown University and at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. During the past 2 years, she has been a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and at the United States Institute of Peace. She is currently a member of the U.S. Department of State Advisory Committee on Historical Studies in Asia (PISA) and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. Dr. Tucker is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
This search for visibility and power by Taiwan has run radically afoul of the dynamics of China's contemporary succession process. With the demise of communism as a viable unifying principle, and the public's rejection of continuing revolution as too chaotic and destabilizing, aspiring leaders have reinforced calls to nationalism. But for China, nationalism/patriotism is a complex concept particularly suited to stirring unreasoning passions. Mao Zedong was rightly proud when he proclaimed in 1949 that China had stood up, casting off a century of oppression by foreign imperialist states, but the sense of victimization produced by that history of foreign domination has nurtured a feeling of self-righteousness and an insistence that China be self-reliant and strong, as well as an arrogant expectation that foreigners should compensate China for past humiliation.
Jiang Zemin, who seems virtually certain to inherit Deng Xiaoping's mantle, lacks Deng's wide network of personal supporters especially in the military establishment. He is in the process of promoting younger military officers to positions of higher authority in places like the Central Military Commission, which may eventually strengthen his control even though they are not individuals with long standing personal ties to him. But at least at present Jiang remains politically vulnerable: prone to wooing military hard-liners who are determined to recover the errant province of Taiwan and use that venture to justify larger budgets. He also sacrificed some of his credibility in identifying too closely with failed foreign policies-betterment of relations with the United States and courtship of Taiwan (i.e., his January 1995 eight-point speech). Whether he shares the conviction that Taiwan must be a part of China or not, he has no choice but to pursue the goal vigorously.
Only in the United States is there room for more cautious policy making. So far the Taiwan issue has been less a partisan matter than a source of executive-legislative branch friction. When Congress forced the Clinton White House to permit Lee Teng-hui to visit Cornell University in June 1995, the relevant resolutions commanded bipartisan support. Similarly, at present, members concerned about proliferation, human rights, and trade problems sit on both sides of the aisle. On the other hand, there are Republicans on Capitol Hill who talk of inviting Lee Teng-hui to address a joint session of Congress. As much as this action may be intended by some to acknowledge Lee's achievement and the maturation of Taiwan's democratic processes, it would also be a partisan effort to embarrass Clinton. The president could probably block it and there is reason to believe that Lee would not welcome the initiative either, but in a time of troubles the maneuvering alone would be harmful. In fact, being tough on China is a policy with growing appeal in the face of Beijing's recent performance on proliferation, human rights and religious freedom, intellectual property, and trade.
At bottom, however, even a prudent United States faces the fundamental question that Americans have some difficulty grasping-whether this is an issue amenable to a peaceful, negotiated solution. Contrary to the premises of American political culture, not all disputes can be settled through discussion. To China, recovery of Taiwan is the final act of a civil war fought at great cost. It may well be that the new and substantial losses to China brought about by military operations, through curtailment of trade, investment, and plans for modernization, would be worth paying to consummate national liberation.
In fact, military coercion has already been applied. Since Lee's trip to the United States, Beijing has conducted bigger and more provocative military exercises in the Taiwan area than it customarily mounts. It has fired missiles, deployed significant numbers of planes and ships, and staged mock amphibious island landings. Chinese leaders declared the Nanjing military region, encompassing territory across the straits from Taiwan, a war zone and now base their SU-27 aircraft there. And in November 1995, Beijing allowed word to leak that it has made contingency plans for an attack against Taiwan.(Note 2) Before the elections, there were indications that yet another military exercise would be carried out. In this way, Beijing hoped to repeat what it saw as a successful effort to intimidate Taiwan voters prior to December's legislative elections.
Military intimidation, of course, is quite different from actual attack. Analysts remain divided both over whether a war will happen and whether China could win. Most agree that Taiwan's technological superiority provides a credible deterrent. Existing aircraft inventories coupled with acquisition of frigates, attack helicopters, antiship missiles, antisubmarine warfare capabilities and better air defense systems will insure that any assault on the island would be countered vigorously and with great destructive power even before deliveries of 150 F-16s from the United States and 60 Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft from France are completed.
The People's Liberation Army is neither as sophisticated nor as well trained as Western forces and lacks adequate logistic and research facilities as well as experience in usable strategic theory. The likelihood that China would be able to upgrade its entire military establishment significantly in the near term is small, given financial constraints and the huge costs of simply sustaining such an enormous force, along with the absence of the requisite infrastructure. Although estimates of China's 1995 military budget reached U.S. $25 billion, (Note 3) with the largest part gathered through unorthodox channels, much of that money may have been consumed by prosaic requirements like raising military salaries, improving living conditions and compensating for inflation.(Note 4) Moreover, there remains Athe need for a military culture . . . that values maintenance and technological precision," attitudes not notable in the society at large.(Note 5)
Weaknesses on the ground are reflected in naval and air limitations. Because China still does not possess adequate naval lift capabilities, it could not transport by ship more than half the army units necessary to overwhelm Taiwan. China has reportedly shopped for an aircraft carrier and is beginning to project a blue water navy into the East and South China seas. Analysts disagree, however, on China's ability to sustain operations and the effectiveness of its command and control.(Note 6)
At the same time, China is reliant on an air arm that "does not constitute a credible offensive threat."(Note 7) China has, of course, supplemented its strength since the collapse of the Soviet Union through acquisition of advanced equipment, primarily from Russia. The most recent, a purchase of SU-27 aircraft announced by the Russians February 2, 1996, also entailed a licensing agreement that will give the Chinese first-hand experience assembling and, eventually, constructing high technology military aircraft. But the number of planes involved (a prospective 46 beyond the 26 already in Chinese hands) is small, the Chinese do not have the ability to produce much of the supporting equipment, and Russian postpurchase maintenance support and parts supply are notoriously poor.(Note 8) Further, the licensing agreement, which has the greatest potential for changing power relationships in the region by training the Chinese to be their own aircraft suppliers, will mean nothing more than co-assembly of prebuilt aircraft for the first 5 years and only thereafter a gradual move toward coproduction in China. In addition, budget constraints mean that a decision to focus resources on the SU-27 project is likely to leave an earlier cooperation agreement with Israel to build the equivalent of an F-10 without adequate funds, not to mention starvation of the F-8-2 production line in Shenyang.(Note 9) So China's military expansion, though worrisome for its neighbors, does not, in the near term, alter the existing power balance with Taiwan.
This calculation, however, disregards other compelling factors. The proximity of Taiwan to China tends to render some of Taiwan's advanced equipment less effective and make some of China's deficits less restrictive. China's overwhelming size suggests that it would be capable of waging a war of attrition that Taiwan could not survive.(Note 10) Indeed, Taiwan diplomats privately acknowledge that they lack the repair facilities to keep advanced jet fighters in the air during a high-pressure situation of warfare. They have also candidly commented that command and control capabilities on the island are not nearly as advanced as some of the weaponry they have acquired. Finally, even though China can not deploy a sufficient number of ships to establish a full blockade of Taiwan, it could make the sea around Taiwan so dangerous that the island, with its absolute dependence on imported fuel and foodstuffs, as well as export markets, would be effectively strangled into surrender. The costs of war would obviously be immense, but one need only recall China's military maneuvers against the Soviets on the Ussuri River in 1969 or the incursion into Vietnam in 1979 to understand that the Chinese can allow political goals to overwhelm rational calculations of relative strength and damaging repercussions.
Confronting this situation, American policy makers have no good choices. If they assure Taiwan that the United States will protect the island, then irresponsible politicians might push to declare independence, assuring a Communist assault. If they declare that the United States will not intervene, leaving Taiwan on its own in the dangerous game it is playing, then the PRC may not wait for provocation to launch a recovery campaign. Moreover, articulation of either policy would roil the political waters at home where involvement in foreign affairs, entirely apart from the presidential election campaign, has become a risky proposition.
Even without a declaration of policy by Washington, however, there are those in Taipei and Beijing who have indicated that they believe they know what actions the United States would take. Not surprisingly their assumptions parallel their needs and interests. The Democratic Progressive Party has suggested, on many occasions, the firm conviction that Washington would intervene in the event of an attack. Both DPP and KMT figures point to the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act as a guarantee even though all it says is that a Chinese offensive would be of "grave concern to the United States."
At the same time, on the mainland there have been indications that military and political leaders do not believe Washington would take an active role in defending Taiwan. They have based their conclusion on two aspects of American policy in recent years. First has been the obvious American reluctance to engage in Somalia, Rwanda and Bosnia. In that regard the recent commitment to a forward policy in Bosnia has probably had a positive corrective effect; as, perhaps, has the voyage of the Nimitz, whether it was scripted from Washington or not. But the second is the economic factor, which, if anything, is tending even more toward reinforcing Chinese self-confidence. Although American intelligence sources suggest that China violated nonproliferation laws and a 1968 treaty with transfers of weapons and equipment to Iran and Pakistan, the administration inclines toward waiving economic sanctions because of the pressures of the U.S. business community. Why then should Beijing believe that Washington would risk incurring the wrath of that same community over Taiwan? Further, Beijing is skeptical when U.S. officials, such as Assistant Secretary of Defense Joseph Nye, insist that they do not know what the government would do to defend Taiwan. This uncertainty is genuine in the present political environment in the United States, but the Chinese experience does not allow for contingency based on legislative-executive conflicts and public opinion.
Beijing's assessments of Washington's political will, in fact, are confused. Charges by Chinese officials that the United States favors Taiwan independence and is working to keep China weak and divided posit a strong, coordinated American anti-China policy. The Chinese nurse suspicions about United States efforts to encircle China through security understandings with India as well as Japan and South Korea and diplomatic recognition of Vietnam. But at the same time, Beijing has effectively exploited the indecisiveness that has characterized American policy, defying agreements on intellectual property, undermining the spirit and possibly the letter of nonproliferation accords, and embarrassing the Clinton administration on human rights issues.
Of course, the Chinese are not a lot more accurate in their assessments of how their belligerence affects their neighbors, particularly ASEAN and Japan. China's emergence as a great power in the not distant future requires, in Beijing's view, the acquisition of advanced conventional and nuclear arms. As consultants on Chinese security affairs Bonnie Glaser and Banning Garrett observe, Chinese leaders do not understand that their assurances of peaceful intent are not sufficient to allay fears or prevent spurring an arms buildup in the region. An attack on Taiwan, indeed even escalating threats, could not help but quicken arms acquisition among the members of ASEAN, particularly those who have disputed Spratly Islands claims with China. And this is true even with mixed views of Taiwan's status and the rightness of China's irridentist aspirations. Furthermore, ASEAN assessments of the utility of an American presence in the region will be colored by the position Washington takes regarding the protection or rescue of Taiwan. Governments in Southeast Asia have made it clear on any number of issues that they do not want Washington to harass the Chinese, but abandonment of Taiwan would likely have a very chilling effect.
Only a small minority of Chinese analysts and officials accepts the mutual security notion that one's own security is assured only when other states also feel secure. Rather, most still seem to believe that China is more secure if other states are weaker . . . and less secure. . . . Chinese leaders, officials, and most analysts thus dismiss concerns voiced in Asia about China's military modernization program as unjustified exaggeration of a "China threat" with the aim of keeping China weak or sowing discord between China and its neighbors.(Note 11)
For Japan the dilemma is more complex and involves the United States more directly. Japan maintains lucrative and intensive trade and investment ties with Taiwan. Japan also has a legacy of intimate relations stemming from its colonial rule over the island that, while repressive and resented, left an economic and cultural infrastructure that both Japan and Taiwan still draw upon. A Chinese attack on Taiwan would not merely destroy Japanese holdings but, given the proximity of Taiwan to Japan, would also shake Tokyo's confidence in existing regional security arrangements.
So far, Japanese officials have, in large part, avoided thinking about the implications of recent tensions in China-Taiwan-U.S. relations. Apart from a few, important but largely peripheral figures such as Ambassador Okazaki Hisahiko, no one wants to confront the issue of Japan's military relevance to war in the Taiwan Straits. Pressures to assist Taiwan unilaterally might be managed in the context of Japan's commitment to an armed force designed for self-defense. But Japan hosts American military units critical to helping Taiwan if the United States decided to intervene on Taipei's behalf. Thus, if Washington assisted Taipei, Japan would have to decide upon use of its facilities, the support it might render American operations, and, in fact, the degree to which it might participate directly. If the United States did not take up the challenge, the Japanese Government would be left to wonder about the credibility of the United States deterrent. In either case, the event could be enough finally to overcome Japanese reluctance to develop its own independent nuclear forces. Japan then would not have to see itself subservient to or endangered by U.S. decisionmaking and would also obtain a more reliable security guarantee.(Note 12)
For China, there is little doubt that instigating Tokyo into adopting a more militarized foreign policy would be one of the greatest costs of an attack upon Taiwan. Although Sino-Japanese economic ties have become significant for both parties, and the Chinese today welcome Japanese investment, residual bitterness from Japan's brutal occupation of China remains active just beneath the surface. China's leaders do not trust Tokyo and they fear Japan's military potential. In the months after Tiananmen, when China was searching for an issue to revive the Sino-American relationship, Chinese leaders and intellectuals referred regularly to a Japanese threat and the importance of joint opposition to its growth. Fear of Japan's response to action against Taiwan might even be greater than concern about what Washington might do.
If war is so clearly a bad choice for all concerned, then what alternatives are there for resolving the Taiwan crisis? How can two conflicting impulses-Taiwan's desire for international prominence and China's determination to force Taiwan to accept the subsidiary role of province-be affirmed? The most often touted solution, at least for immediate frictions, would be a return to the status quo ante that presumably served triangular relations effectively after 1979. Everyone would reaffirm the one China formula of the Shanghai communique and the normalization accord. Taiwan would stop pressing the bounds of what is acceptable to Beijing and China would halt military intimidation exercises, while the United States maintained a benign, clearly observational role. Lee Teng-hui, in fact, called for resumption of the cross-straits dialogue in a speech on February 10, created a special cabinet committee to ease tensions, and there are indications that Taipei might be prepared to drop its demand that China renounce the use of force in the Straits as a precondition to serious negotiations. Indeed, this worked, because once the March 23rd balloting ended, Beijing declared victory and de-escalated tensions.
Taiwan's current self-image precludes a return to anonymity on the world scene. The combination of new found wealth, greater public participation in political affairs, and a generational shift away from cultural identification with the Chinese mainland has transformed the island. Emerging from almost 20 years of isolation and invisibility, Taiwan has been pushing to reclaim the attributes of nationhood. Although Taiwan's population would not advocate independence because of threats from China, people would also be loathe to surrender participation in international organizations that give them access to advances in the sciences or deliberations on peacekeeping missions or simply the prestige of being an international actor. Moreover, it became clear in 1995, in conjunction with the Lee visit, that Taiwan's foreign ministry has lost much of its ability to exercise a moderating influence over foreign policy making. In this context it is worth taking note of the recent research by Jack Snyder and Edward Mansfield that posits that the process of democratization, in contrast to the status of mature democracy, is one in which Acountries become more aggressive and war-prone, not less."(Note 13)
Indeed, China's most generous proposals for reunification are stymied by this basic reality. China has suggested it would accept a high degree of autonomy regarding economic, military and political activities, even allowing Taiwan to retain its own flag and anthem, reserving only foreign affairs for Beijing's administration. But that is the one ingredient of independence that Taiwan cannot now exercise freely and is precisely what Taiwan's people yearn for.(Note 14)
More palatable from Taiwan's perspective is for Beijing to adopt a broader view of the ramifications of allowing Taipei to exploit international opportunities. Beijing would have to see Taiwan's participation in international organizations as a positive rather than a negative development for China. This would require genuinely thinking about Taiwan as though it was a part of China, which, in reality, even Beijing does not do; Taiwan's activities and accomplishments could then be subsumed under an expansive definition of Chinese behavior.
As a result, the People's Republic might countenance a U.S. formulation that would approximate the earlier arrangement enjoyed by the Soviet Union in which it possessed three United Nations seats: its own and those of Byelorussia and Ukraine. Or there could be some variation on the scheme of North and South Korean seats as there once were East and West German seats. On most routine matters, occupying a "Chinese-Taipei" seat in the General Assembly would give Taiwan the participation it wants without touching on political sensitivities. Important votes in the General Assembly would require establishment of some sort of consultative mechanism, in itself a difficult concept. As an added inducement, China would benefit from the larger funding coffer that the United Nations would suddenly control as a result of Taipei's contributions to UN projects. Few in the Chinese Government could have missed the significance of Lee Teng-hui's 1995 offer to donate U.S. $1 billion in exchange for U.N. membership.
Obviously, China would, have to be willing to alter its 19th-century view of national sovereignty to accommodate such an agreement. If it did, then the distance to other compromises either on Taipei's proffered "one country, two governments" guidelines or exploration of structures such as those that hold together the British Commonwealth, Puerto Rico and the United States, the European Union, or Quebec with Canada would seem less formidable than they appear today. A form of federalism in which Taiwan's subservience would be nominal would be problematic for the Kuomintang to sell to the political opposition, which dismisses all solutions apart from independence, but might appeal to the general population, which could then put aside fears of war.
There are, clearly, severe problems with such scenarios. China has shown no inclination to rethink sovereignty. If anything, nationalism has become increasingly chauvinistic, with the Chinese responding quite rigidly on questions of national borders and recovery of alienated territory. Chinese leaders are no more likely to accept nominal sovereignty over Taiwan than to grant the island independence. Beijing appears to be proving its lack of imagination and its inflexibility at a rapid pace in Hong Kong, where reversion has encountered a series of setbacks such as media censorship, subversion of the court of final appeals, and abolition of the Legislative Council. Although Beijing pledged to respect the status quo for 50 years, the fact is, the People's Republic began to undo the values and institutions of Hong Kong and undermine public confidence more than 2 years before the transition. Taiwan, therefore, has no reason to have much faith in the sanctity of Beijing's commitments.
All of which suggests that peace may be as impossible as war is unacceptable. In reality we may have embarked on, or returned to, an era in which confrontation in the Taiwan Straits will be the norm. After the 1969 clash between China and the Soviet Union along the Ussuri River, Washington and Beijing, recognizing more immediate threats that demanded collaboration, found it possible gradually to put the Taiwan issue aside, but they never came close to resolving it. In the 1950s there were two Taiwan Straits crises that Mao launched for various reasons, the most important of which was to make sure the world understood that there could not be two Chinas.(Note 15) Throughout the decade peace in the Straits remained precarious, and the same motives and pressures have reemerged today.
The United States, moreover, is no more prepared to deal with the issues involved or the frictions they generate now than it was then. The Clinton administration has paid little sustained attention to China since its inauguration, reacting only to confrontations as they have arisen. Secretary of State Warren Christopher has traveled to Syria 17 times since he assumed the leadership of foreign policy but to China only once, and that visit was ill-timed and disastrous. Washington has just finally sent its ambassador to Beijing after months in which a single senator put his priorities above national security by refusing to permit James Sasser's confirmation. Comprehensive engagement has been denounced as a process without any policy at its core. Critics of China policy on both the left and the right have begun to insist that the United States must get tough on China to make it honor its commitments and reestablish respect for American power. The United States can neither labor alone to "save the relationship" nor permit the Chinese to believe that good relations are a favor they bestow upon Americans.(Note 16)
Pitfalls were plenty until the elections on March 23rd. There were publication of the U.S. Department of State human rights report for 1995, the annual meeting of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, decisions by the White House over whether to apply sanctions to Beijing because of violations of nonproliferation laws or agreements on intellectual property rights, and congressional action on the State Department authorization bill, which included a grab-bag of anti-China provisions. And ensuring that all players would overreact to these events was the continuing anxiety over the Taiwan Straits. American officials such as Assistant Secretary of State Winston Lord and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Kurt Campbell felt confident enough to tell Congress that, although the Chinese were moving troops toward the coast opposite Taiwan, there were no serious preparations for war going on and that these would take months to complete. The Washington Post also balanced its sometimes alarmist coverage of U.S.-China relations by reflecting upon the importance of Chinese grain purchases in the United States to Beijing's ability to feed its people.(Note 17) But it took a lot more reassurance to moderate the crisis atmosphere.
War can come despite everyone's determination to prevent it. Two circumstances spring immediately to mind. There are profound dangers in the current level of tensions in the straits. There have been a series of small-scale confrontations between China's and Taiwan's fishing fleets and navies that could have spiraled out of control just as did the Marco Polo Bridge Incident which launched the Sino-Japanese War in 1937. War, we know from history, can come by accident as well as by design.
If U.S.-China relations continue to deteriorate, if succession pressures in China escalate, and if Taiwan veers even closer to declaring independence, then Chinese leaders could decide they have little to loose by attacking Taiwan. Timeframe here is critical. Both Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping were able to talk about the recovery of Taiwan in terms of decades if not centuries, but it is not clear that time is on Beijing's side. To some Chinese leaders Taiwan's growing strength and differentiation from China, despite it's enormous investments on the mainland, makes action sooner rather than later vital. Beijing can be protected against this destructive notion only by being made to understand that the consequences would go beyond American sanctions, that the world would be appalled and would rethink trade and investment in such a belligerent, unpredictable state.
The United States reaction to an actual conflict in the straits cannot, as argued above, be predicted because politics and public opinion will play an important role in the final determination. At the same time it is true that the way the fighting begins will have a significant part in influencing decisionmaking. If China seems to act precipitously it would push the United States closer to involvement than if Taiwan begins the conflict by taking foolhardy and provocative initiatives. Similarly the bellicosity of Beijing's rhetoric, such as allusions toward a missile attack on Los Angeles, can shift the direction of debate instantly and radically.(Note 18)
The fear that war is imminent, then, is probably but not assuredly exaggerated. The catalogue of disputes fraying the United States relationship with China is too long and the determination of Taiwan to survive and resist being swallowed up by China is too strong for certainty. Indeed, there is also a long history of misperception and miscalculation which put Americans and Chinese on the battlefield opposing one another in Korea in 1950. It might be possible to be more optimistic if there seemed to be some room for maneuver and compromise, but for the moment, at least, innovative, negotiated solutions seem further away in the Taiwan Strait than in the Middle East. The current war scare, however, will not be an entirely negative event if it spurs serious investigation of the issues and the costs and the hazards involved. In 1954, when the first of the Taiwan Straits encounters materialized, the United States immediately labeled Chinese shelling of the offshore islands a crisis and geared up to cope. But from the perspective of Chinese strategic culture there actually was no crisis, only a continuation of the civil war that had been temporarily in abeyance because of the fighting in Korea. This difference in perspective contributed to the prolongation and intensification of the struggle.(Note 19) Today, governments and people who have been inattentive and shortsighted regarding problems in U.S.-China-Taiwan relations ought to have the advantage of a warning they lacked in 1954. The confrontation is serious and dangerous, and we ignore it at our peril.
THE 20TH CENTURY HAS WITNESSED TWO MAJOR SHIFTS IN THE global balance of power: the collapse of the Europe-dominated world structure in the wake of the World War II, and the demise of the bipolar system when the Soviet Union suddenly imploded. The post-Cold War era is undergoing a process of multipolarization, and the emergence of China as a major power is a very important aspect of this development.
Unlike the rise of Japan and Germany, which occurred within an established political and strategic framework dominated by the United States, the rise of China takes place in a period of transformation of the global power structure. Its implications for the existing world order are yet to be seen. The fact that China is a Communist country with different political and strategic interests further intensifies concern over China's development. Discussions are already going on among policy makers, academia, and media as to the impact of and approaches to an ascending China, and opinions vary. It would therefore be prudent to seek a Chinese perspective to the following questions:
China's perception of itself and the world
To tell whether or not China is a status quo power, it is necessary to understand how China perceives itself and the world. The Chinese way of thinking is influenced by past experience, espically two different historical experiences.
China's self-perception is also twofold. On the one hand, China views itself as a developing country-its per capita GNP is still very low, approximately $500-and its economic power does not match its political status in the world. On the other hand, China believes it possesses the quality to become a major power. It is a big country simply by the size of its territory and population. The PRC leadership's position is that in the post-Cold War multipolar pattern, China constitutes one entity.(Note 1) More significantly, China's sustained economic growth in the past one-and-a-half decades has greatly increased its material strength and self-confidence. The prospect of it becoming a major power is no longer remote; indeed, the long-cherished dream could come true within a generation's time.
In short, China's self-perception is a complicated picture: it bears both scars and glories of the past, while carrying the burden and momentum of the present. It has a clear goal, and what it needs is the means to achieve it. In essence, the means are economic development and augmentation of overall national strength.
China's view of the world is both positive and negative. On the positive side, Beijing believes that since the end of the Cold War, the international situation has been moving toward greater relaxation, with an increasing tendency to settle disputes through peaceful negotiations. With multipolarization, the vast number of developing countries, including China, are playing an active role in international affairs. Economic factors are becoming more prominent in international relations. Safeguarding world peace and promoting economic development have become the common aspiration of people around the world.(Note 2) Such a situation brings favorable conditions for China:
Based on the above perceptions, China's approach to the international order is dichotomous: idealism and realism. Rhetorically, China advocates the establishment of new international political order and new international economic order on the basis of "Five Principles," namely, mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity; mutual nonaggression; mutual noninterference in each other's internal affairs; equality and mutual benefit; and peaceful co-existence.(Note 3)
Beijing's vision of the new international political order draws on the following assumptions:
Beijing appears willing to play by rules, as President Jiang Zemin declared, "In handling international affairs, China abides strictly by the Charter of the United Nations and the acknowledged norms of international relations and adheres to the principled position of seeking truth from facts and upholding justice."(Note 6) From the U.N. Security Council vote on the Gulf Crisis to the "quiet diplomacy" over the North Korean nuclear program, from consenting to abide by Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) to endorsing the indefinite extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, China seeks to demonstrate that it is a responsible member of the world community. As some observer correctly pointed out, "The PRC has but a 45-year history in the community of nations, and its full participation in global and regional political, economic, and security regimes is a relatively recent phenomenon. Its behavior has increasingly reflected a respect for and commitment to world societal practices and standards."(Note 7)
By comparison with the United States and Japan-whose interests are best served by the existing laws because they are the very makers-China sometimes finds these rules not consistent with and even in opposition to China's political, economic, and strategic interests. In those cases, Beijing's compliance is reluctant and conditional. The case of MTCR is an excellent example. The regime was initiated by the United States and internally discussed among its allies before coming into the open. China was not among those consulted. The spirit of the regime is allegedly to reduce the danger of the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) by controlling the transfer of the delivery means. However, the regime does not prohibit sale of advanced manned-aircraft capable of delivering WMD, such as F-15s and F-16s, which are produced by the United States and its allies. According to the regime, what China can produce (missiles) is prohibited from exportation, while what it cannot manufacture can be sold. Beijing understandably deems this arrangement discriminatory. Nonetheless, in order to gain Most-Favored-Nation trading status from the United States, China promised in late 1991 to abide by the regulations of the regime. Though charges of violations of the MTCR have been raised against China, Beijing flatly denys this and reiterated its compliance with the letter and spirit of the regime.
At best, China is not satisfied with the existent world system nor China's position within it. As such, China is not a status quo power. On the other hand, Beijing is willing to play by the rules and does not unilaterally attempt to rewrite them. In that sense, a rising China need not be regarded as a threat to the international order.
CHINA VIS-A-VIS THE REGION
China's regional identity has undergone a series of changes during the recent 200 years. Before the mid-19th century, it remained the "Middle Kingdom" of the region. From the mid-19th century to mid-20th century, China was the "East Asian sick man." During the first half of the Cold War, the PRC was a member of the Soviet Block. In the second half, Beijing stood as a part of the US/USSR/China Great Triangle; with the end of the Cold War, China is viewed as a rising power.
The region's view of China is mixed. From an economic standpoint, China is primarily seen as a great opportunity. With a population of 1.2 billion, China possesses an unmatched potential for consumption, and this market is expanding rapidly as China's economy undergoes double digit growth. The relatively low labor cost in China makes it lucrative for foreign investment. Countries and areas in the Asia-Pacific region account for 70 percent of China's imports and exports and 85 percent of foreign investment in the country.(Note 8) A 1993 report by the Asian Development Bank predicted that over a period of time the growth in imports by China would become greater than the growth in imports by Japan, meaning that China would be a more powerful engine for the rest of the Asia-Pacific region than Japan. Alternatively, concern has been expressed about China as an economic threat. Some U.S. observers suggest that China is pursuing a mercantilist trade policy, subsidizing exports while limiting imports. Assuming that China's exports continue to soar, neither the U.S. nor the world economy will long be able to cope with Chinese mercantilism.(Note 9) Another concern exists among regional countries that have a relatively equal level of development with China. They find that China is a very effective competitor in attracting foreign capital and exporting labor-intensive manufacturing. On balance, however, the promise of China as a significant market outweighs concerns over its economic threat.
Regional security issues are even more controversial. Since the end of the Cold War, China has accelerated the pace of defense modernization. Its military expenditures are growing at a double-digit rate. Beijing has been buying advanced weapons and sophisticated defense technology from Russia. As China's economy develops, it will be able to channel an increasing amount of resources to the modernization of its armed forces. Differences arise as to how to assess the situation. Tough-minded observers suggest that Beijing will use its growing military power to buttress its assertive stance on Taiwan and the South China Sea, and to expand its political influence beyond its boundaries. Therefore, a rising China is a threat to peace and stability in the Asian-Pacific area. The opposing view argues that China's military buildup should be kept in perspective. China lives with more neighbors than does any other country in the world, and it does have legitimate security concerns. The PLA's weapons systems and technology remain largely at the level of the 1950s and 1960s, lagging far behind the advanced armies of the West and Japan. The budgetary increases were preceded by a decade-long relative decline, and are partly offset by the double-digit inflation. Though Beijing's ultimate objective is to create a military force capable of power projection and the conduct of modern warfare, it will be many years, probably two or three decades, before this goal is achieved.
China's behaviors on certain security issues have led some regional members to voice their concern about China as a regional security threat:
Initially tepid on the idea of multilateral security, Beijing has shifted its stance with development, becoming a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum when it was founded in 1993. Beijing hopes that ARF will become a medium through which the Asian-Pacific countries will widen their consensus on political and security issues and strengthen trust in order to further improve regional security for favorable economic development.(Note 10) Beijing does not object to establishing a Northeast Asian multilateral security mechanism, while pointing out that the key is to get Pyongyang's consent. In 1995, China released the first document on its defense construction, China: Arms Control and Disarmament. This action was intended to dispel the notion of a "China threat" and respond to the call by regional members for greater defense transparency. On the South China Sea issue, Beijing indicated recently its willingness to resolve the dispute based on current law, including the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. This is praised as a "positive step forward" taken by China and is conducive to the peaceful settlement of the issue.(Note 11) With regard to nuclear testing, China stands for the negotiation and conclusion of a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty no later than 1996 and promises to stop nuclear tests once the treaty becomes effective.
Since 1995, China has not been considered a major military threat to East Asia.(Note 12) However, China's long-term impact on regional security remains a significant unknown. Politically, the region's views of China are also mixed. In the 1980s, China was regarded as the most liberal among the Leninist states. Such an image disappeared overnight with the Tiananmen Square incident. The Western world, especially the United States, describes China as a place with rampant political suppression and violation of human rights, and Beijing has become the easy target of attack by various human rights organizations, from the U.N. Commission on Human Rights to Asia Watch. On the other hand, some East Asian nations, such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, expressed their understanding of and sympathy with China's situation. In their opinion, the differences are a matter of different value systems, and the West is not entitled to impose their values on the East. They tend to agree with the PRC leadership that economic and social development should precede democracy and individual freedom. On the whole, most regional members do not view China as a political threat.
Beijing takes seriously the regional view of China; this has something to do with its new diplomatic strategy. In the wake of Tiananmen, when the Western nations declared political sanctions against China, Beijing viewed improving relations with neighboring countries as the top priority of its diplomacy so as to create a favorable environment and counter the adverse impact in the larger international setting. To advance this objective, Beijing has taken a cooperative and conciliatory approach to bilateral regional affairs. In Cambodia, China withheld support for the Khmer Rouge and stood for a settlement favored by the international community. China played a positive role in the North Korean nuclear program. Beijing has resolved almost all the border disputes with Russia, Kazakhstan, Kirghistan, and Tadzhikistan through negotiations. The latest (17th) round of talks between China and the four CIS neighbors reached consensus concerning the enhancement of military trust in the border area, the first political and military document of the kind in the history of the Asian-Pacific region.(Note 13) China has pursued resolution of the Sino-Indian boarder disputes in order to reduce tensions and begin to build mutual trust. China and Vietnam have reached agreement in principle on solving bilateral border and territorial problems. The bilateral government-level and expert-level talks on the issues have achieved progress.(Note 14)
Overall, China poses both opportunities and challenges for the region. In recent years concensus has emerged that it is in the region's best interest to involve and integrate China fully into the regional systems. Neither isolation nor containment is asensible option. China, in turn, has shown a willingness to promote political, economic, and security ties with other regional members and to behave as a responsible power. Now the question is how to expand and sustain the positive initiatives established between China and the regional neighbors.
A MORE COOPERATIVE CHINA
Will a stronger China become more cooperative or more confrontational? There are two different theories. The liberal school suggests that growing interdependence with the world community will make China behave more cooperatively, while realists argue that greater economic strength would embolden a powerful China to go its own way. How China deals with the world depends to some extent on how the world treats China. A very practical question is at the heart of the issue: will the existing world system accommodate China's legitimate interests which are critical to the materialization of its major power aspiration? There is a long list of China's national interests, but three issues particularly concern Beijing at the current stage, namely, national unification, economic development, and political stability.(Note 15)
National unification occupies a special position on China's national agenda for a number of reasons. Chief among them, the Chinese cultural tradition values "Great national unity." For past and present state-rulers, attainment of national unification is a great merit, while loss of land would be a fatal shame. Second, China's territorial integrity suffered seriously from the aggression by the Western powers and Japan during the "Century of Humiliation." The accomplishment of national unification would mark the removal of the last vestige of the Western subjugation.
As Hong Kong and Macao are scheduled to return to China in 1997 and 1999, respectively, the Taiwan issue is drawing growing attention among China's ruling elite and the populace. In addition to the influence of historical and cultural factors mentioned above, Beijing's position on the issue is also driven by other considerations. Similar to USSR, China feels allowing Taiwan to go its own way may encourage other ethnic minority areas, such as Xinjiang, Tibet, and Mongolia to follow. Credibility and legitimacy of the current regime will suffer tremendously. Additionally, on strategic significance China would lose control of its door to the Western Pacific. Therefore, the PRC leadership is determined to bring Taiwan back at any cost. While calling for peaceful unification by the formula of "one country, two systems," Beijing declares that it retains the right to use force against Taiwan should the island seek de jure independence.
The recent years witnessed both the expansion of cross-Taiwan Straits exchanges in economic, cultural, social, and other circles, the growth of pro-independence forces on the island, and the further meddling of the Taiwan issue by certain foreign influence, particularily the United States and Japan. China is very much concerned with any action on the part of foreign countries that may serve to ferment the secessionist momentum on the island. The People's Liberation Army's missile exercises in waters adjacent to Taiwan in summer 1995 following Taiwanese leader Li-Tenghui's visit to Cornell University is an example of Beijing's extreme sensitivity to foreign influence on the issue. In fact, China views the Taiwan issue as a touchstone with the international community in general, and the United States and Japan in particular, to see who would like to see a unified China, whether or not they respect China's national feeling, its sovereignty, and its territorial integrity. So long as other nations' ties with Taiwan are confined to the nonofficial level, it is OK. Any attempt to develop official relations with the island would be seen by Beijing as unfriendly, hostile, and provocative.
Sustained economic growth has been the first priority on China's national agenda since the late 1970s. To advance this objective, China needs desperately to widen access to foreign markets, capital, and technology. Beijing attaches great importance to its full participation in the world economic and trade system. Since 1986, China has been working to resume its membership in GATT and, most recently, to join the newly established World Trade Organization (WTO). However, there exists a serious difference between China and the developed countries, especially the United States, over the price of China's admission ticket. China requests that it be treated as a developing nation and seeks conditions commensurate with such a status. Beijing declares that it will by no means sacrifice the prospect of future development for the present admission to the body. In view of the already remarkable scale of China's economy and its strong momentum of growth, the developed nations insist that China should enter WTO as a developed economy bearing commensurate obligations. While Beijing complains that such demands are excessive and driven by political motivation-which implies that some developed nations are unwilling to see a stronger China-the developed nations claim that this is a purely an economic issue, and they just want to see China's domestic economic and financial structure and trade practice further adapted to the international standards. The prospect of reaching agreement on the issue remains remote, and as time goes on, Beijing is running out of patience, viewing the case as an example of U.S. containment policy.
Political stability is of special concern to Beijing. The failure of communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union caused the PRC leadership to feel isolated internationally. Economic prosperity is creating growing pressure for greater political democratization, which tends to challenge the monopoly of power by the Communist Party. As the post-Deng era approaches, the political situation could become delicate, complicated and, to some extent, unstable. A wide array of social problems, from widespread corruption to growing unemployment, also poses threats to political stability. What particularly concerns the PRC leadership is the so-called "peaceful evolution" strategy pursued by the Western world. In the 1980s, the Western nations, in order to unite with China to resist the Soviet threat, supported China's economic reform and political stability. With the end of the Cold War, however, some Western countries changed their conciliatory and collaborative attitudes toward China and selected it as a major target for the application of the "peaceful evolution" strategy. Such a strategy, in the eyes of Beijing, includes using economic aid and trade as a means to exercise political influence; enhancing ideological and cultural penetration through various channels; stirring up antigovernment sentiment in China; and supporting political dissidents and nurturing pro-Western forces.(Note 16) Most recently, the PRC leadership describes the Western political schemes against China as attempts of "Westernization" and Adivision."(Note 17)
What China will become-either a grateful and cooperative power or a vengeful and confrontational one-depends very much on how the Western nations, especially the United States, deal with China's concerns. To work for the improved outcome, first and foremost, the Western world should fully understand China's sensitivity to the Taiwan issue and recognize the legitimacy of its aspiration for national unification. While urging Beijing to seek a peaceful solution, the international community should abstain from taking actions that may serve to abet secessionist momentum on the island and should make it clear that any attempt to violently alter the status quo in the Taiwan straits will directly threaten peace and stability in East Asia.
It is self-evident that without China's presence, the WTO's universality would be in question and its operation can hardly be said to be smooth. The United States and other contracting parties should support and facilitate China's full participation in the organization at a reasonable price, which means the acceptance of China's economy as a developing one on the whole, while asking Beijing to comply with rules followed by advanced countries in certain areas where its competitive power is quite strong.
It should also be understood that political stability is in the interests not only of China, but of the world as well. A chaotic China would turn out to be the primary destablizing factor in the region. The Western world, while expecting further improvement in human rights and legal system in China and a modification of the authoritarian nature of its political system, should be fully aware of the magnitude of difficulty with China's political transformation and should place hope on the internal dynamics of change generated by China's economic and social progress.
In addition to the above-suggested conciliatory gesture, it is desirable that the international community respond positively to China's emergence as a major power so long as Beijing appears willing to play by the international rules. Dissemination of the notion of "China threat" and contemplation of a preemptive containment policy towards China will only make Beijing feel nervous and suspicious, making cooperation much harder to bring about. Even worse, it could create a self-fulfilling prophecy by making China into an adversary.
As China's overall national strength increases, Beijing's self-confidence will grow and its diplomacy will become more flexible, rational, and mature. As the international community takes a conciliatory approach to China's major concerns, Beijing would feel less threatened or challenged and will find the maintenance of the existent world system also in China's interests. As a result, a constructive interaction between China, the region, and the international community can be secured.
THREE AREAS STAND OUT AS POTENTIAL SOURCES OF CONFLICT FOR disrupting Asian-Pacific security: The Korean peninsula, the Formosa Strait, and the South China Sea. The three states with the greatest effective power at their disposal in the region-the United States, China, and Japan-have considerable strategic interests in all three areas. While the strategic interests of the United States are arguably greater than China's in the Korean peninsula, only China is directly involved as a participant in these potential areas of conflict.
While the South China Sea appears to have the least destructive firepower and casualty potential among the three areas of conflict, it does appear to have the greatest potential for incidents which could significantly increase the tensions in the region. Therefore, an examination of the conflict surrounding the South China Sea, specifically the Spratly Islands, is in order.
THE SOUTH CHINA SEA AND THE SPRATLYS
There are four major areas of dispute in the South China Sea: the Paracels, contested by China, Taiwan and Vietnam; the Gulf of Tonkin, contested by China and Vietnam; Pratas Island and Macclesfield Bank, contested by China and Taiwan; and the Spratlys, contested in whole or in part by six littoral parties-China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. This paper addresses only the issue relating to the Spratlys, which is the most complicated of the four given the number of claimants involved.
Mohamed Jawhar bin Hassan is Deputy Director-General, Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia. Dr. Jawhar has written several papers, including the most recent, "An Asia Pacific Arms Register: Utility and Prospects" in Towards a Regional Arms Register in the Asia Pacific, ed. Ralph A. Cossa, Pacific Forum CSIS Occasional Papers.
China and Taiwan claim about 80 percent of the entire South China Sea, bounded by a U-shaped line that China proclaimed in 1947 and that appears on Chinese official maps. In July 1995, China issued a policy statement indicating that it is "ready to work together with the countries concerned to resolve appropriately the relevant disputes according to recognized international law, (and) the contemporary law of the sea, including basic principles and the legal regime defined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea."(Note 1) What this position exactly implies in relation to the previous claim is not clear. Perhaps China now claims onlythose islands and features bounded by the U-shaped line. Or China may be contemplating laying claim only to those features ceded to Taiwan by Japan in 1945. In either case, problems of conflicting claims remain.
Vietnam claims all the islands and features that are above sea level in the Spratlys. The Philippines claim all features (above sea level as well as submerged) in the area it calls Kalayaan (Freedomland). Malaysia claims seven features, while Brunei has laid claim to a 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which includes Louisa Reef, also claimed by Malaysia.
The contending parties base their claims on various grounds. For example, China, Taiwan, and Vietnam base theirs on archeological discoveries and effective occupation. Manila's claim, as contained in a presidential decree of June, 1978, is based on "history, indispensable need, and effective occupation and control." Malaysia's claim is based on the grounds that the features are located on its continental shelf. Currently, Vietnam occupies 22 features, the largest number among the claimants. China occupies 9 (including Mischief Reef), the Philippines 8, Malaysia 3, and Taiwan one.
THE INTERESTS OF CHINA, THE UNITED STATES, AND JAPAN
There is no doubt that China's first interest is its perceived territorial integrity in the area. However frivolous Beijing's claim may appear to others, China believes the Spratlys have been part of Chinese territory since at least the Qing or Han period.(Note 2) Even more than most states, territory is an important issue for China, one for which it is prepared to go to considerable lengths to defend and to prevent from falling into "alien" hands. As nationalist fervor replaces ideological appeal, it is possible China will become even more intransigent on sovereignty issues, with the People's Liberation Army (PLA) particularly hawkish on this issue.(Note 3) If China becomes domestically unstable, say, following the death of Deng Xiaoping, the PLA could exert even greater influence, and Chinese policy on the Spratlys could become more assertive, if only to divert attention away from internal inconsistencies.
Economic interests are an important factor in China's calculus. The Spratlys are believed in some quarters, especially by China, to contain large reserves of oil and gas, although estimates vary and are often based on incomplete information. A 1989 survey by China is reported to have indicated that the seabed contained 25 billion cubic meters of natural gas and 105 billion barrels of oil. China's Geology and Mineral Resources Ministry estimates that the Spratlys has oil and natural-gas reserves of 17.7 billion tons. In order to pursue its economic interests as well as to reinforce its claims and complicate any counter measures contemplated by other claimants, China will be keen to engage foreign oil companies including those from Japan and the United States, to explore and drill in disputed waters. The offshore oil block granted by Beijing to the Crestone Energy Corporation is a case in point. In this manner American and Japanese interests will become entangled with those of the Chinese.
Oil supplies are a particularly urgent problem for China, whose energy needs are rising sharply as a consequence of rapid development. In order to meet its production targets (155 million tons in 1995 and 200 million tons in 2000), China has been forced to intensify exploration of new fields, and the South China Sea has been identified as one of 10 major sites for oil and gas exploration. As China becomes a net important of oil, possibly as early as this year, the sea lanes of the South China Sea will assume even greater strategic significance.(Note 4)
All littoral states, including China, have a security interest in the South China Sea and the Spratlys. Although the major sea routes lie some distance from the Spratlys proper, control over the Spratlys will allow dominance over these routes. In normal circumstances this would not be threatening, as all states have a direct interest in keeping the sea lanes open and flowing for their mutual benefit. When relations become tense or hostile however, who has control may take on an ominous significance.
China has traditionally been weak in its maritime defenses. Having primarily focused on securing its land borders from external threat, Beijing is now intent on modernizing its Navy. Incidents that have caused attention include:
China is already the biggest "local" military power in the region, although the distance of the Spratlys from the mainland and Hainan Island impose some handicaps upon China's capacity to project power into the Spratlys. Notwithstanding the enhancement of the military capabilities of the other claimants, China's relative superiority is expected to increase further in the near future as China continues to develop its blue water capability.
In addition to meeting its defense needs, China's increased military power will also strengthen its deterrent and intimidatory capacity in the event of any confrontation in the Spratlys. Improvements by claimants in the military balance may not be conducive to security in the Spratlys as it might heighten the propensity of China to resort to force as it did in 1974 and 1988. Beijing does have strong interests in maintaining a stable and peaceful external environment and having friendly relations with ASEAN countries, of which several are claimants in the Spratley Islands. Beijing's preference, therefore, would be to use its superior military power to acquire the political edge in negotiations over disputed territory, implicitly reducing the bargaining strength of the other claimants as China's military strength grows.
THE UNITED STATES
The United States is both a global and regional power with diverse and far flung interests in the East Asian/Western Pacific region. Its interests in the Spratlys are intertwined with these wider interests. The end of the Cold War and resource constraints have caused the United States to modify its strategies, reducing its presence and commitment to the area accordingly. The primary strategic interest of the South China Sea to the United States is the important sealines of communication. As 25 percent of the world's shipping transits the area, Washington's primary interest is that these sea lanes are secure for shipping and free from harassment.
U.S. security arrangements with Japan places the onus upon Washington to protect Japan's supply routes. Treaty obligations with the Philippines also imposes certain security obligations upon the United States, though not to the extent of protecting Manila's claims in the Kalayaan. Further, the presence of America companies in the South China Sea and in the vicinity of the Spratlys engage U.S. interest in their safety, especially in the event of conflict between rival claimants in their area of operations.
Despite having reduced its presence in the region and the resource constraints upon her capability to play a role in the area, the United States would like continue to exercise a major influence. Although Beijing may prefer that Washington keeps out of the issues in the Spratlys, several other states in the region such as the Philippines and Singapore would like the United States to play the role of a "balance" to China and Japan.
Washington has been careful to stress that it has no position on the legal merits of any claims in the area but would like to see conflicting claims resolved peacefully. It strongly opposes the use of force and has a primary interest in ensuring that sea lanes are secure. The United States has also made it clear that it is against claims that go beyond those recognized by the Convention on the Law of the Sea an international law.(Note 7)
It is unlikely that the United States will get militarily involved in any skirmish, isolated "island grabbing," or limited conflict among disputants in the area. Unless the security of maritime communications is threatened, Washington will not see its interests as being sufficiently affected. An outright push to dislodge all other claimants and seize control of the Spratlys by one of the claimant could draw a military response from the United States. However, the likelihood of one claimant seizing additional islands is not viewed as a possibility because of the many problems associated with such an action.
Several factors combine to place the United States and China on colliding paths:
Similarly, Tokyo is apprehensive about the rise in Chinese military expenditure and the enhancement of Chinese military capabilities in recent years, although it spends more on arms than China. Japan has spent U.S. $56 billion budget for 1995 compared to estimated Chinese expenditure of U.S. $28 billion in 1994 and probably about U.S. $31 billion in 1995.(Note 8)
Japan is a critical trading partner and investor in all claimant states and is involved in financing or operating some of the oil explorations in the South China Sea. Japan also places great emphasis upon regional peace and stability and would also like to see the disputes in the Spratlys resolved peacefully. Consistent with its strategic interests and a desire to play a more prominent regional and global role, Japan will also be supportive of cooperative ventures among and with the claimants in various functional fields.
THE POTENTIAL FOR CONFLICT
Clearly, the likelihood of conflict in the Spratlys cannot be ruled out. The clashes between China and Vietnam in the Paracels in 1974 and in the Spratlys in 1988 suggest that similar conflicts could occur in the future. All claimants except Brunei have armed garrisons in the Spratlys that are strengthened from time to time. There have been numerous minor incidents-arrests of fishermen in disputed waters; the planting of markers and their removal or destruction by rivals; show of force by naval vessels; warning shorts fired against approaching craft; and prevention of passage or access to exploration and drilling fields, which could have led to an escalation of hostilities if circumstances had deteriorated.
A combination of some of the following circumstances could bring about an outbreak of hostilities:
THE "TRIPARTITE" APPROACH TO THE SPRATLYS
Addressing the Spratlys problem in the context of a tripartite United States-China-Japan nexus does have its merits and uses. After all, these are the three preeminent economic and military powers in the region. China definitely has a major impact on the Spratlys issue and its moderation. The United States has a tremendous capacity to influence, though only limited interest and political will. Japan has major interest, but a limited capacity to influence events despite its extensive economic sinews and a modern defense force.
Inherent complications and limitations aside, reliance upon a "great power" approach to conflict resolution in the Spratlys may be somewhat simplistic and even anachronistic in the more multipolarised environment emerging in the region. The capacity of the great powers has declined, and medium-size powers and entities are gaining in significance and in the exercise of effective clout. In the case of Spratlys, a "quadripartite" approach that includes ASEAN as well will be more reflective of realities and prove to be more productive.
MECHANISMS AND MEASURES FOR CONFLICT PREVENTION
The preceding discussion on the factors constraining the conflict potential in the Spratlys gives an idea of the mechanisms currently available to prevent or contain conflict in the Spratlys. The more significant ones are discussed below.
ASEAN is in itself a confidence-building and conflict reduction device for its members. This was its primary purpose when it was instituted in 1967 following the end of konfrontasi, and it remains a critical element of ASEAN today.
The collaborative and cooperative spirit that underlies ASEAN spawned the idea of a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN), the 1976 Declaration of ASEAN Concord, the 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, and the 1992 ASEAN Declaration on the South China Sea. Though essentially declaratory and normative in their import, these devices have together fostered an environment that makes major conflict and outbreak of hostilities among ASEAN members extremely unlikely although tensions may surface occasionally.
Vietnam's membership in ASEAN beginning 1995 has significantly reduced the prospects for conflict over disputed claims in the Spratlys between Vietnam and the other ASEAN claimants, in particular Malaysia and Philippines. The conflict lines today are essentially between China and the other ASEAN claimants.
Following the Mischief Reef incident, ASEAN has also become an effective instrument for mobilizing political and diplomatic constraints upon aggressive Chinese actions in the Spratlys. More importantly, by acting collectively in discussions with China ASEAN has served to reduce the disparity in strategic weight between the individual ASEAN claimants and China.
A concrete mechanism for dispute settlement-the High Council-provided for by Chapter lV of the Treaty of Amity has not been constituted. Considering the many territorial disputes that exist in the region, several of which still persist (the Sabah claim, Pulau Batu Putih/Pedra Blanca, Ligitan dan Sipadan, and the contested territory among ASEAN states in the Spratlys), this may appear somewhat surprising, but the reasons may be found in a number of factors:
As stated earlier, the agreement normalizing relations between China and Vietnam contains provisions for the nonuse of force in settling territorial disputes. Similar provisions are available in the Treaty of Amity and the ASEAN Declaration on the South China. These bind the ASEAN claimants to the Spratlys to the nonuse of force. While these instruments are of themselves inadequate to prevent conflict, a reinforcement of such arrangements could generally strengthen the environment for conflict prevention in the Spratlys. A multilateral agreement not to use force among all claimants covering only the Spratlys or the South China Sea as a whole, and bilateral agreements between individual ASEAN claimants on the one hand (with the exception of Vietnam) and China on the other, deserve consideration.
MULTILATERAL PROCESS FOR DIALOGUE
Besides ASEAN, the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference, the ASEAN Regional Forum at the government level, and the Indonesian-sponsored workshops on managing conflict in the South China Sea at the "track two" level provide fora for addressing the Spratlys issues. The Council on Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) can also provide a similar forum if the issue of Chinese membership can be resolved.
Beijing is averse to discussing the problem in larger multilateral fora where its relative weight may be diluted. It is also worried that these fora may be generally unfavorably disposed to the Chinese position and therefore biased. If, however, these reservations can be overcome by assurances that they are only fora for dialogue and consultation and questions of sovereignty will not be discussed unless there is agreement to do so, then avenues for confidence building can be augmented.
The Indonesian-sponsored workshops, which are meant to go beyond dialogue to addressing specific proposals for cooperation and conflict-reduction, is reported to be encountering some difficulties in sustaining its momentum mainly because of to Chinese reluctance. Beijing's reservations regarding the impartiality of Indonesia may also detract somewhat from the potential of this process. Nevertheless, it has many strengths, primary among which is the fact that it is an informal forum involving all claimants dedicated to addressing the issue of the Spratlys. The full potential of this process has yet to be realized.
All claimants have professed that they are supportive of engaging in joint cooperation and development ventures while setting aside the question of sovereignty. Given the intractability of territorial issues in general and the issues in the multipleclaim Spratlys in particular, joint development of resources and cooperation in various functional areas is a practical and rewarding means of exploiting wealth for mutual benefit instead of leaving resources unexploited because of disputes over jurisdiction. They can also be important confidence-building and conflict-reduction measures, committing disputants to cooperative regimes that inhibit conflict over sovereignty.
The ASEAN Declaration on the South China Sea, the agreement on normalization between China and Vietnam and the Sino-Philippine code of conduct all provide for exploring joint development and joint cooperation schemes. Several proposals for joint cooperation have been proposed and explored by various quarters, including at the Indonesian-sponsored workshops. Some analysts have also examined the possibilities in some depth.(Note 9)
None of the proposals for multilateral cooperation has so far been implemented. Even bilateral cooperation initiatives among the South China Sea disputants have met great difficulties. Among the problems have been a lack of trust, reluctance to share resources, differences regarding the area that should be jointly exploited, and the absence of the discovery of any substantial resources.
Proposals for functional cooperation thathave secured general agreement or for which there is no strong opposition, such as marine scientific management and research on biodiversity, have also been less than enthusiastically pursued. The main reason is that these proposals are motivated more by confidence-building/conflict-reduction considerations than by an inherent compelling need or urgency for such cooperation.
Nevertheless, joint cooperation will become eminently attractive and feasible when large deposits of oil are discovered in hotly disputed territory where no interested party is able to assert its will. More acceptable and workable formulae for joint exploitation may also make specific proposals more feasible.
Obviously, conflict-prevention measures concerning security and the military are critically important given the armed occupation of features in the Spratlys by all parties except Brunei, the continuing enhancement of military capabilities, display of military presence, shooting incidents, etc. Several measures should be given serious consideration in this regard and be pursued despite any preliminary opposition:
Perhaps even more important would be the careful cultivation and preservation of a strategic environment in which all parties, including outside powers, have a vested and overwhelming interest in maintaining peace and prosperity in the region. This will ensue naturally from the maximum and productive engagement of all parties in the economic development of the region, leading to a shared and mutual interest in sustaining peace and stability in the area.