Speaking as former Secretary General of the Council of Europe on de-escalation on the Korean Peninsula, on peace and security in Eastern Asia is a real challenge. For millenniums Europe itself was far away from forming unity and providing peace. On the contrary, the smallest of all continents has been the scene of many wars, some of them called the “100 years war” or the “30 years war”.
The latter involved most of the European countries and was one of the most destructive armed conflicts in history.
Between 1618 and 1648 more than half of the European population died because of direct or indirect consequences of the fighting. In the 20th century this history of bloody conflicts culminated once again in conflicts which became global, 100 years ago Europeans started World War I and 75 years ago World War II. Many historians dealt this year of centenary of WWI with its causes.
I dare to say that there are always the same threats to peace and security: lack of communication, stereotypes and prejudices and ignorance.
Current conflicts, in the Middle East, in Africa, but also in Eastern Europe may persuade us to repeat the saying that history gives lessons all the time, but nobody is learning them.
However there are examples where the lessons of history were not only listened to but were transformed into dialogue, mutual understanding, and at the end to friendship. One example is the process of European unification including the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall. But there are other, in my view exiting examples too.
E.g. South Africa, which was also divided, not in a territorial sense but inside the nation. In all these positive examples you will see three key words and principles: dialogue, reconciliation and truth.
While after World War I it were only a few people who were ready to learn the lessons, during the World War II people started to prepare the new after-war-Europe based on a common cultural and spiritual heritage. It was in the middle of World War II, in 1943, when the famous British statesman Sir Winston Churchill surprised the listeners of his weekly radio address.
He suggested that after the war all nations of Europe including the current enemies should form a “Council of Europe” to unite the continent in peace and through cooperation.
In the aftermath of the horrors of the Second World War, the main concern of the founding fathers of the European unification was to create a system that would ensure lasting peaceful co-operation between all European nations based on common values. Unfortunately the post-war period in Europe was also marked by the political and material division of Europe with the emergence of the iron curtain.
The division, which has had a deep and traumatic impact on Europe, was characterized by an ideological confrontation between two political systems. Europe was breathing, to quote Pope John Paul II, only with one lung.
But beside this deep ideological and military rift Europe could avoid direct military confrontation, I would like to say, also because of the remembrance of the horrors of the WWII.
And in this context I have to pay tribute and bend my knees in front of the victims of the nuclear tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Their unimaginable suffering saved the world from further tragic nuclear experiences. And the legacy of the dead or livelong suffering and handicapped people from Hiroshima and Nagasaki must be nuclear disarmament, in particular in Eastern Asia!
But before turning to East Asia and the Korean Peninsula, let me return to the European example.
An important step to overcome the rift in the common home of Europe was the conference on security and cooperation in Europe with the Helsinki accord of 1975 signed by 35 countries including the U.S. and the Soviet Union, that promotes human rights as well as cooperation in economic, social, and cultural progress. The Helsinki accord proved that Europe had still much more in common than what could divide the continent.
The OSCE – Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – emerged from the Helsinki Conference.
It plays an important role up to today and is covering Europe, Central Asia and North America except Mexico. Currently the OSCE is monitoring the Ukrainian crisis. The OSCE is not unknown in East Asia as three countries of the region – Japan, Mongolia and South Korea are already partners for cooperation of the OSCE.
14 years later, 1989/1990 dramatic political but peaceful changes swept through Europe as consequence of several factors.
Michael Gorbachev’s perestroika was one of them, the collapse of centrally planned economy in the communist countries was another one. But in my view the most important factor was the people. The peoples of the countries separated from the other part of Europe by the Iron Curtain wanted to choose their governments themselves like in the Western part of Europe.
In my view it was not the end of history as proclaimed by Francis Fukuyama, no, it was the return to the better part of European history.
Central, Eastern and South-eastern Europe could join the path of peace and reconciliation which was chosen by the Western European democracies in the late 40ies and early 50ies of the last century when the Council of Europe and the European Communities were created. The Council of Europe goes back to the already mentioned courageous idea of Winston Churchill and the European Union, former the European Communities, goes back to the idea of French foreign minister Robert Schuman.
The enemies of yesterday should administrate the main resources of armament, coal and steel, together in order to make wars between them impossible.
However, there was also still mistrust among nations in the after-war-decade. And the ideas were not totally new. The Austrian aristocrat with a Japanese mother, Richard Coudenhove-Calerghi, created after the WWI the Paneuropa-movement and proposed United States of Europe.
A programme of European Christian-Democratic Parties in the 30ies spoke about a common market, a term which is familiar to the European Union.
What was essential for the success of these ideas in the aftermath of WWII was that they were accompanied by a large movement of reconciliation or you may call it also spirit of reconciliation. Reconciliation of former enemies has been seen throughout Europe, for example between France and Germany, Austria and Italy, Germany and Poland, Russia and Germany.
This reconciliation is at the same time a prerequisite of European unification as well as a result of it. I do not dare to answer the famous question who was first the chicken or the egg. Reconciliation is taking place also in South Eastern Europe. The enemies of yesterday are sitting together in a Regional Council and are co-operating in a free trade area. I do not want to hide that there are still problems, like the functioning and complicated structures of the common state institutions in Bosnia-Herzegovina and a fair and just solution for all inhabitants of Kosovo.
There are still problems in the Caucasus and the already mentioned Ukrainian and Crimean crisis. But in the spirit of the new Europe dialogue and mutual understanding should help to solve these problems too.
What was decisive that reconciliation could take place, became reality in every day’s live of the nations concerned? These were of course several and different aspects. It needed politicians who were convinced that they couldn’t do more for the security and a live in peace for their nations than to reconcile with the neighbours and enemies of the past.
E.g. it was important for German-Polish and perhaps even more for German-Jewish reconciliation when German Chancellor Willy Brandt fell on Dec.7, 1970 on his knees in front of the monument of the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto. And it fostered without any doubt the French-German reconciliation when President Charles de Gaulle and Bundeskanzler Konrad Adenauer met on the battle fields of WWI and when the two old men embraced each other after signing the Treaty of Elysee between their countries.
But the sustainable reconciliation happened at grass root level, when more than 8 million young Germans and French participated in the youth exchange or when Italians and Austrians worked together in the mountains of Northern Italy, 2000 to 4000 meters above sea level, to turn the trenches and shelters of WWI into mountain trails.
One may ask whether this concept can be exported or better to say, imported? The African Union, for example, followed already the model of the Council of Europe but with the goal to reach the level of integration of the European Union.
This will of course be not very easy due to different political systems in the member countries and they still face serious conflicts to overcome, may I just refer to Congo and Sudan. But the vision is already there.
The Americans have their Organisation of American states and NAFTA, the free trade zone of USA, Canada and Mexico, South America has Mercosur. In East Asia and the Pacific you will find several attempts to enhanced cooperation, from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (without Japan), the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (with Japan as observer), to ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Asian+3, with again Japan, China and South Korea on board.
To some extent these cooperation organisations or entities are still a mirror of political and ideological rifts and differences, some are already crossing ideological dividing lines, some still need some deepening of trustful cooperation.
As East and South East Asia has a history of conflicts like Europe and is still facing ideological rifts, reconciliation of former enemies and rivals should play a similar role like in Europe in order to achieve peace, stability and security for all.
When Willy Brandt fell on his knees in Warsaw in 1970 Europe was still divided, the Federal Republic of Germany belonged to the democratic West and NATO, and Poland belonged to the Communist Bloc and the Warsaw Pact.
This did not hinder Willy Brandt to apologize for the crimes and atrocities carried out by Nazi-Germany. He demonstrated that reconciliation is possible across political and ideological boundaries.
To achieve, what is the aim of today’s conference, de-escalation in Eastern Asia and in particular on the Korean Peninsula, you need the same spirit and readiness for dialogue and reconciliation.
On all sides you need the cognition that across existing boundaries and rifts there is much more people have in common than what could divide them. So, where to should such a cognition or recognition lead?
First of all, continue and develop what is already there, e.g. the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership which is in the state of promising negotiations between the member countries of ASEAN, the three additional members of ASEAN Plus Three, i.e. China, Japan and South Korea, and Australia, India and New Zealand. These 16 countries should not form an exclusive club.
They should express from the very beginning the openness for others, in particular for North Korea. It will demonstrate that economic cooperation is bringing many more advantages than military confrontation.
The same applies to already existing areas of economic cooperation between North and South Korea, e.g. the Kaesong North-South Korean industrial complex.
But there are other modalities too such as traditional arm’s-length trade and investment and processing on commission (POC) trade.
Despite all difficulties and backlashes one shouldn’t underestimate the contribution of economic cooperation to de-escalation. It was also one of the European experiences during the time of the so-called Cold War when Western and Eastern Germany developed economic ties.
Another option at East Asian multilateral level would be to follow the European example of the Helsinki process. As already mentioned it was an important contribution to security and cooperation in Europe when in 1975 35 countries from both sides of the Iron Curtain including the U.S. and the Soviet Union met for a conference.
The aim was promoting human rights as well as cooperation in economic, social, and cultural fields. Like the OSCE a Conference and in consequence an Organization for Security and Cooperation in East Asia (OSCEA) of all countries of the region including of course Russia but also the “trans-pacific” USA could be a platform for de-escalation and prevention of conflicts. The OSCE participating states Russia and USA as well as the East Asian partners for cooperation of the OSCE could certainly help with their know-how. The organization itself will for sure assist too.
Looking to the map, OSCE and a new OSCEA would cover the northern and central part of Asia, Europe and North America, forming a kind of belt of security and cooperation.
I could also imagine that either some East Asian states bilaterally or international organisations of East Asia could organize even multilaterally youth exchange following the very successful French-German example. I am afraid that such a proposal is coming too early for North and South Korea, but I would see another opportunity that is a pressing issue for many Koreans at the same time.
Millions of families were separated following the division of the Korean peninsula in 1945 and the 1950-53 Korean War. There have been family reunification events in the past on a relatively small scale. But many more separated families who had no contacts at all for more than 60 years are desperately waiting to see their relatives. Reassuming family reunification talks and programs would certainly be a way to better mutual understanding.
Let me come to my last proposal in a very sensitive area.
You remember that I mentioned the Schuman-Plan that stood at the cradle of the European Union, avoiding future wars by common administration of the resources of conventional warfare, coal and steel. Today’s challenge is not the resources of traditional warfare but the threat of nuclear war.
I repeat that the legacy of the dead or livelong suffering and handicapped people from Hiroshima and Nagasaki m be non-proliferation of nuclear arms and disarmament, in particular in East Asia.
On the other hand, still some countries including North and South Korea want to use atomic energy peacefully. But it’s well known, it is not a very big step from nuclear power plant to the production of atomic bombs. The best way to overcome the mutual mistrust would be to form a nuclear community on the Korean Peninsula, administrating peaceful atomic energy together and holding the peninsula free from nuclear bombs.
Coming to the end of my intervention I would like to summarize.
It is worth to follow the European example how to create an area of peace and stability. Courageous leaders have to admit wrongdoings and crimes of the past and should see reconciliation with former enemies as the best way to provide peace and security for the own nation. Overcoming the threats of non-communication, stereotypes and prejudices as well as ignorance and based on a spirit of truth, dialogue and reconciliation inclusive cooperation on a regional level regarding economy as well as security should be intensified.
On the Korean Peninsula existing economic cooperation should be intensified with a very special solution for the nuclear power.
At grass root level the spirit of reconciliation shall be implemented through a wide program of youth exchange and on the Korean Peninsula more separated families should have the opportunity to meet. May be all this sounds like a dream.
But let me by concluding modify a word of Vaclav Havel, who said, if we don’t dream of a better Europe, we will never get a better Europe.
If you don’t dream of East Asia in peace and prosperity, of a Korean Peninsula without confrontation, you will never get it.
Why is the Korean Reunification not to Work anytime soon
How to draw the line between the recent and still unsettled EU/EURO crisis and Asia’s success story? Well, it might be easier than it seems: Neither Europe nor Asia has any alternative. The difference is that Europe well knows there is no alternative – and therefore is multilateral. Asia thinks it has an alternative – and therefore is strikingly bilateral, while stubbornly residing enveloped in economic egoisms. No wonder that Europe is/will be able to manage its decline, while Asia is (still) unable to capitalize its successes.
Asia clearly does not accept any more the lead of the post-industrial and post-Christian Europe, but is not ready for the post-West world.
Following the famous saying allegedly spelled by Kissinger: “Europe? Give me a name and a phone number!” (when – back in early 1970s – urged by President Nixon to inform Europeans on the particular US policy action), the author is trying to examine how close is Asia to have its own telephone number.
Another fallacy is that the German reunification can be just copied. 15 days at any German institute of political science and one becomes expert of reunification. Yes, Germany is a success story since the neighbors were extremely forgiving. And that was enhanced by the overall pan-continental commitment to multilateralism – by both institutions and instruments. Europe of German re-unification was the most multilateralised region of the world. Asia today is extremely bilateral – not far from the constellations at the time of Hiroshima or Korean War of 1950s. No multilateralism – no denuclearisation; no denuclearisation – no reunification; no reunification – no overall cross-continental tranquilization of relations; no tranquility – no Asia’s sustainable success.
Why multilateralism matters? Author tries to answer it …
By contrasting and comparing genesis of multilateral security structures in Europe with those currently existing in Asia, and by listing some of the most pressing security challenges in Asia, this policy paper offers several policy incentives why the largest world’s continent must consider creation of the comprehensive pan-Asian institution. Prevailing security structures in Asia are bilateral and mostly asymmetric while Europe enjoys multilateral, balanced and symmetric setups (American and African continents too). Author goes as far as to claim that irrespective to the impressive economic growth, no Asian century will emerge without creation of such an institution.
For over a decade, many of the relevant academic journals are full of articles prophesizing the 21st as the Asian century. The argument is usually based on the impressive economic growth, increased production and trade volumes as well as the booming foreign currency reserves and exports of many populous Asian nations, with nearly 1/3 of total world population inhabiting just two countries of the largest world’s continent. However, history serves as a powerful reminder by warning us that economically or/and demographically mighty gravity centers tend to expand into their peripheries, especially when the periphery is weaker by either category. It means that any absolute or relative shift in economic and demographic strength of one subject of international relations will inevitably put additional stress on the existing power equilibriums and constellations that support this balance in the particular theater of implicit or explicit structure.
Lessons of the Past
Thus, what is the state of art of Asia’s security structures? What is the existing capacity of preventive diplomacy and what instruments are at disposal when it comes to early warning/ prevention, fact-finding, exchange mechanisms, reconciliation, capacity and confidence– building measures in the Asian theater?
While all other major theaters do have the pan-continental settings in place already for many decades, such as the Organization of American States – OAS (American continent), African Union – AU (Africa), Council of Europe and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – OSCE (Europe), the state-of-arts of the largest world’s continent is rather different. What becomes apparent, nearly at the first glance, is the absence of any pan-Asian security/ multilateral structure. Prevailing security structures are bilateral and mostly asymmetric. They range from the clearly defined and enduring non-aggression security treaties, through less formal arrangements, up to the Ad hoc cooperation accords on specific issues. The presence of the multilateral regional settings is limited to a very few spots in the largest continent, and even then, they are rarely mandated with security issues in their declared scope of work. Another striking feature is that most of the existing bilateral structures have an Asian state on one side, and either peripheral or external protégé country on the other side which makes them nearly per definition asymmetric. The examples are numerous: the US–Japan, the US– S. Korea, the US–Singapore, Russia–India, Australia–East Timor, Russia–North Korea, Japan –Malaysia, China–Pakistan, the US–Pakistan, China–Cambodia, the US–Saudi Arabia, Russia –Iran, China–Burma, India–Maldives, Iran–Syria, N. Korea–Pakistan, etc.
Indeed, Asia today resonates a mixed echo of the European past. It combines features of the pre-Napoleonic, post-Napoleonic and the League-of-Nations Europe. What are the useful lessons from the European past? Well, there are a few, for sure. Bismarck accommodated the exponential economic, demographic and military growth as well as the territorial expansion of Prussia by skillfully architecturing and calibrating the complex networks of bilateral security arrangements of 19th century Europe. Like Asia today, it was not an institutionalized security structure of Europe, but a talented leadership exercising restraint and wisdom in combination with the quick assertiveness and fast military absorptions, concluded by the lasting endurance. However, as soon as the new Kaiser removed the Iron Chancellor (Bismarck), the provincial and backward–minded, insecure and militant Prussian establishment contested (by their own interpretations of the German’s machtpolitik and weltpolitik policies) Europe and the world in two devastating world wars. That, as well as Hitler’s establishment afterwards, simply did not know what to do with a powerful Germany.
The aspirations and constellations of some of Asia’s powers today remind us also of the pre-Napoleonic Europe, in which a unified, universalistic block of the Holy Roman Empire was contested by the impatient challengers of the status quo. Such serious centripetal and centrifugal oscillations of Europe were not without grave deviations: as much as Cardinal Richelieu’s and Jacobin’s France successfully emancipated itself, the Napoleon III and pre-WWII France encircled, isolated itself, implicitly laying the foundation for the German attack.
Finally, the existing Asian regional settings also resemble the picture of the post-Napoleonic Europe: first and foremost, of Europe between the Vienna Congress of 1815 and the revolutionary year of 1848. At any rate, let us take a quick look at the most relevant regional settings in Asia.
By far, the largest Asian participation is with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation – APEC, an organization engulfing both sides of the Pacific Rim. Nevertheless, this is a forum for member economies not of sovereign nations, a sort of a prep-com or waiting room for the World Trade Organization – WTO. To use the words of one senior Singapore diplomat who recently told me in Geneva the following: “what is your option here? …to sign the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), side up with the US, login to FaceBook, and keep shopping on the internet happily ever after…”
Two other crosscutting settings, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation – OIC and Non-Aligned Movement – NAM, the first with and the second without a permanent secretariat, represent the well-established political multilateral bodies. However, they are inadequate forums as neither of the two is strictly mandated with security issues. Although both trans-continental entities do have large memberships being the 2nd and 3rd largest multilateral systems, right after the UN, neither covers the entire Asian political landscape – having important Asian countries outside the system or opposing it.
Further on, one should mention the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization – KEDO (Nuclear) and the Iran-related Contact (Quartet/P-5+1) Group. In both cases, the issues dealt with are indeed security related, but they are more an asymmetric approach to deter and contain a single country by the larger front of peripheral states that are opposing a particular security policy, in this case, of North Korea and of Iran. Same was with the short-lived SEATO Pact – a defense treaty organization for SEA which was essentially dissolved as soon as the imminent threat from communism was slowed down and successfully contained within the French Indochina.
Confidence building – an attempt
If some of the settings are reminiscent of the pre-Napoleonic Europe, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – SCO and Cooperation Council for the Arab states of the Gulf – GCC remind us of the post-Napoleonic Europe and its Alliance of the Eastern Conservative courts (of Metternich). Both arrangements were created on a pretext of a common external ideological and geopolitical threat, on a shared status quo security consideration. Asymmetric GCC was an externally induced setting by which an American key Middle East ally Saudi Arabia gathered the grouping of the Arabian Peninsula monarchies. It has served a dual purpose; originally, to contain the leftist Nasseristic pan-Arabism which was introducing a republican type of egalitarian government in the Middle Eastern theater. It was also – after the 1979 revolution – an instrument to counter-balance the Iranian influence in the Gulf and wider Middle East. The response to the spring 2011-13 turmoil in the Middle East, including the deployment of the Saudi troops in Bahrain, and including the analysis of the role of influential Qatar-based and GCC-backed Al Jazeera TV network is the best proof of the very nature of the GCC mandate.
The SCO is internally induced and more symmetric setting. Essentially, it came into existence through a strategic Sino-Russian rapprochement , based, for the first time in modern history, on parity, to deter external aspirants (the US, Japan, Korea, India, Turkey and Saudi Arabia) and to keep the resources, territory, present socio-economic cultural and political regime in the Central Asia, Tibet heights and the Xinjiang Uighur province in line.
The next to consider is the Indian sub-continent’s grouping, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation – SAARC. This organization has a well-established mandate, well staffed and versed Secretariat. However, the Organization is strikingly reminiscent of the League of Nations. The League is remembered as an altruistic setup which repeatedly failed to adequately respond to the security quests of its members as well as to the challenges and pressures of parties that were kept out of the system (e.g. Russia until well into the 1930s and the US remaining completely outside the system, and in the case of the SAARC surrounding; China, Saudi Arabia and the US). The SAARC is practically a hostage of mega confrontation of its two largest members, both confirmed nuclear powers; India and Pakistan. These two challenge each other geopolitically and ideologically. Existence of one is a negation of the existence of the other; the religiously determined nationhood of Pakistan is a negation of multiethnic India and vice verse. Additionally, the SAARC although internally induced is an asymmetric organization. It is not only the size of India, but also its position: centrality of that country makes SAARC practically impossible to operate in any field without the direct consent of India, be it commerce, communication, politics or security.
For a serious advancement of multilateralism, mutual trust, a will to compromise and achieve a common denominator through active co-existence is the key. It is hard to build a common course of action around the disproportionately big and centrally positioned member which would escape the interpretation as containment by the big or assertiveness of its center by the smaller, peripheral members.
Multivector Foreign Policy
Finally, there is an ASEAN – a grouping of 10 Southeast Asian nations , exercising the balanced multi-vector policy, based on the non-interference principle, internally and externally. This, Jakarta/Indonesia headquartered organization has a dynamic past and an ambitious current charter. It is an internally induced and relatively symmetric arrangement with the strongest members placed around its geographic center, like in case of the EU equilibrium with Germany-France/Britain-Italy/Poland-Spain geographically balancing each other. Situated on the geographic axis of the southern flank of the Asian landmass, the so-called growth triangle of Thailand-Malaysia-Indonesia represents the core of the ASEAN not only in economic and communication terms but also by its political leverage. The EU-like ASEAN Community Road Map (for 2015) will absorb most of the Organization’s energy . However, the ASEAN has managed to open its forums for the 3+3 group/s, and could be seen in the long run as a cumulus setting towards the wider pan-Asian forum in future.
Before closing this brief overview, let us mention two recently inaugurated informal forums, both based on the external calls for a burden sharing. One, with a jingoistic-coined name by the Wall Street bankers – BRI(I)C/S, so far includes two important Asian economic, demographic and political powerhouses (India and China), and one peripheral (Russia). Indonesia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Iran are a few additional Asian countries whose national pride and pragmatic interests are advocating a BRIC membership. The G–20, the other informal forum, is also assembled on the Ad hoc (pro bono) basis following the need of the G–7 to achieve a larger approval and support for its monetary (currency exchange accord) and financial (austerity) actions introduced in the aftermath of still unsettled financial crisis. Nevertheless, the BRIC and G-20 have not provided the Asian participating states either with the more leverage in the Bretton Woods institutions besides a burden sharing, or have they helped to tackle the indigenous Asian security problems. Appealing for the national pride, however, both informal gatherings may divert the necessary resources and attention to Asian states from their pressing domestic, pan-continental issues.
Yet, besides the UN system machinery of the Geneva-based Disarmament committee, the UN Security Council, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons – OPCW and International Atomic Energy Agency – IAEA (or CTBTO), even the ASEAN Asians (as the most multilateralized Asians) have no suitable standing forum to tackle and solve their security issues. An organization similar to the Council of Europe or the OSCE is still far from emerging on Asian soil.
Our history warns. Nevertheless, it also provides a hope: The pre-CSCE (pre-Helsinki) Europe was indeed a dangerous place to live in. The sharp geopolitical and ideological default line was passing through the very heart of Europe, cutting it into halves. The southern Europe was practically sealed off by notorious dictatorships; in Greece (Colonel Junta), Spain (Franco) and Portugal (Salazar), with Turkey witnessing several of its governments toppled by the secular and omnipotent military establishment, with inverted Albania and a (non-Europe minded) non-allied, Tito’s Yugoslavia. Two powerful instruments of the US military presence (NATO) and of the Soviets (Warsaw pact) in Europe were keeping huge standing armies, enormous stockpiles of conventional as well as the ABC weaponry and delivery systems, practically next to each other. By far and large, European borders were not mutually recognized. Essentially, the west rejected to even recognize many of the Eastern European, Soviet dominated/installed governments.
Territorial disputes unresolved
Currently in Asia, there is hardly a single state which has no territorial dispute within its neighborhood. From the Middle East, Caspian and Central Asia, Indian sub-continent, mainland Indochina or Archipelago SEA, Tibet, South China Sea and the Far East, many countries are suffering numerous green and blue border disputes. The South China Sea solely counts for over a dozen territorial disputes – in which mostly China presses peripheries to break free from the long-lasting encirclement. These moves are often interpreted by the neighbors as dangerous assertiveness. On the top of that Sea resides a huge economy and insular territory in a legal limbo – Taiwan, which waits for a time when the pan-Asian and intl. agreement on how many Chinas Asia should have, gains a wide and lasting consensus.
Unsolved territorial issues, sporadic irredentism, conventional armament, nuclear ambitions, conflicts over exploitation of and access to the marine biota, other natural resources including fresh water access and supply are posing enormous stress on external security, safety and stability in Asia. Additional stress comes from the newly emerging environmental concerns, that are representing nearly absolute security threats, not only to the tiny Pacific nation of Tuvalu , but also to the Maldives, Bangladesh, Cambodia, parts of Thailand, of Indonesia, of Kazakhstan and of the Philippines, etc . All this combined with uneven economic and demographic dynamics of the continent are portraying Asia as a real powder keg.
It is absolutely inappropriate to compare the size of Asia and Europe – the latter being rather an extension of a huge Asian continental landmass, a sort of western Asian peninsula – but the interstate maneuvering space is comparable. Yet, the space between the major powers of post-Napoleonic Europe was as equally narrow for any maneuver as is the space today for any security maneuver of Japan, China, India, Pakistan, Iran and the like.
Let us also take a brief look at the peculiarities of the nuclear constellations in Asia. Following the historic analogies; it echoes the age of the American nuclear monopoly and the years of Russia’s desperation to achieve the parity.
Besides holding huge stockpiles of conventional weaponry and numerous standing armies, Asia is a home of four (plus peripheral Russia and Israel) of the nine known nuclear powers (declared and undeclared). Only China and Russia are parties to the Non-proliferation Treaty – NPT. North Korea walked away in 2003, whereas India and Pakistan both confirmed nuclear powers declined to sign the Treaty. Asia is also the only continent on which nuclear weaponry has been deployed.
Cold War exiled in Asia
As is well known, the peak of the Cold War was marked by the mega geopolitical and ideological confrontation of the two nuclear superpowers whose stockpiles by far outnumbered the stockpiles of all the other nuclear powers combined. However enigmatic, mysterious and incalculable to each other , the Americans and Soviets were on opposite sides of the globe, had no territorial disputes, and no record of direct armed conflicts.
Insofar, the Asian nuclear constellation is additionally specific as each of the holders has a history of hostilities – armed frictions and confrontations over unsolved territorial disputes along the shared borders, all combined with the intensive and lasting ideological rivalries. The Soviet Union had bitter transborder armed frictions with China over the demarcation of its long land border. China has fought a war with India and has acquired a significant territorial gain. India has fought four mutually extortive wars with Pakistan over Kashmir and other disputed bordering regions. Finally, the Korean peninsula has witnessed the direct military confrontations of Japan, USSR, Chinese as well as the US on its very soil, and remains a split nation under a sharp ideological divide.
On the western edge of the Eurasian continent, neither France, Britain, Russia nor the US had a (recent) history of direct armed conflicts. They do not even share land borders.
Finally, only India and now post-Soviet Russia have a strict and full civilian control over its military and the nuclear deployment authorization. In the case of North Korea and China, it is in the hands of an unpredictable and non-transparent communist leadership – meaning, it resides outside democratic, governmental decision-making. In Pakistan, it is completely in the hands of a politically omnipresent military establishment. Pakistan has lived under a direct military rule for over half of its existence as an independent state.
What eventually kept the US and the USSR from deploying nuclear weapons was the dangerous and costly struggle called: “mutual destruction assurance”. Already by the late 1950s, both sides achieved parity in the number and type of nuclear warheads as well as in the number and precision of their delivery systems. Both sides produced enough warheads, delivery systems’ secret depots and launching sites to amply survive the first impact and to maintain a strong second-strike capability . Once comprehending that neither the preventive nor preemptive nuclear strike would bring a decisive victory but would actually trigger the final global nuclear holocaust and ensure total mutual destruction, the Americans and the Soviets have achieved a fear–equilibrium through the hazardous deterrence. Thus, it was not an intended armament rush (for parity), but the non-intended Mutual Assurance Destruction – MAD – with its tranquilizing effect of nuclear weaponry, if possessed in sufficient quantities and impenetrable configurations – that brought a bizarre sort of pacifying stability between two confronting superpowers. Hence, MAD prevented nuclear war, but did not disarm the superpowers.
As noted, the nuclear stockpiles in Asia are considerably modest . The number of warheads, launching sites and delivery systems is not sufficient and sophisticated enough to offer the second strike capability. That fact seriously compromises stability and security: preventive or preemptive N–strike against a nuclear or non-nuclear state could be contemplated as decisive, especially in South Asia and on the Korean peninsula, not to mention the Middle East .
A general wisdom of geopolitics assumes the potentiality of threat by examining the degree of intensions and capability of belligerents. However, in Asia this theory does not necessarily hold the complete truth: Close geographic proximities of Asian nuclear powers means shorter flight time of warheads, which ultimately gives a very brief decision-making period to engaged adversaries. Besides a deliberate, a serious danger of an accidental nuclear war is therefore evident.
One of the greatest thinkers and humanists of the 20th century, Erich Fromm wrote: “…man can only go forward by developing (his) reason, by finding a new harmony…”
There is certainly a long road from vision and wisdom to a clear political commitment and accorded action. However, once it is achieved, the operational tools are readily at disposal. The case of Helsinki Europe is very instructive. To be frank, it was the over-extension of the superpowers who contested one another all over the globe, which eventually brought them to the negotiation table. Importantly, it was also a constant, resolute call of the European public that alerted governments on both sides of the default line. Once the political considerations were settled, the technicalities gained momentum: there was – at first – mutual pan-European recognition of borders which tranquilized tensions literally overnight. Politico-military cooperation was situated in the so-called first Helsinki basket, which included the joint military inspections, exchange mechanisms, constant information flow, early warning instruments, confidence–building measures mechanism, and the standing panel of state representatives (the so-called Permanent Council). Further on, an important clearing house was situated in the so-called second basket – the forum that links the economic and environmental issues, items so pressing in Asia at the moment.
Admittedly, the III OSCE Basket was a source of many controversies in the past years, mostly over the interpretation of mandates. However, the new wave of nationalism, often replacing the fading communism, the emotional charges and residual fears of the past, the huge ongoing formation of the middle class in Asia whose passions and affiliations will inevitably challenge established elites domestically and question their policies internationally, and a related search for a new social consensus – all that could be successfully tackled by some sort of an Asian III basket. Clearly, further socio-economic growth in Asia is impossible without the creation and mobilization of a strong middle class – a segment of society which when appearing anew on the socio-political horizon is traditionally very exposed and vulnerable to political misdeeds and disruptive shifts. At any rate, there are several OSCE observing nations from Asia ; from Thailand to Korea and Japan, with Indonesia, a nation that currently considers joining the forum. They are clearly benefiting from the participation .
Consequently, the largest continent should consider the creation of its own comprehensive pan-Asian multilateral mechanism. In doing so, it can surely rest on the vision and spirit of Helsinki. On the very institutional setup, Asia can closely revisit the well-envisioned SAARC and ambitiously empowered ASEAN fora. By examining these two regional bodies, Asia can find and skillfully calibrate the appropriate balance between widening and deepening of the security mandate of such future multilateral organization – given the number of states as well as the gravity of the pressing socio-political, environmental and politico-military challenges.
In the age of unprecedented success and the unparalleled prosperity of Asia, an indigenous multilateral pan-Asian arrangement presents itself as an opportunity. Contextualizing Hegel’s famous saying that “freedom is…an insight into necessity” let me close by stating that a need for the domesticated pan-Asian organization warns by its urgency too.
Clearly, there is no emancipation of the continent; there is no Asian century, without the pan-Asian multilateral setting.
Modi-Xi Wuhan Summit: Critical Analysis of Competition and Co-operation
“When two Asian giants shake hands, world notices,” (Manmohan Singh)
Peoples Republic of China (PRC) and India are known as the two most populated states of the globe. Both states have been closely interlinked through history and civilizational interactions; as both are the ancient civilizations of this world. Both countries found their place on the map around the same time period, both countries underwent economic transformation around the same time and turned into big giants in the field of economy. Surprisingly, the growth is almost parallel to each other. It is also important to note that both states have territorial disputes over Tibet issue, Aksai-Chin, Arunachal Pradesh, disputes over the Twang district, and Shaksgam valley. Both countries have fought a deadly war in 1962 over the Aksai-Chin area, and have faced skirmishes with each other in the decades of 1970s and 1980, including 2013 border tensions. Therefore, a relationship of co-operation and competition exists between both states.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi traveled to Wuhan in central China for an “informal summit” with the Chinese President Xi Jinping on 27 and 28 April 2018. The most significant element of this meeting is that Modi’s visit came against the backdrop of almost two years of friction between China and India over various issues including the most significant Doklam standoff. In addition to this, India’s bid for Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership, and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have also been the frictional points between the two.
The bilateral relationship of China and India badly deteriorated due to friction on multiple fronts. However, in December 2017, two high-level visits from China were marked as important and represented that both states are looking for a fresh review of their bilateral relationship. Within a few weeks both the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and State Councilor Yang Jiechi visited India. Additionally, Since February 2018, efforts from the Indian side to normalize the relationship, have been quite noteworthy – especially the cancellation of Dalai Lama’s events in Delhi marking the occasion of 60 years in exile of Dalai Lamais a significant step by the Indian government to appease China. On the occasion of cancellation of Dalai Lama’s events, the Cabinet Secretary PK Sinha and India’s Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale stated that “very sensitive time” in India’s bilateral relations with China and therefore, it is “not desirable” for government officials and other leaders to take part in the celebrations of the Tibetan government in exile”.
Later, on 23 February, the Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale to China presented the idea of an informal summit which found ready approval by Modi. Since then various visits by the Indian officials, including India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj have been taking place. These visits have played a significant role in preparing for Modi’s summit in Wuhan. The later events witness the reciprocal visit by the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou to India in April 2018 to finalize the matters regarding the summit. The MODI-XI summit is considered as timely and bold move by India to make an earlier visit to China before the upcoming Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit scheduled to be held on June 9-10, 2018.The summit is actually an informal meeting with specific agenda mainly based on the idea of engaging in a free-flowing conversation between the two leaders.
During the meeting, PM Modi identified five “positive” characteristics of the Indo-China relationship: soch (thinking), sampark (contact), sahyog (cooperation), sankalp (determination) and sapne (dreams). On the other side, President Xi asserted that the problems between India and China are only temporary and limited, and the two countries are the “backbone of the world’s multipolarization and economic globalization.” These statements from both sides indicate that there is the intention to steer the domestic and international focus away from the contentious matters in the bilateral relationship, and is an effort to avoid further derailment.
Discussion on vital issues took place between the officials of both states which included the domestic, political and economic matters, as well as the regional developments like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and international issues such as the US-China trade war. The discussion also included China’s contentious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou confirmed that China will not force India to join the BRI.
The summit is also marked by some important policy directions provided by the two leaders. Another noteworthy development is Xi’s willingness to provide strategic guidance to their respective militaries in order to strengthen existing communication mechanisms and to collaborate on an economic project in Afghanistan. These developments make one wonder about the impact of the Summit on Pakistan and its probable repercussions for the Asian security and stability at large.
It is significant to note that only a day after the announcement of first “informal summit” between Chinese president Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Beijing mentioned that importance of Islamabad cannot be ignored, which provided necessary reassurance to Pakistan that their relationship would remain unaffected and would “never rust”. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated that: “We are ready to work together with our Pakistani brothers to undertake the historical mission of national rejuvenation and achieve the great dream of national prosperity and development,” and “in this way, our iron friendship with Pakistan will never rust and be tempered into steel.” Such statements highlight the importance of Pakistan within the strategic contours of Asia. Additionally, the fact cannot be ignored that Sino-Indian military confrontation is a reality that cannot be resolved simply by conducting bilateral exercises. However, significance of Modi-Xi summit cannot be ignored which over a period of time, even could become a matter of concern for Pakistan. Nonetheless, the statements by Chinese officials after the summit, and the support that Pakistan has been receiving from China through CPEC somewhat dispels Pakistan’s concerns.
Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama quarrel: The way for rapprochement with China
The last month or two have been a busy time for geopolitics. While Western leaders convened in Washington to discuss the potential trans-Atlantic trade war and the possibility of a conventional war against Iran in support of Israel, Korean leaders got together in the demilitarized zone and India’s Narendra Modi headed to Wuhan province in China for an informal two-day summit with President Xi Jinping. As a new world order takes shape, these two countries China and India, have evolved from peripheral actors to central players.
In 2000, China accounted for just 3.6 percent of the global economy; today it’s responsible for nearly 15 percent of the world’s economic output, and by 2032 it is poised to surpass the U.S. as the world’s foremost economic powerhouse. It has achieved this by harnessing the strength of state-capitalism, intertwining its political power with its financial clout on a scale never before seen in the global free market. Between 1990 and 2011, nearly 450 million Chinese were raised out of poverty. Over roughly the same time period (1994 to 2012), more than 130 million Indians escaped poverty, a 50 percent reduction in its poverty level.
Given today’s chaotic politics and the disruptive belligerence in the Middle East, the Chinese political model has become increasingly appealing. The goal of the Wuhan meeting was to help Xi and Modi keep things cordial between the two growing economic powers. There have been more than enough flashpoints in recent months to make a meeting like this necessary: in the Maldives, in Sri Lanka, even in sleepy Bhutan.
One of the most contentious issues springs from Beijing’s resentment that India continues to give shelter and a platform to the Dalai Lama and those Tibetans who followed the spiritual leader into exile following a failed uprising against Chinese rule almost six decades ago. This is particularly galling to the Chinese because the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), the Tibetan government in exile had, until very recently, never lost an opportunity to needle Beijing about the legitimacy of its claims on Tibet. China sees Tibet as an integral part of its territory, and is extremely sensitive to any question regarding the legitimacy of its rule in the region.
A number of recent developments in the last month have however raised hopes for more cordial relations between Beijing and the exile government’s representatives, with both the Dalai Lama and the CTA at pains to minimize issues that in the past have strained relations between China and the exiled Tibetans. These include the issue of the Panchen Lama, and of devotion to the Dorje Shugden deity, both often the subject of heated debate between the two sides, although the subject matter might seem rather arcane to outsiders.
Squabbling over succession
The Panchen Lama is one of the most important figures in Tibetan Buddhism, whose spiritual authority is second only to that of the Dalai Lama himself. Of particular significance is the Panchen Lama’s role in identifying the next Dalai Lama. Given the Dalai Lama’s spiritual leadership of the Tibetan community in exile, he is an important factor in both CTA relations with China and, to a lesser extent, China’s relations with its Tibetan Autonomous Region. A Dalai Lama who is open to a cordial relationship with China could ultimately pave the way for an agreement between the CTA and China that would allow the return home of Tibet’s exile community.
In May 1995, the current Dalai Lama, the 14th, recognized six-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th Panchen Lama. Three days later, Nyima was abducted by the Chinese and spirited away to an undisclosed location. Chinese officials said the whereabouts of Nyima and his family had been kept secret for their protection. However, China did not recognize Nyima’s legitimacy and, some months later, said a separate selection process had identified Gyancain Norbu as the 11th Panchen Lama.
This controversy over the rightful Panchen Lama has created a further division between the CTA and China over the naming of an eventual successor to the Dalai Lama himself. The Chinese-sponsored Panchen Lama is likely to name a pro-China successor in order to foment controversy and weaken the “Tibetan cause”, reasons the CTA. The Chinese counter that choosing an aggressive, independence-minded successor would only serve to perpetuate old wounds and make the likelihood of reconciliation ever more remote.
Norbu hails from a line of devotees to the Dorje Shugden deity, to which the Dalai Lama himself has admitted that he once used to offer prayers before declaring it to be a malign spirit. Since 1976, the spiritual leader has stated publicly on several occasions that the practice of paying devotion to Dorje Shugden shortened the life of the Dalai Lama, encouraged sectarianism among Buddhists and represented a “danger to the cause of Tibet”. Thus the Dalai Lama and the CTA at the time saw the Chinese-sponsored Panchen Lama, a Shugden devotee, as a provocation and an attempt to create a rift in the exile community.
The Dorje Shugden deity is revered as one of several protectors of the “Geluk”, or “Yellow Hat” school of Tibetan Buddhism, to which the Dalai Lamas belong. But the spiritual leader and other critics said worship of the deity creates and deepens divisions among the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism despite them all sharing the same fundamental philosophy – their differences residing mainly in the emphasis they place on the vast body of Buddhist scriptures.
Shortly after the revelation that the Chinese had backed their own Panchen Lama, the CTA upped the stakes against Shugden worshippers, issuing resolutions and directives that effectively made outcasts of the Shugden community. For many years, they were accused of being stooges of China and supporting Beijing rule in Tibet. By continuing in their devotion, they were allowing China to exploit divisions among Tibetan Buddhists, the CTA said. Many were accused, some justifiably so, of accepting Chinese backing to encourage the ensuing turmoil within the community.
But ultimately, the Dalai Lama and the CTA’s efforts to use Shugden as an instrument against China backfired. The marginalization of the Shugden practice provided China with a pretext to oppose the Dalai Lama and draw devotees in Tibet and the exile community into its own ambit. At the same time, the manoeuvre alienated from the Dalai Lama and his followers a large percentage of Shugden worshippers in Europe and Asia who felt they had been unfairly targeted, since they played no part whatsoever in the Sino-Tibetan conflict, and had no desire to be drawn into it.
The CTA’s faux pas
In recent times, the CTA has been compelled to tone down its US-backed anti-China rhetoric significantly as it has begun to lose the faith and support of numerous exiles, having done little to ease their precarious situation after sixty years of exile. Its support has dwindled amid allegations of corruption and self-promotion; its people are leaving and its relevance is diminished, and just as serious, it appears to be losing international support.
One grave misjudgement of the CTA last year created more trouble for its Indian hosts than they were willing to tolerate. Specifically, The Dalai Lama’s visit to the Arunachal Pradesh region in April 2017, where hundreds of his supporters triumphantly waved Tibetan flags, earned India a stiff rebuke from China. Chinese authorities bridled at his reception by Chief Minister Pema Khandu and Minister of State Kiren Rijiju, which Beijing perceived as official backing of the Dalai Lama from India.
While the Dalai Lama’s previous visits to the area had also stirred Indi-China tensions, the latest one was followed by a military standoff between Indian and Chinese forces along their common border later in the year before both sides took steps to de-escalate the situation. Unlike on previous occasions, it appeared that this time India decided enough was enough, and that there was little value to be had in allowing a small group of long-term Tibetan refugees to provoke trouble between itself and a neighbour which happens to command the world’s largest army.
In diplomatic terms, India’s message to the CTA has been crystal clear: back off from antagonizing China. Senior government officials were earlier this year discouraged from participating in Tibet-related events, forcing the CTA to shift a high-profile celebration, planned to commemorate the start of the 60th year of the Dalai Lama’s exile, from Delhi to the much smaller city of Dharamsala. What had been originally planned as a full-scale jamboree in the capital – which would certainly have again roused China’s ire – was downgraded to a rather low-key event in the provinces.
According to the Hong-Kong daily South China Morning Post, “reports in January of a fresh Chinese build-up in the Himalayan area raised fears that an August peace deal may be unravelling, paving the way for an even bigger confrontation.” India will want to avoid any such confrontation if possible, and will certainly wish to ensure that the CTA is in no position to jeopardize the situation.
The modified Indian stance vis-à-vis its scattered Tibetan community finds an echo in how the U.S. attitude towards Tibet has changed, verging on outright indifference since the election of President Trump. That is in spite of a recent budget grant to support certain Tibet-focused projects. In fact, the grant seemed more the result of political horse-trading in Congress, with Tibet as a low-value bargaining chip, than any true desire to put the Tibet question on the agenda.
The changes in the attitudes of both the CTA’s hosts and what was once its most powerful advocate have forced the government in exile onto the defensive. No more can it provoke China with impunity and hope to maintain the unwavering support of its principal erstwhile benefactors, India and the United States. The Dalai Lama has certainly taken the lessons from these developments on board.
Indeed, in recent interviews and speeches, the spiritual leader has been more conciliatory towards China and the idea of Chinese rule in Tibet than at any time during his exile. His emissary, former CTA Prime Minister Samdong Rinpoche was reported to have paid a discreet visit to China in late 2017 for discreet discussions with the Chinese authorities, reportedly to advance negotiations for the spiritual leader’s eventual return to Tibet.
The Dalai Lama now seems more open to building bridges with China than in the past. In November 2017 he even admitted that most Tibetans want to remain part of China, effectively dealing the independence cause a severe blow. He also added that he would return to Tibet at once, if China agreed, flagging is the strongest manner yet his willingness to work towards better relations with China.
Signs of a change
In 2016 the China-sponsored Panchen Lama performed the Kalachakra ritual, an esoteric but important rite for activating dormant enlightenment. This was the first time the ritual had been practiced in the Tibetan Autonomous Region for 50 years, although the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, has performed the ritual in exile.
Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren, director of London-based NGO Free Tibet, was highly critical, saying the Chinese were trying to impose their authority on Tibet “by co-opting Tibetan Buddhism.”
But since then, the evolving story of the two Panchen Lamas has begun to indicate a change in tactic, a silent signal that Dalai Lama’s position has softened markedly. Recently he has said that, according to reliable sources, the 11th Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima “is alive and receiving normal education”. Significantly, on April 27 the United States, which since the Trump election has been far less vocal on Tibet issues than previously, weighed in, calling on China to immediately release the Panchen Lama, Nyima.
As for the awkwardness of having two Panchen Lamas – which has echoes in the Western Schism of 1378-1417, when the Catholic Church had two rival Popes – the Dalai Lama has sought to downplay any question of a conflict by noting instances in Tibetan Buddhist tradition “where a reincarnated lama took more than one manifestation”. This is significant, since it shows a willingness to recognise China’s “version” of the Panchen Lama without repudiating his own.
His Eminence Tsem Tulku Rinpoche, spiritual advisor to the Malaysian Kechara Buddhist Association, has continued in his appeal to the Dalai Lama to heal the divisions around the religious tradition of Dorje Shugden, which is also practiced by the Chinese-backed 11th Panchen Lama. Tsem Tulku noted this would be a logical and opportune step following the spiritual leader’s recognition of the Chinese-backed lama and the great strides towards peace made during the recent meeting of the Indian Prime Minister and the Chinese President.
The recent developments represent a huge opportunity to bridge differences not only between India and China but between Chinese-controlled Tibet and its exile community. It has become clear over the years that the Central Tibetan Authority itself no longer sees an independent Tibet as a viable option, and that the most practical way of working towards a return to the homeland is through de-escalating tensions with China. Pulling back from the long-running controversies over the Panchen Lama and Dorje Shugden devotion represents a small step towards this end.
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