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Panel 3. Order transitions in East Asia. Equilibrium, concert or Thucydides Trap?

Chair: Matteo Dian (University of Bologna)
Discussant: Pascal Vennesson (RSIS, Nanyang Technological University - Singapore) & Matteo Dian (University of Bologna)

Date: Friday | 10.30 - 12.30 (1st session)14.00 - 15.45 (2nd session)
Room: Aula Farneti


An order transition appears under way in East Asia. On the one hand China has promoted a new blueprint for the economic governance of the region, based on initiatives such as Belt and Road (BRI), the Asia Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). These initiatives have found a fertile ground, since the US have abandoned previous projects to establish a form Asia Pacific regionalism, promoted during the Obama administration.
China’s assertiveness is not limited to the economic field. In the security realm Beijing has continued to challenge the status quo, seeking to undermine existing security order, rooted on the hub and spoke system of alliances. In particular China has increased its use of grey zone and hybrid warfare tactics in the South and East China Sea. The US and their partners in response have tried, even if with mixed result, to promote a transition from the hub and spoke model to a networked security model, in which forms of trilateral and multilateral cooperation integrate existing alliance agreements. The panel welcomes contributions looking both as security or economic dynamics defining the process of order transition under way in the region.

Key words: East Asia, international order, regional order, China, United States, security.


Confirmed Papers: 

1) The US-Japan Security Alliance Today and Tomorrow – Getting Better or Muddling Through?
Axel Berkofsky (University of Pavia).

Since Shinzo Abe became Japanese Prime Minister in December 2012 Tokyo has adopted a series of measures and policies aimed at strengthening Japan’s national defence capabilities. Among others, Tokyo under the very pro-defence Abe has established a National Security Council, has eased Japan’s ban to export weapons and weapons technology has adopted a set of new national security laws and has re-interpreted Japan’s war-renouncing constitution as to allow Japanese armed forces to execute the right to collective self-defence. All of these policies and the re-interpretation of Japan’s post-war constitution are aimed at facilitating cooperation with the US in the framework of the US–Japan security alliance. in April 2015 Washington and Tokyo then adopted the below-discussed revised US–Japan defence guidelines, which enable Tokyo not only to provide logistical rear area support but also creates the conditions for Japanese soldiers to make active military contributions to US-led military operations in the case of a regional contingency. All – at least in theory and on paper is set for more and closer US – Japan security coordination and cooperation in East Asia and beyond in the years ahead. To be sure, Washington’s relations with Japan in general and security relations in particular for at least 2.5 years ahead depend on US President’s ability to keep earlier voiced Japan-bashing rhetoric and policies to himself.

2) Territorial Disputes and the Maritime Silk Road: Assessing China’s Reasons and Limits to Cooperation in the South China Sea
Alessandro Albana (University of Bologna)

China’s naval modernization has drawn attention as a potential source of disorder of the regional maritime order in East Asia. The South China Sea enmeshment, where China is involved in several maritime disputes, has been considered a showcase of Beijing’s assertiveness. Nonetheless, the South China Sea has gained further significance after the unveiling of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), whose 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR) is to be projected across that area. The BRI framework stresses the deepening of cooperative approaches among participating countries as a key factor for its implementation. Against this backdrop, maritime disputes in the South China Sea are often considered potentially detrimental for the implementation of the MSR, as China holds an assertive, let alone expansionist, maritime stance in the area. Thus, most analyses point at the apparent incompatibility between China’s assertive naval posture and maritime cooperation, the latter being crucial for the development of the MSR.
Unlike such claims, I argue that China’s stance in the South China Sea is not incompatible with the implementation of the MSR. According to my analysis, in fact, after having pursued a sound naval modernization, as well as having occupied, militarized and artificially built land features in that area, Beijing is currently pursuing the strategic goal of stability in the South China Sea. Enjoying a relative military edge vis-à-vis the other regional claimants, China is confident its territorial claims will not be challenged. On the other hand, Beijing has showed an increasingly accommodating approach, notably towards ASEAN member states. In this sense, the implementation of the MSR could contribute to China’s regional engagement, while Beijing’s focus on stability in the South China Sea is eventually beneficial for the MSR. Against this backdrop, China is winning better relations with the countries of the region, as the case of the Philippines demonstrates. However, Beijing’s pursuit of cooperation holds some limits, namely the safeguard of what it perceives as its territorial rights. As the negotiations over the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) prove, China welcomes regional cooperative framework short of legally binding provisions; therefore, the COC’s vagueness about its geographical scope is a sign of China’s unwillingness to extending cooperation frameworks to what it considers its sovereign territories. In this scenario, the MSR is a positive factor for maritime cooperation in the South China Sea, while territorial disputes will hardly be overcome due to the implementation of the MSR.

3) Japan and South Korea and the rise of a Networked Security Architecture in East Asia.
Matteo Dian (University of Bologna)

This article aims at explaining Japan’s and South Korea’s role in the transition from the hub and spoke model to the networked security architecture in the region. In order to do so, it connects the process of contestation of the rules based international order in Asia, with the strategic response, in terms of resistance, accommodation or adaptation enacted by Asian states. The article will describe how Japan has complemented the consolidation of the alliance and its “security renaissance” with a number of new forms of security cooperation on a bilateral, trilateral and multilateral basis. South Korea’s role in the network appears much more limited. South Korea’s resources are mainly focused on the security threats coming from North Korea. Moreover, Seoul tends to perceive Beijing more as a necessary partner in the regional great power management rather than a rising power contesting the rules-based order.

Key words: alliances, Asia Pacific, networked security architecture, international order, primary institutions, English school

4) Sino-Taiwanese unification with Chinese characteristics
Sergio Miracola (ISPI)

Abstract. The objective of this paper is to illustrate how China is planning to create the political conditions necessary for a possible unification with Taiwan. In order to do so, this work takes into consideration a two-level analysis: the diplomatic and the military-strategic one. When it comes to the diplomatic level, the objective is to demonstrate how China is applying diplomatic leverages to progressively isolate Taiwan and reduce its foreign policy influence worldwide. The use of its economic resources in order to induce other state-actors to submit to China’s request is a case in point. For instance, many states which have deep economic relations with China have been forced to adjust their airlines website so as to show, among the options, Taiwan as part of China and not as an independent political entity. When it comes to the second level of analysis, the present paper investigates the overall Chinese strategic approach towards Taiwan. Specifically, how China is preparing doctrinally and strategically in order to be able to subdue the island. This second level of analysis, then, illustrates Chinese military evolution, both at the doctrinal and operational level, and how Taiwan has been included into its overall military calculation. It also looks at the evolving Chinese island warfare doctrine, which, since 2014 has been playing a relevant role in shaping Chinese military strategy as well as its overall naval development as attested by the creation of the new aircraft carrier and the strengthening of the maritime militia. In addition to that, the second section will also highlight Taiwan’s overall strategic response to Chinese threats, as attested by the latest design of a People’s War doctrine to be implemented should China attempt to invade the Island. A military doctrine that, according to the latest information, is also supported by the American military.

Keywords: China, Taiwan, People’s War, island warfare, diplomacy, economy, maritime militia, Xi Jinping, Cai Yingwen.

5) Regionalism in Southeast Asia and ASEAN: a model for regional co-operation or an ‘irrelevant imitation community’?
Raimondo Neironi (Catholic University Milan)

This proposal examines the origins of Southeast Asian regionalism in 1959 – when Southeast Asian Friendiship and Economic Treaty (SEAFET) was established – and the development of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) after the ending of the Cold War. Throughout the 1960s, at the highest peak of the Cold War in Asia, the United States was interested in the promotion of an ʻindependent nations zoneʼ in Southeast Asia as a means of accelerating the economic co-operation and social progress. Washington believed regionalism embodied a necessary element of ʻcontainment doctrineʼ, that should have pursued two main objectives: first, to preserve and strengthen the will of the peoples of the area to resist Communist threat; second, to assist these governments in copying with the major problems of development. If today it is possible to see in Southeast Asia a coherent regional entity – as opposed to before 1967 – it is largely due to the existence of ASEAN, whose activities and ideas about Southeast Asia have done much to give both form and substance to this once multifaceted area. According to other scholars, few hopes were invested in ASEAN’s formation. Its agenda was vague and its political direction uncertain. This study seeks to come to light the development process of regional institutions in Southeast Asia and to discuss the two main theoretical positions about this topic. This paper concludes that Southeast Asian states reconcile most of differences between mainland and insular area, but a strictly intergovernmental decision process and consensus have impeded to enhance economic and defence co-operation.

Keywords: ASEAN, Regionalism, Co-operation, United States

6) Silk Road Corridor: an ancient route for a modern purpose
Francesca Salvatore (University of Salento)

The shift towards east of the global economic and technological balance is reshaping not only Asian geopolitics (primarily between China and Russia) but will sooner or later lead to a change in the political equilibrium in the Near East (for example between Turkey and Iran) and in Europe.
Beijing has chosen to use the routes of the former USSR by creating logistic and energy hubs in Central Asia to reach Europe. The idea of creating a new commercial route, arises from the low convenience of the sea route due to its timing (about 45 days) and the difficult geopolitical situations of some areas in this precise historical moment (eg. Suez). The fundamental infrastructure for this pharaonic project will be the railway, the "Chinese camel": despite the renewed partnership between Russia and China, however, the historic Transiberian line will not be used.
In the realization of these new commercial routes, Kazakhstan will be a fundamental strategic partner. The Country counted, and still counts, on its Caspian oil basins: China has managed to settle this area, ensuring itself the top of the Kazakh stocks.
The old railway line will be bypassed by the new Chinese route, allowing a route of about 10 days. Therefore, through this project, China aims not only to buy but to invest, moving the economies of the countries it will cross, creating opportunities for cooperation and development: by modernizing pre-existing structures, China aims to build (also using high-speed) an enormous infrastructure through the contribution of its banks, Western investors but also, and above all, the Central Asian countries. Except for Afghanistan, cut off for obvious reasons by the Silk Road Corridor, countries like Kazakhstan (essential for oil), Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Iran will become key junctions for the landing in Europe because some of these possess water resources useful to allow electrified railway networks. Among these countries, Iran is the most interested in taking part in the project because of its vastness and its acute development needs related to the role of regional protagonist that seems to be destined to play.