by Liu Jiangyong and Yan Xuetong
Compared with Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, Africa and other regions, East Asia has maintained a relatively peaceful and stable regional situation over the past decade.
The establishment of an East Asian multilateral security cooperative has also achieved remarkable development, while the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional forum (ARF) has played a positive role in promoting regional peace and security.
At the ninth ASEAN summit in October 2003, members signed a declaration on the establishment of the ASEAN Community by 2020. The community is expected to cover security, economic and cultural dimensions.
The document indicates a new regional system in East Asia is in the offing, with multilateralism and extensive cooperation as its main characteristics. However, East Asia is still confronted with several security challenges.
Pursuing a pre-emptive military strategy, the United States has adjusted its military deployment and enhanced military alliances in the region.
The long-standing nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula, the key issue that will possibly bring about conflicts and chaos to the region if not properly handled, has not been defused.
The future security configuration of Northeast Asia is yet to be formed, and some uncertainties may possibly occur in the process.
Ethnic separatism, religious extremism and international terrorism are still rampant.
More important, the current East Asian security cooperation mechanism is still at its relatively loose and primary stage and cannot effectively deal with some threatening challenges.
To safeguard a lasting regional peace and security, East Asia should set up a more effective regional security cooperation system with an East Asian Security Community (EASC) as its ideal goal.
The principal goals of the regional community should be to pursue an institutionalized regional security cooperation system, prevent wars, reduce external security threats to the region, and avoid internal conflicts.
The EASC should be built on the provisions of the UN Charter and the present East Asian multilateral security dialogue mechanisms to further enhance the common sense of regional identity among member states, cultivate a common security concept, and establish a collective security mechanism.
The EASC can take the East Asian Security Cooperation Organization (EASCO) as its operation form, with the ARF as its framework and ASEAN Security Community as its core.
Different from NATO, the EASCO should not be a military bloc, and its membership should not be exclusive.
Due to political, economic, cultural, and religious diversity in East Asia, several elements should be taken into full consideration to promote the establishment of the EASC.
The diversity of East Asian countries should be respected. Different social systems, development models, cultures and religions should be allowed to co-exist without imposing the views of one country upon another. The members should pursue a common development by seeking common grounds while setting apart differences.
The EASC should be a democratic international security mechanism and its member states should enjoy the equal right of policy-making on regional security affairs. The aspirations of any member should be considered and any peace-keeping operations should be authorized by the EASC.
The principle of peaceful settlement of international disputes should be maintained. Consultations on the basis of equality, peaceful negotiations, diplomatic mediation should serve as the basic methods for solving various kinds of disputes between countries.
The security and defence policies of a member state of the EASC should not constitute threats to the survival and security of other member states.
In addition, the concern and aspiration of all member states should be given full consideration when propositions and arrangements for the regional security cooperation are put forward.
However, it is a long-term goal and an arduous job to build the EASC.
To advance toward the goal, some key measures should be implemented.
The ARF should be taken as the basis of the EASC. Currently, a number of multilateral security cooperation channels at different levels have been formed in the East Asian region, such as the ARF, the sixth-party talks on the Korean nuclear issue, the Northeast Asian Cooperation Dialogue, the Council for Security Cooperation in Asian and Pacific.
But the ARF serves as the only inter-governmental multilateral security forum that comprises all East Asian sovereign states, plays a stronger role, and enjoys a higher-ranking participation and larger coverage.
It is easier for the EASC to enlist extensive support from the East Asian countries if it is built upon the ARF.
Therefore, efforts should be made to strengthen the institutionalized construction of ARF.
To this end, it is an effective step to set up a permanent organ such as the Council of ARF.
The convocation of informal summits of ARF and other meetings at various levels can also effectively help promote the realization of the goal.
Also, a linkage mechanism should be established between ARF and other regional security cooperation organizations, such as the dialogue mechanism between ASEAN with China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea (ROK), the dialogue mechanism between ASEAN and China, the six-party talks on the Korean nuclear issue, and the Asia-Pacific Defence Forum.
The establishment of such a wide-ranging linkage network will help resolve regional security issues in a more effective manner.
A strategic dialogue mechanism between China, the United States, Japan and Russia should also be established given that the improvement and stabilization of relations between the four key states are crucial for East Asian security Cooperation.
To make substantial progress for the EASC, ARF should not remain merely a relaxed forum, and it should strengthen its status in handling the regional security issues.
To this end, the ARF should establish a series of effective regimes and mechanisms to build mutual confidence among East Asian countries, resolve unexpected military incidents and disputes over border and maritime rights and interests between them, promote disarmament and arms control, counter cross-border crimes, and carry out energy security cooperation.
(Liu Jiangyong and Yan Xuetong are professors at Tsinghua University's Institute of International Studies.)
(China Daily April 14, 2004)