Why ASEAN Can't Stand Up to China

The Buzz

China’s negotiations with ASEAN on a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea are dragging into their thirteenth year. At the same time, China has undertaken a massive land reclamation campaign to change the status quo in the South China Sea, leaving critics to lament ASEAN’s inability to form a united policy toward China.

Ambiguity about China’s rise is a “black sheep” in the integration of Southeast Asia. Although ASEAN plans to achieve the economic pillar of building a regional community by the end of 2015, integration on the political-security pillar has been slow, partly due to the ASEAN principles of non-interference and non-confrontational bargaining that slow consensus building. ASEAN’s continuation of the same policies towards China since the 1990s has been unsuccessful in keeping China from pushing the region toward instability and threatening ASEAN’s integration. For example, when China forced a confrontation with the Philippines over the Second Thomas Shoal only nine days before a round of Code of Conduct consultations in 2014, China showed it had little regard for ASEAN’s goal of a cooperative regional order.

While ASEAN lacks consensus on many political and security issues (China chief among them), ASEAN’s growing centrality in the Asia-Pacific demonstrates its continuing value for regional integration and institutionalization of dialogue. Through ASEAN, relatively weak states, like Laos and Cambodia, have aggregated power in the international system. Also, as champions of ASEAN highlight, the organization can help produce a stable regional order in a contentious part of the world, such as when it united behind the nonaligned movement during the Cold War.

Nonetheless, China has exploited divisions among ASEAN members and applied economic pressure, both positive and negative, to keep countries from coming to a consensus on maritime security in their own backyard. Moreover, weak leadership on political and security issues has left ASEAN without a united approach on China’s aggression in the South China Sea. This is a major reason why ASEAN remains divided on China—there is no leading nation to overcome economic, political, and cultural differences and forge an overarching consensus.

Leadership in ASEAN after the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis has been absent or very weak. ASEAN lacks a leader like the EU has in Germany.  Singapore and Thailand have provided limited leadership on economic issues, but Thailand’s ability to perform this role has weakened due to its internal troubles. The absence of a core leader, especially without strong internal mechanisms to mitigate differences among members, has been particularly problematic for security issues.

ASEAN’s lack of strong leadership has contributed to an environment in which many members have pursued different bilateral actions and policies towards China that are at odds with an ASEAN-centric approach to regional issues. A divided ASEAN has found its recent strategic environment shaped more by external interests than its own.

Without a leadership initiative on the part of one of ASEAN’s more neutral states, it is doubtful that ASEAN policy toward China will change dramatically. But does any ASEAN member have the potential to lead the organization, and by extension, create a consensus on China? A regional leader needs capacity (financial and human resources), internal commitment to undertaking a leadership role, and the buy-in of its regional and international neighbors. Jakarta remains the symbolic head, hosting the ASEAN secretariat, but Indonesia currently lacks the will to take a definitive leadership role.

ASEAN’s future is tied to China’s rise. With a range of political, economic, and military differences among ASEAN members, the organization needs a strong voice among member states to guide internal and external consultations, if its members hope to produce on ASEAN-centric approach to security issues. Without a committed and capable leader(s) on political-security issues, periodic eruptions of crises in the South China Sea could turn the status quo balance of power into chronic instability.

Amanda Conklin is currently working on Asian policy issues in the field of international affairs. She was Fulbright in Macau from 2012-2013. The views presented above are her own and do not reflect that of her employer.

Image: Flickr/ILO in Asia and the Pacific

TopicsGlobal Governance RegionsAsia

Explained: Why China and Japan Simply Don't Trust Each Other

The Buzz

At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit late last year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Xi Jinping began to restore their nations’ relations, attempting to overcome differences over islands in the East China Sea. Again this year, the leaders of Asia’s two largest powers met at the Bandung Conference, demonstrating a slightly more relaxed and encouraging demeanor, suggesting that the maritime talks between their two governments were bearing some fruit. But it is not the territorial dispute itself that threatens improvement in the Japan-China relationship; it is their deep skepticism of each other’s ambitions in the region.

Chinese officials have not been shy in suggesting that the changing balance of power between their nation and Japan is the root cause of their diplomatic difficulty. The most recent statement of China’s perception of the change in regional influence comes from Foreign Minister Wang Yi. After his speech at Beijing’s World Peace Forum last week, China’s foreign minister was asked about the prospects for Japan-China relations, and Xinhua quoted him as follows: “the crux of China-Japan relations is whether Japan can sincerely accept and welcome China’s revival and rise.” Wang was further quoted as saying, “China’s development has brought important benefit to Japan, but Japan is not fully prepared in its mindset for an increasingly powerful China.” The solution, from Wang’s perspective, is simply that the Japanese have to accept China’s growing power.

Wang is not off the mark about Japan’s concerns about Chinese ambitions, and this too was amply demonstrated last week in Tokyo. Japan’s chief of the Joint Staff of the Self Defense Force, Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano agreed to an interview with the Wall Street Journal, and openly acknowledged his concerns about China’s behavior in the South China Sea. Admiral Kawano noted that China’s program of island building in the disputed islands of the South China Sea created serious concerns for Japan because of its dependence on the sea lanes through the Malacca Straits. “Of course, the area is of the utmost importance for Japanese security,” he said. “We don’t have any plans to conduct surveillance in the South China Sea currently but depending on the situation, I think there is a chance we could consider doing so.” In Tokyo, there is a profound sense that China could be positioning itself to challenge Japan’s strategic interests, and a new willingness to work closely with others to improve maritime stability.

Both perceptions are important, but they should not prevent leaders on both sides from recognizing the need for bolder diplomacy in the service of Japan-China cooperation in Asia. If China simply wishes for others to accept its rise, then it will be disappointed. As I argue in my new book, Intimate Rivals, the pace and scope of change being felt in Japan by the increasing impact of a transforming China have challenged successive governments in Tokyo. Granted, not all Japanese support an increased role for their military, but the majority of Japanese worry about how effective their government is and will be in protecting their interests —economic, maritime, and diplomatic— in the face of a far more assertive China.

Beijing should not sit back and wait for acceptance; it should actively seek to find ways of ensuring that its interests will not challenge and weaken those of its neighbors, including Japan. Japanese worries about Chinese behavior, especially in its expansive maritime claims of late, are important indicators of just how close Beijing is coming to pushing Japan into a far more active regional military role. For the past seventy years, Japanese leaders – virtually all of whom were conservatives, by the way – were comfortable that their security and their nation’s prosperity were not challenged in Asia. Even Washington seemed unsuccessful in fundamentally altering Tokyo’s preference for imposing limits, both in terms of capabilities and in geographical range, on its Self Defense Force.

Geostrategic change creates deep worry – not only about the policy challenges of the day but also about the perceptions of what is to come. Instead of insisting that Tokyo acknowledge its new power, Beijing would be better served by demonstrating what Foreign Minister Wang says it wants to do with it: creating a foundation for regional stability and peace. Open and free sea lanes are, of course, in the interests of all Asian nations, including China’s. A collaborative approach to ensuring they remain open to all would go a long way to ensuring the peace that Foreign Minister Wang so eloquently spoke of in his speech at last week’s forum. Building bases on islands close to those vital sea lanes will only cause others to fear China, and think the worst of its ultimate ambitions.

What caught my eye, however, was Wang’s use of the verb accept, and the attendant suggestion in his remarks that Japan had no choice but to come around. As China’s most respected diplomat and arguably the most effective of China’s former ambassadors to Japan, I wonder if he is truly unaware of how that word rankles policy elites in Tokyo. Few regional policymakers are in a position to simply accept the way Chinese power translates into policy consequences for their society. Across Asia, domestic interests will simply not allow acceptance of Chinese power if the exercise of that power undermines those interests.

Of course, there are some who already think that it is wiser to balance or even contain Chinese power. As I point out in Intimate Rivals, however, the story of Japan’s response to a rising China over the past decade or more has been to develop new frameworks of cooperation as well as to adopt new regulatory protections for Japanese citizens. Tokyo policymakers have largely sought to adjust to the complex currents of changes that accompany China’s transformation. Japan must continue to adjust to China’s newfound power. But it would be a mistake for Beijing to assume that policymakers will inevitably come around to accepting all that China does in the region. Interests will diverge, and the mechanisms that will allow Beijing and Tokyo to find common cause will need to be negotiated. In short, Beijing has significant influence over how Tokyo responds to its growing influence.

No one knows this better than China’s foreign minister: China’s disdain and Japan’s edginess are a sure recipe for a tense, contested Asia. Ultimately, it is Beijing’s behavior that will shape the direction that Tokyo’s adjustment takes. Rather than asserting its power, it would be wiser for China to consider what kind of neighbor the Chinese people want across the East China Sea.

This piece appears courtesy of CFR’s Asia Unbound and Forbes.

Image: Wikicommons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Exposed: China Won't Place Nuclear Weapons in Cuba

The Buzz

Despite recent media reports, China will not deploy nuclear weapons in Cuba.

This week, the Taiwan-based Want China Times reported, citing an article from the Fujian-based news portal Taihainet, that Beijing could station nuclear weapons in Cuba if the United States re-deployed tactical nuclear weapons to the Asia-Pacific.

“China could risk a repeat of the Cuban Missile Crisis by deploying its DF-31 intercontinental ballistic missile to Cuba if the United States decides to deploy tactical nuclear missiles to the Asia-Pacific,” Want China Times said in the report.

The report was then republished by other outlets like, an Indian-based defense website, as well as cited by reputable sources such as the Project on Nuclear Issues at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which publishes a daily newsletter that curates nuclear news around the world.

(Recommended: Could 'Mach 5' Weapons Spark a U.S.-China War?)

The entire claim is ridiculous, however. To begin with, Washington is extremely unlikely to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in the Asia-Pacific any time soon. The only potential area tactical nuclear weapons would make sense is in South Korea, where they could be used in the event of a conflict against North Korea to target either Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal or other military targets, including large troop formations.

In fact, at times a majority of South Koreans have been in favor of the United States re-deploying tactical nuclear weapons to the Peninsula, and the U.S. House of Representatives recently asked the Pentagon to study the feasibility of such a move.

(Recommended: 5 Chinese Weapons of War India Should Fear)

That being said, such a re-deployment almost certainly is not in the cards. For one thing, America and South Korea’s overwhelming conventional military superiority over North Korea is sufficient to deal with the military threat Pyongyang poses. In any case, America’s nuclear triad allows it to provide a nuclear umbrella from abroad.

As Moon Chung-in, an influential foreign affairs commentator in South Korea, who has served in a variety of governmental positions, told The Diplomat last year:

The U.S. has nuclear submarines; they have long-range bombers; they have intercontinental ballistic missiles on the U.S. mainland. They can use them easily. There is no reason for the U.S. to deploy tactical nuclear weapons here on the peninsula…. Practically speaking, the U.S. can hit targets anywhere, any time. Why would it deploy tactical nuclear weapons that require an additional cost to guard and protect.   

Indeed, these were the reasons the United States decided to unilaterally withdraw tactical nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula in the first place, and the rationale only grows stronger as America’s nuclear arsenal becomes more advanced.

In any case, even if the United States did decide to re-deploy tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea, Beijing would not respond by sending the DF-31 intercontinental ballistic missile to Cuba for a number of reasons.

(Recommended: Russia Could Make China the Master of the South China Sea)

First, this would be inconsistent with China’s existing nuclear doctrine, which emphasizes no-first use and assured retaliation/minimal means of reprisal.

Second, although China would vigorously protest U.S. tactical nuclear weapons being stationed in the Asia-Pacific, they ultimately would not pose an especially serious threat to Beijing. Indeed, given their limited range, tactical nuclear weapons in say, South Korea, would be of dubious value in a U.S.-China conflict, which would most likely take place south of China in places like Taiwan or the South China Sea. In these instances, if the fight entered the nuclear realm, the United States would be better served by its existing nuclear options such as long-range bombers, nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, or even ICBMs.

Third, and in the same vein, stationing nuclear weapons in Cuba would be of dubious military value to China. While the DF-31 ICBM only has a range of 8,000 kilometers, which makes it more fitted for regional deterrence, the DF-31A has a range surpassing 11,000 kilometers. This gives it plenty of range to reach the western United States. Other Chinese ICBMs like the CSS-4/DF-5, while not road-mobile like the DF-31, have longer ranges that can reach almost the entire United States. Furthermore, China now has SSBNs equipped with the JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), further expanding the range of Beijing’s nuclear arsenal.

Accordingly, while stationing nuclear weapons in Cuba would prompt a crisis with the United States like it did in 1962, it wouldn’t provide any notable military value for China. This is in contrast to 1962, when the Soviet Union didn’t have the range to hold America under nuclear threat. Thus, for Moscow, deploying nuclear weapons in Cuba was a risky gambit with a valuable pay-off if it succeeded.

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: Chinese Internet Photo

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

China's War Against Carbon Begins

The Buzz

China's long-anticipated formal pledge to international climate change negotiations, it's “intended nationally determined contribution” or INDC, has arrived.

China's target is a 60% to 65% reduction in the emissions-intensity of the economy by 2030 pegged at 2005 levels, with carbon dioxide emissions peaking around 2030, perhaps earlier. China has also pledged to increase the share of non-fossil fuels to 20% of total energy use and a large increase in forest carbon stocks.

The emissions-intensity target means reducing the ratio of carbon dioxide emissions to GDP by 60% to 65%, or conversely, increasing the amount of economic output per tonne of carbon by almost two-thirds. It's the only new commitment in addition to what China pledged at a joint announcement with the US at last year's APEC meeting. And it packs some punch.

Decarbonization and how to do it

What it means is that China aims to continue until 2030 the rate of decarbonization targeted for the 2005 to 2020 period—around 4% per year. This target will require strong action to improve energy productivity and shift to zero-carbon energy sources.

Such a pace of cleaning up  economic growth has rarely been achieved elsewhere over a significant period of time. The decarbonization rate in the U.S. since its emissions peak in 2007 is 3.3% per year, and this has included an unprecedented boom in cheap gas. EU carbon dioxide emissions peaked in 2002, and its collective emissions intensity declined by an annual average of 2.2% during the following ten years. The main historical precedent for decarbonization rates above 4% per year over extended periods of time are Russia and other parts of the Eastern bloc following the 1990s collapse of Soviet-era industrial structures.

The long list of actions listed in China's INDC is a fair indication of the magnitude of the task, and it is a sign of the resolve of the Chinese Government. They range from higher efficiency in coal use and a limit on the total amount of coal; fast development of solar, wind, hydro, nuclear and gas; energy efficient and low-carbon industrial systems; and cutting emissions from buildings and transport. The actions also include broader support for R&D, low-carbon growth patterns, a strong commitment to national emissions trading and to “make the market play a decisive role in resource allocation.”

Change is underway

Yet China could do better still. China is likely to outperform the 2020 target, given that average annual reductions from 2005 to 2014 were 4.5%, as reported by Beijing. Energy productivity greatly lags that of advanced economies. Enormous gains can be made by further improving technical efficiency and by accelerating the shift in economic structures away from energy-intensive industries. And China will continue to shift its energy mix away from coal and towards nuclear, gas and renewables, and also towards reducing the emissions-intensity of every unit of energy used.

Fundamental changes in the factors that drive China's greenhouse gas emissions are already happening. Total coal use in China fell in 2014 compared to 2013 (on the basis of preliminary data). This is partly because industrial output such as steel has leveled off, heralding the 'new normal' of Chinese economic growth. The era of extremely rapid expansion of infrastructure is coming to an end and the sources of economic growth are shifting to less resource-intensive activities.

Alongside structural changes, China is achieving rapid improvements in the efficiency of energy use. New coal-fired power stations are still being built, but they are state of the art and are replacing old inefficient plants. Industry, road transport and buildings are all getting more efficient and there is huge potential for further improvements. Add to that the push for the expansion of hydroelectricity and nuclear power, as well as solar and wind plants, all of which are beginning to make a dent in China's energy supply.

China's emissions turnaround is driven partly by circumstance and partly by a strong policy effort. That effort is not being undertaken out of altruism for the global climate but for solid reasons of national self-interest. A lower carbon trajectory has tangible short to medium-term benefits for China, as I explained in a recent paper with my colleague Teng Fei from Tsinghua University.

A flat and early peak?

It all adds up to the prospect that China's emissions could peak well before the target date of 2030, as argued recently by Nick Stern as well as Ross Garnaut. Many experts see a peak in the first half of the 2020s as possible, and some think it could happen even earlier.

Ultimately, what matters much more than the date of the peak is the level of China's emissions over years to come. 'Peaking' invokes images of a rapid increase in carbon emissions, then a turning point followed by a rapid decrease. But the historical experience is that countries' emissions trajectories simply flatten out, and the peak is a point not much higher than many others on a drawn-out plateau. The profile looks more like Mount Kosziousku than Mount Everest.

The climate pledge submitted this week does not give an estimate of that level, because it depends on the future growth rate of China's GDP. But that growth rate is slowing, and it could be that emissions levels will rise only gradually in coming years before a peak. That would be very good news for the climate.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here.

Image: Flickr. 

TopicsEnvironment RegionsAsia

Will Russia Really Build 24 Hypersonic Nuclear Missiles by 2020?

The Buzz

Russia will build 24 nuclear-capable hypersonic missiles over the next decade, according to a new report.

This month, Jane’s Intelligence Review published a report revealing that Russia secretly tested its Yu-71 hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) from an SS-19 missile in February of this year. “A test launch from the Dombarovsky missile division site in February 2015 suggests that Russia is actively pursuing the development of a hypersonic glide vehicle that could potentially expand the long-range strike capabilities of its Strategic Rocket Forces,” the Jane’s report said, the Washington Times reported.

However, that test, like previously Russian ones, was reportedly a failure.

Jane’s went on to say that, unlike America’s conventional global prompt strike (CGPS) program, Russia is developing its hypersonic missiles with nuclear warheads in mind. “Russia appears to be considering the option of deploying its hypersonic system in a nuclear, as well as conventional, configuration.”

Along with countries like China and the United States, Russia’s been developing hypersonic missiles in recent years under its Project 4202. The Yu-71 missile is expected to reach 11,200 kilometers per hour (7,000 miles per hour) and is extremely maneuverable. The maneuverability of hypersonic missiles allows the projectiles to skirt most missile defense systems, which are aimed at targeting the predictable trajectories of ballistic missiles.

Moscow has repeatedly expressed concern that America’s missile defense systems threaten its strategic nuclear forces. As such, it makes sense that Moscow would equip its hypersonic missiles with nuclear warheads.

The Jane’s report indicates that by the time Russia’s Yu-71 hypersonic missile enters into service, Moscow may also have its new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile to launch it from. The Sarmat is a liquid-fuel ICBM that is able to carry multiple warheads.

The Jane’s report also suspects that PAK-DA, the next-generation strategic bomber Russia is currently developing, will also be able to fire hypersonic missiles. That being said, the tremendous speed of hypersonic missiles makes them better suited for land-based missiles.

Altogether, Jane’s believes that Russia will deploy some 24 nuclear-capable Yu-71 hypersonic missiles between 2020 and 2025.

This is consistent with past statements by Russian defense industry officials. For example, back in November of last year, Boris Obnosov, general director of the Tactical Missile Systems Corporation, said he expected the first hypersonic missiles to appear before 2020. "In my estimation, the first hypersonic products should appear … in this decade — before 2020. We have approached this. We are talking about speeds of up to six to eight Mach. Achieving higher speeds is a long term perspective," Obnosov was quoted as saying at the time.

This timeline seems fairly optimistic, however. Indeed, Russia has reportedly been experimenting with hypersonic missiles since the 1980s when the Ronald Reagan administration first proposed the infamous Star Wars missile defense system.

Moreover, as noted above, Russia’s hypersonic missile tests have repeatedly failed, including the most recent one in February of this year. This stands in stark contrast to China, which has successfully test fired its Wu-14 hypersonic glide vehicle on a number of occasions.

Another factor that could force Russia to miss Jane’s deadline is that the hypersonic program, while evidently a priority for Moscow, is taking place amid a much broader military modernization program. Accordingly, the amount of resources Russia will be able to devote to a program with an uncertain future is questionable, especially given the country’s mounting economic woes. In a pinch, Moscow could focus on more reliable programs in order to have as many deliverable weapon systems during the modernization program timeframe.

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.  

TopicsSecurity RegionsEurasia