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Challenges of Cooperation in Asia-Pacific Region: Highlighting Some Probabilities

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During the Cold War, the security rule set consisted of goals and strategies that reflected the dichotomy of the global economy into capitalist and socialist camps. Today, in the era of globalisation, the global economy should be governed by cooperation, and not through military or security challenges. Cooperation is highly recommended as a mechanism to realise peace and stability.1 As an example of cooperative governance, the Asia-Pacific region gained its importance as a geopolitical centre of struggle for world power. It is the driving force of the global economy. Countries like USA, Japan, China, and Russia are the most powerful economies in the world. Moreover, the growth of economies in some developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region makes cooperation within the region a rational choice to improve both stability and development.

The nature of some key issues in the Asia-Pacific region does seem to be changing in fundamental ways. In particular, and of immense relevance to regional cooperation, the distinction between economic and security issues (or non-traditional and traditional security) is now much more difficult to maintain. As an example of this, during a presidential trip to the Asia Pacific, while in Australia, the US president has highlighted different issues that can be related. He said that: “As the world’s fastest-growing region, and home to more than half the global economy, the Asia Pacific is critical to achieving my highest priority, and that's creating jobs and opportunity for the American people… As we end today’s wars, I have directed my national security team to make our presence and mission in the Asia Pacific a top priority. As a result, reductions in U.S. defense spending will not, I repeat, will not come at the expense of the Asia Pacific… As President, I have, therefore, made a deliberate and strategic decision, as a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future.”2

From this point of view, it is very clear that the militarily and economically strong states in the Asia-Pacific region tend to deal with a variety of issues in other countries that can be economic, security or political, in order to serve their own interests.3 Moreover, Hoadley pointed out that new threats have emerged to frustrate the efforts of Asian governments and international organisations. The countries in Asia-Pacific region should give more attention to security as a solution for threats such as terrorism and environmental degradation. Therefore, cooperating in security issues is necessary in Asia Pacific to improve harmony and stability.4

To clarify this argument, organisations and forums like ASEAN and APEC were established to deal with economic and trade issues and a number of members have resisted any attempt to introduce any new issues into the agenda. However, in the new world environment, several key security debates, such as terrorism, environmental degradation, and economic crisis, have important economic dimensions. Such organisations could not avoid adding these new issues, which are diverting the organisations’ focus from economic to security issues. Based on this, there are some probabilities that can affect the Asia-Pacific regional cooperation in a number of ways such as the following;

Although terrorism is considered to be a great security threat, countries may not maintain a homogeneous view on how to deal with it. To ascertain the nature of an internal threat, it is necessary to evaluate the issue of terrorism from the perspective of interdependence within the region as a main characteristic of any regional cooperation. The issue of terrorism can potentially create an attitude of non-cooperation among Asia-Pacific countries. Since there can be no economic growth without stability, and no development without security or peace, security occupies an important place in Asia-Pacific region. However, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in the United States in September 2001, everything has been subordinated to the so-called war on terror. This has overridden the previous regional cooperation considerations and objectives in Asia-Pacific region, most notably the efforts of governments in the region to prevent outside interference, and to enhance nation building and economic development.5

In the post-Cold War era, US military power has become increasingly constrained with the shift away from communism as a doctrine for the conduct of international affairs. The US could not intervene directly in a case where there was no overt communist aggression. As a result of that, the US had to be 'invited' to go to the rescue of a country which had been invaded by an aggressor. Today, the problem of terrorism is increasing notwithstanding, the security threat in the region has therefore increased and with it, US military power.6 As an example of US domination of security issues within the region, in 2002, APEC leaders decided to introduce a new “Secure Trade in the APEC Region” (STAR) initiative as a concrete anti-terrorism measure, so from 2002 onwards, anti-terrorism became a regular topic in the annual APEC meetings.

In 2003 a counter-terrorism task force was set up within APEC. Its role was to identify and assess counter-terrorism needs and to coordinate capacity building and technical assistance programmes on counter-terrorism issues. Meanwhile, from 2001 to 2005, the position of the US toward further APEC regional liberalisation was either negative or non-committal. It is not hard to say whether it was the US anti-terrorism campaign that changed the nature of APEC from an economic forum that discusses trade liberalisation, to a comprehensive institution with a broad security agenda that does not include trade liberalisation in its discussion. If trade liberalisation is one of the main characteristics of regional cooperation, then the issue of terrorism, by giving priority to security issues within the APEC forum, may therefore make it no longer eligible.

Any individual American action will not be welcomed by regional states which rightly fear its destabilising effects. Some regional states, notably Malaysia and China, prefer to discuss the terrorism issue regionally, for instance under ASEAN+3 or APEC forums and not what the United States favours, by taking individual action.

The US is likely to continue to play a security role in the Asia-Pacific region, not only because the region has a number of security problems, but also because the region is important to the US. Nevertheless, this security role under “war on terror” will increasingly be in cooperation with some regional states. Countries like Singapore and Japan believe that if the US as a superpower was not safe from terrorist attacks, the security in Asia-Pacific region will be under threat and for that the cooperation should be promoted with the US in combating terrorism. However, countries in the region like China and Malaysia know that US does not take into account regional concerns and interests. This issue can affect interdependence in terms of dividing the opinions of regional country members during the meetings. If some countries, such as Australia and Japan, support the United States in its war, others, like China, may not. This situation of disagreement, in which each country has its own interest in supporting or not supporting the United States over this issue, may slow down the process of cooperation between countries and may therefore, as a result, adversely influence the interdependence of economies.

In addition, the strong relationship between economic growth and the environment brings the region under pressure. It is because the member economies sometimes do not agree on which environmental issues are to be given the priority to solve. It is highly recommended that cooperation is employed in solving such problems: however, Asia-Pacific countries have no clear idea on how to deal with environmental degradation, which makes the future of interdependence somewhat precarious.

As an important characteristic of regional cooperation, interdependence can transmit good influences as well as bad ones. The resource scarcity for example, may cause problems in the future, particularly in the South China Sea. Rapid growth and economic development may mean resource competition and perhaps environmental degradation, which in turn can lead to ignoring the effects of this threat on some developing countries. While environmental degradation is generally perceived as an essential issue that needs to be addressed, for some countries, namely Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines, it is considered a non-issue during the regional meetings and forums. This is due to the fact that the developing and underdeveloped members do not have a strong enough voice to raise this issue. This can be considered a sign of discrimination, which can lead to non-cooperation because the developed countries do not take this issue seriously. We suggest that there is an observed correlation between environmental degradation and poverty in a wide variety of settings, which means that environmental degradation can be an important issue for underdeveloped countries. As a result of this, even though the Asia-Pacific region consists of many key countries that can make the difference in Copenhagen conferences, the lack of progress on the issues of environment and climate change within the region over recent years, means that even a political agreement that resolves them would make Copenhagen unsuccessful in terms of adopting a standard statement and unifying the consideration in environmental issues.

Another challenge that can lead the Asia-Pacific region to non-cooperation is the current economic crisis. It is relevant that in addition to gains from trade, interdependence affects performance through less conventional channels, including connections between the growth rates of different economies. Evidence of such linkages is suggested by the typically high correlation of growth rates of countries in the same region, especially during the crisis time. However, with a recession already underway in the United States and other developed countries, it is quite startling to hear for example, that leaders in China suggest they can help the world by offering growth rates of up to 10%.7 This means that the countries in the Asia-Pacific region are not interdependent enough to reflect the regional cooperation and to represent an acceptable regional average of economic growth. The absolute differences in economic growth among the countries reflect the lack economic interdependence as an important indicator in regional cooperation. It is very clear that the countries in the region differ in the way they view the economic crisis. While some countries are talking about the economic problems their countries are facing, others, like China, are talking about economic growth.

Asia-Pacific countries’ diversity in dealing with the economic crisis makes it very clear that the region is still far from a level of real economic interdependence. Economic crisis can be an issue that separates countries from each other or makes more parallel economic groupings that finally result in non-interdependence. Moreover, for some members, discrimination can be a solution to solving the economic crisis. Countries like the United States cannot include other members in their discussions about a suitable solution for the crisis, because the differences between economies and the degree of being affected by the crisis are not the same. Therefore, discrimination could be a necessity for some members like the United States and Asian countries.

It is very clear from the discussions that Asia-Pacific regional organisations have added some issues in economic and security in the regional agenda of cooperation. This is clearly because of the agenda of the United States as a superpower and some key player countries in the region such as Australia and Japan. The responses of countries in the region to the threats have generally varied according to the intensity of their concerns about the threats to their own stability and domestic politics. In general, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines were quick to crack down on militant groups and share intelligence with the United States and Australia, whereas Indonesia began to do so only after attacks or arrests reveal the severity of the threat to their own citizens. Also, the region still lacks progress in the issues of environment and climate change. This is because the Asia-Pacific region consists of powerful countries and emerging countries that cannot give up their economic growth for the sake of protecting the environment. Finally, the impact of the current economic crisis holds still greater possibilities for the Asia-Pacific region; and the responses of countries have varied, making it a challenge to maintain the cooperation in the region.


Notes

1 Barnett, Thomas. (2005). The Pentagon’s new map: War and peace in the twenty first century. New York: Berkley Books.

2 President Barack Obama, Remarks By President Obama to the Australian Parliament, available from:http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/11/17/remarks-president-obama-australian-parliament, accessed in November 30th, 2012.

3 Schirm, Stefan. (2002). Globalization and the new regionalism. Cambridge: polity press Cambridge.

4 Hoadley, Stephen. (2006). Asian security reassessed. Singapore: Institute of southeast Asian Studies.

5 Khoo, Nicholas and Smith, Michael L. (2002). The future of American hegemony in the Asia- Pacific: a Concert of Asia or a clear pecking order?. Australia: Australian Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 56, No. 1.

6 Nesadurai, Helen E. (2003). Globalization, domestic politics and regionalism. London: Routledge.

7 te Velde, Willem. (2008). The global financial crisis and developing countries, UK: Overseas Development Institute.



Ramzi Bendebka is the author of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation: A study in New Regionalism, 1989-2009 ( LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing, 2012). Germany.


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