A Brief Analysis of the Security Environment of Northeast Asia


Professor Shi Yuanhua

Fudan University    



A lag in constructing security environment in Northeast Asia


With the progress of world situation and the development of regional organizations of various degrees, such as EU, NAFTA and ASEAN, the issue of constructing a community and a common security system in Northeast Asia attracts more and more attention. After the Cold War, owing to relaxed situation of Northeast Asia, adjustment and reconstruction of relations between great powers, as well as transformation of the armistice treaty of Korean Peninsula to a peaceful mechanism, have been desires and requests of all parties involved. The establishment of Shanghai Cooperation Organization indicated great improvement of Central Asian security environment, which acted as a push and model in constructing the security environment of Northeast Asia.


However, the improvement has not been as satisfactory as expected, not only because of coexistence of traditional and nontraditional security issues, but also their severity. The Cold War shadow is still hanging over Northeast Asia from time to time. Compared to the security system of Europe, the construction of security environment in Northeast Asia lags far behind.


First, as for historical factors, although there were wars between Germany and France, Britain and France, and even though European countries experienced two World Wars which were much more disastrous than conflicts among Asian countries, Europe has solved its historical problems fairly well. On the contrary, the vague standpoint taken by the Japanese Government on the responsibility of and the compensation for World War ‡U, the textbook problem and the Prime Ministerfs paying homage to the Yasukuni Shrine have greatly irritated Asian countries invaded by Japan and have damaged the political foundation of the security environment of Northeast Asia. Despite various plans of solutions raised, the situation is becoming even worse without explicit prospect of appropriate arrangement.


Second, as for regional political frictions and conflicts, there are also all kinds of frictions and conflicts among European countries. In some regions, local conflicts are quite grave. For example, the eastward expansion of NATO indicates deep conflicts in interests between Russia and the Occident, nevertheless these conflicts are negotiable. However, there are blind alleys concerning problems in Northeast Asia, such as Korean Peninsula Issue, four northern islands problem between Japan and Russia, Taiwan issue in Sino-US relations, the strengthening of Japanese-US security guarantee system, the existence of US-Korean military alliance. There are also maritime territory disputes in Sino-Japanese and Korean-Japanese relations, etc, which reflect the comprehensive and complicated contradictions in Northeast Asia so that a win-win effect can not be obtained easily through adjustment or negotiation.


Third, as for ideology, though European cultures have various characteristics, they all come from the ancient European civilization, thus they share a lot of common senses. The collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries and their westernization eliminated ideological antinomy between them and the other part of Europe. Christian culture has become the common spiritual backbone of all European nations. This is an important reason why the European Collective Security System has made rapid progress. Yet in Northeast Asia, its culture includes Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Japanese religions, Orthodox Church, Christianity, which shows multifariousness and diversity. The complexity of ideology, though it has not led to the clash of civilizations as some western scholars predicted, is definitely not a positive factor in constructing the security environment of Northeast Asia. Meanwhile, with regards to realistic political forms, there are many countries with all sorts of political systems. Japan and Korea are developed capitalist countries; China and DPRK are socialist countries with their own characteristics; Russia is in a transitional period; and Mongolia has not yet had a clear orientation, etc. Diversity of national political systems and ideology, as well as clash of different values, is bound to bring about sinuations and difficulties in constructing the security system of Northeast Asia.


Fourth, as for economic integration, the critical role economy plays in world and regional security has drawn more and more attention and gained recognition. The European system of collective security is based on the development of the EU economic community. Although in East Asia, Japan, Korea and China have in turn achieved economic prosperity with the highest growth rate in the world, and this region has quite favorable geographical conditions, various attempts to form an economic community have not shown significant effect.  New economic cooperation model can not be established overnight, which also brings negative influences to Northeast Asian security environment.


Fifth, as for mechanism of security cooperation, the security mechanism and systems in Europe originated from the cold war, such as EU(political organization), NATO(military organization) etc. basically are still practical in solving security problems and communicating their defensive policies in spite of some inconsistency and problems. However, in Northeast Asia, there is no such effective security mechanism. US-Japanese and US-Korean Alliances, which were once the tools of the United States to contain USSR during the Cold War era, cannot dominate the regional security affairs now. After the Cold war, the function of US-Japanese Alliance was redefined so that it cannot afford the role as NATO plays in Europe. Since its guiding principle remains in Cold War era, in fact, sometimes the Alliance has caused negative effects in Northeast Asian security environment.


Time comes to the 21st century and constructing the security environment of Northeast Asia is confronted with many difficulties. Compared with mitigation of international tensions and the maturity of European common security system, Northeast Asian security environment appears lagging behind and disharmonious with other regions of the world.


Construction of Security Environment of Northeast Asia Takes on A New Look


Improving the security environment and establishing a multilateral security system in Northeast Asia have been put on the urgent agenda by all Northeast Asian countries. In my opinion, the construction of the Northeast Asian Security environment takes on a new look now. The situations and characteristics of Northeast Asia are very different from those of EU. There will be neither a gNATOh that serves as a political and military organization nor a rigorous security institution like EU which has built up perfect communicating mechanism and regards coercive collective actions as ultimate means. By contrast, the security system of Northeast Asia will be a security organization with loose arrangement. Actually the construction with the new look is in the course of progress.


First is to develop all kinds of partnerships. Northeast Asian countries such as China, Russia, Japan, Korea, DPRK and Mongolia have declared establishing various kinds of partnerships.  The common thing is that they are neither alliances nor confrontational relationships, or aiming at any third party or country. This kind of partnership is helpful for those countries to hurdle the obstacles nowadays facing Northeast Asian international relations, substituting the model of alliance or confrontation in the Cold War era for a new cooperative one. A collection of more and more bilateral partnerships makes up the Northeast Asian security environment. Currently the chief problems are US-DPRK relations, Japanese-DPRK relations and unstable Korean-DPRK relations, which have been ameliorated since the north-south summit conference in 2000. In addition, redefinition of US-Japanese Alliance and gaction on situational basish show disharmony of the new world order in the post Cold War era.


Second is to improve the construction of the Northeast Asian security environment by means of presidential diplomacy. Since 1990, presidential diplomacy has been playing increasingly important role in the course of establishing all sorts of partnerships and attempts to construct the security system.  China has paid reciprocal presidential visits to the US, Russia, Japan, Korea, DPRK, and Mongolia, and set up hotline communication mechanism. There are also other reciprocal presidential visits between those countries mentioned above. Even the US and DPRK, two countries once with tense confrontations against each other, also had talks and negotiations. Clintonfs trip to Pyongyang was almost a success. In June, 2000, the conception of summit conference between Korea and DPRK came true, which alleviated tensions in Korean Peninsula. In 2002 and 2004, Japan and DPRK had two summit conferences as well, making substantial progress in negotiation of establishing bilateral diplomatic relations. Besides, annual APEC and ASEAN 10+3 conferences create a mechanism of biannual meetings for presidents of Northeast Asian countries. More and more frequent presidential diplomatic meetings help a lot in constructing the Northeast Asian security environment.


Third is to adopt multilateral dialogue as an operative mechanism of the security environment. Since Northeast Asia lacks foundations for multilateral security cooperation, feasible institution at present must spurn the Cold War thoughts and stop drawing a line of demarcation between countries according to social systems, ideology, value, or economic development. Diversity must be acknowledged, and the positive influences of East Asian cultural tradition should be emphasized. Under the principle of peaceful coexistence and mutual interests, Northeast Asian countries should implement multi-channel, multiform dialogues, and improve bilateral and multilateral dialogues and cooperation on the hotspot issues such as North Korean nuclear issue, unification of Korea, four northern islands problem, Taiwan issue, the responsibility of Japan and its compensation for the war. Beginning with forming gthe habit of dialogueh, Northeast Asian countries can further strengthen bilateral and multilateral institutions including trust mechanism, cooperative mechanism and preventive diplomatic mechanism. As a result, a positive Northeast Asian security environment can be created.


Fourth is to regard multilateral conferences as a developing framework for the security environment of Northeast Asia. Flexible multilateral meeting is an appropriate form for constructing the security environment with loose connections. Four-party talks on North Korean nuclear issue in 1997, though making no substantial progress, demonstrated to be a helpful trial, preparing for the talks today. ASEAN 10+3 Conferences and three-party talks among China, Japan, and Korea are other feasible approaches. Although there have not been regular meetings in Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul, the three parties have agreed on further communication and cooperation, so that a positive future is predictable. Current ongoing three-party talks among US, Japan, Korea, negotiating their standpoints on DPRK nuclear issue, security and defense cooperation, is remains of the Cold War. Based on Japanese-US alliance and Korean-US alliance of that time, it, to a great extent, is a reflection of ideology. It is necessary to enlarge and reorganize the form of multilateral meetings in order to promote peace and stability in Northeast Asia and the formation of security mechanisms.


Fifth is to propel the construction of Northeast Asian security environment by economic cooperation. Strengthening political relations through economic means has become global trend. Actively developing bilateral and multilateral trade and economic cooperation not only lead to economic development and prosperity but also has a positive effect on constructing the security environment, serving as a firm foundation for the security system of Northeast Asia.


Northeast Asian security environment, through dialogue and cooperation, helps all nations gain relatively more security interests with relatively lower costs, so that all countries in this region can pursue common prosperity without burden. Although there are many difficulties and obstacles in front of us, forming a positive Northeast Asian security environment, which is helpful to all countriesf development and construction, has become the trend and demand of history. All nations in Northeast Asia should make every effort together in order to achieve the ideal.


Six-Party Talks: New Opportunity for Constructing Northeast Asian Security Environment


The Korean Peninsula, always regarded as the goriental Balkanh and gfar-east powder flaskh, is where the focus and difficulty lie in course of constructing the Northeast Asian Security Environment. Though the armistice treaty has maintained Northeast Asia peace in for 50 years, threats of conflicts and wars still remain. Since 1990, the North Korea nuclear issue has been in a terrible condition that one trouble followed another and they led to continuous disputes between the US and DPRK, influencing the whole Northeast Asian security environment. Pursuing for the establishment of security mechanism in Korean Peninsula to replace the armistice mechanism has become a crucial duty in constructing the Northeast Asian Security Environment.


First, the six-party talks are historical choice made by Northeast Asian countries through long-term hardworking.

When in October, 2002 North Korea nuclear crisis broke out again, US reasserted the principle of multilateral talks. In late April, 2003, under arduous endeavor of the Chinese Government, three-party talks among US, DPRK and China were held in Beijing, which were the preclude of six-party talks. The success of the three-round six-party talks was the outcome of 30 yearsf long-term efforts made by Northeast Asian countries. The results not only accord with the common interests of great powers like the US, China, Russia and Japan but also are acceptable to South and North Korea. It was the milestone from which all Northeast Asian countries walk up from rivalry to dialogue on the Korean Peninsula issues.


Second, solving DPRK nuclear issue under the framework of six-party talks has become the best and irreversible problem-solving pattern for all the countries in North Asia.

Though three-round six-party talks have not made substantial progress, and we may experience a long, complex and devious historical course to solve DPRK nuclear issue thoroughly, all parties in the talks showed no dissent in the form of six-party talks, which can be seen as a good beginning and has remarkable significance with reference to improving Northeast Asian security environment.


The practice of three-round six-party talks has demonstrated that it is the best way to solve DPRK nuclear issue. Chinese vice Minister of MFA Wang Yi said with wide support from the six governments and their people, as well as the international society, that the non-nuclear aim cannot be changed, the course of peaceful talks cannot be changed, and the historical trend that the Peninsula will attain peace and stability cannot be changed.


Third, the significance of six-party talks has been far beyond solving the nuclear issue itself. It has important implications to the construction of Northeast Asian security environment.

The six-party talks downright break through traditional limits of ideology and the concept of west and east of the Cold War era. The strategic conception invented by the US to establish Northeast Asia security mechanism based on US-Japanese, US-Korean Alliances indicates that the characteristics of southern triangle alliances, while they exist only in name in the six-party talks, have disappeared : DPRK and South Korea develop their relations avoiding the interference of the US; great changes have taken place in US-Korean alliance; the Prime Minister of Japan contacted Pyongyang solely and his attitudes were somehow different from Washingtonfs; the collective action of the US, Japan and Korea is in dilemma; the development of Sino-Korean relations is getting as important as US-Korean relations; the old concept of East and West of the cold war era clashes. That every nation can consider DPRK nuclear issue from perspectives of regional security, world peace and national interests is meaningful to solve the problem and construct the security environment.


The six-party talks sponsored by China embody the New Security perspective and new political and economical order perspective in contrast with the way US coped with Iraq issue. China asserted that international disputes such as DPRK nuclear issue should be solved through peaceful dialogue. China is against sanctions, oppressions, or wars. On the way to success, the talks are making significant contributions to solving DPRK nuclear issue and maintaining regional security environment.


The six-party talks have decided to found work groups. Through the concept gwork grouph the six-party talks can make clear its responsibility and operative pattern, which contributes to smooth and effective implementation, accumulation of experience for ultimate form of multinational security systems of Northeast Asia.


Fourth, the institutionalization of the six-party talks: the aim of constructing Northeast Asian security environment.

The success of three-round six-party talks brings about a new opportunity for constructing Northeast Asian security environment. The Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon once expressed: gWe need to develop six-party talks to a regional security forum eventually in order to ensure the steps to peace and stability in Northeast Asia.h This has shown the Korean Governmentf policy inclination that it intends to turn the six-party talks into an security institution. Although other governments have not expressed their opinions, scholars have made many comments indicating that how to relate the six-party talks to the construction of Northeast Asian security environment is an important problem deserving careful consideration by governments of Northeast Asian countries. The three-round six-party talks offers very precious enlightenment and experience for crisis management mechanism in Northeast Asia. Such pattern provides a promising stage for solving problems of Northeast Asian security mechanism, which is significant in constructing Northeast Asian security environment.


In my opinion, it is likely to expand the six-party talks to a conventional organization like Shanghai Cooperation Organization. If so, this organization should let all the Northeast Asian countries and countries that have vital interests in the region join in, such as Mongolia, EU, ASEAN etc. in order to ensure that all partiesf interests are taken into consideration. Besides, the organization should build up multi-channel dialogue mechanism, such as summit conferences, administrative head conferences, ministerial conferences and special topic meetings on security cooperation or economic cooperation etc.. The talks can be held in participating countriesf capitals or other cities in turn. Thus, such an organization is bound to become an effective approach and a reasonable pattern for peaceful solution of the Korean Peninsula problems and construction of Northeast Asian security environment.