There was little surprise in US President Barack Obama’s announcement late last year that the US will strengthen its position in East Asia while drawing down its forces in Europe. After all, the security environment in East Asia is unpredictable and rapidly changing, unlike in Europe, where it is relatively stable. Against this background, efforts now underway to establish a comprehensive multilateral framework for the region can learn from the recent history of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The US is not alone in shifting its security focus to East Asia. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to host Russia’s first Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Vladivostok in September reflects his country’s growing interest in the region. Also, like the US, Russia attended last November’s East Asia Summit (EAS).
The EAS, along with the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) ministerial meetings in July last year, made important contributions to improving the region’s security environment. The forum’s effort to build a more predictable and constructive pattern of relations for the Asia-Pacific region is based on three stages: confidence-building, preventive diplomacy, and conflict resolution. At its 18th ministerial conference last year, the forum entered the second phase, preventive diplomacy, while continuing to strengthen confidence-building measures.
Maritime cooperation was a focus of attention at both the ARF ministerial meeting and at the East Asia Summit, not least because China’s activities in the South and East China Seas have generated fresh uncertainty in the region. The forum welcomed the adoption of “Guidelines for Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.”
Both meetings also focused on disaster management, with the ARF ministers reaching a common understanding on furthering regional cooperation. The ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance in Jakarta, Indonesia, is expected to play a central role in building a disaster-related information network across the region and in developing concrete measures for disaster management.
Similarly, many of the countries attending the East Asia Summit stressed the need for response capabilities, such as emergency disaster relief. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced his country’s readiness to host an international conference this summer on major disasters, giving Japan an opportunity to share lessons learned from last year’s Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. The aim must be to make the region more resilient to natural disasters as part of a broader framework for regional cooperation.
The rapid changes occurring in the Asia-Pacific region demand policies to maximize growth opportunities while minimizing risks. That is why Japanese foreign minister Koichiro Gemba has proposed new “open and multilayered networks” with other Asia-Pacific countries. “Multilayered” means multinational cooperation on various activities that can be promoted through bilateral, trilateral, or multilateral mechanisms. Work within the ARF and East Asia Summit frameworks is already aligned with this concept and Japan is pursuing its own trilateral dialogues with China and South Korea, as well as with the US and Australia.