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Asian century: a period of growth or increased conflict?

What is needed is more intense bilateral diplomacy among Asian governments to settle long-standing disputes

By Richard Haass

Meanwhile, Japan appears determined to extricate itself from many of the military constraints imposed on it (and, until recently, embraced by the vast majority of Japanese) as a result of its aggressive behavior in the 1930s and 1940s.

These developments both reflect and reinforce heightened nationalism throughout the region. What is needed is more intense bilateral diplomacy among Asian governments to settle long-standing disputes. From there, regional pacts that promote free-trade and contend with climate change should be negotiated. Finally, a regional forum should be established to regulate better the deployment of military force, including confidence-building measures to reduce the risk of incidents and to help manage them if they occur.

Some of what is needed can be modeled on what Europe has achieved, but Europe is relevant for another reason: Europeans have succeeded in maintaining stability and building great prosperity for the last seven decades in no small part because of the US presence and role. The US, an Atlantic power, was fully integrated into the region’s economic and security arrangements.

Something along these lines is likely to be no less critical for Asia, where the US, which is also a Pacific power, has vital interests and deep commitments. The US’ strategic “pivot” to Asia thus needs to be substantial and lasting.

This will require that successive US administrations emphasize free-trade, increase the US’ air and naval presence, and invest in diplomacy designed to promote China’s integration within the region on terms consistent with the interests of the US, its allies (Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Australia) and its many friends.

The alternative is an Asia left to its own devices — and an Asian century that is dominated by China, or characterized by frequent bouts of diplomatic tension or even conflict. Few in Asia or beyond would benefit from such a future.

Richard Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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