THE Asian continent is diverse but its countries have many similarities. Most of the Asian countries till the middle of the last century had been subjected to colonial rule, foreign occupation and alien domination. By now a predominant number of its people have won independence. There are 53 Asian member states in the United Nations out of a total of 193. Asian countries have either already rapidly developed economically in the past three to four decades or are on their path to development. All members of the Asian family have common stakes in fighting the scourges of poverty, deprivation, terrorism and transnational crimes. There are lingering intra-Asian differences and disputes mostly dating back to the colonial period. What is new is that Asia is becoming conscious of its shared destiny and the need to cooperate to resolve their problems.
The overall security has improved in Asia, but in the absence of a structure for security it is vulnerable and fragile. The prospects of unprecedented prosperity and enhanced security are engendering security of those who had been dominating the world order in the past two centuries. But this risk could be reduced by assuring all that Asia’s prosperity is for the entire world, not just for Asia. In this era, we need not repeat the mistakes of the past. Cooperation should replace confrontation, wars and suffering. This is the vision of Asia, which should send a message of hope to Oceania, Europe, Africa, North America and Latin America.
Asia is the new global hub for economic activity. It is, therefore, also by default becoming both an arena of strategic competition and a super-connector for global stability. So from that angle, Asia is not secure and requires more concerted efforts to make it secure. The onus for that, in addition to the global actors, is on Asia itself.
The Conference on Confidence Building in Asia (CICA) has made a good beginning and has a promising future; and we must thank Kazakhstan for its historic and farsighted initiative. At the moment, there is no regional mechanism in place to cover the whole of Asia but CICA has the potential to become one. Since the early 1990s, the world has been in search of a new world order. The post-Cold War period was a transitional period in which the US briefly celebrated a unipolar world. But now many new poles are emerging. The world needs a new equilibrium, a new system of checks and balances. CICA’s membership already encompasses states from Central Asia, West Asia, the Middle East, South Asia and North and South East Asia. This is a huge geographical expanse. China and Russia seem to be its core members and Japan, the third largest world economy, is its observer and so is, significantly, the US.
Over the years, thanks to the leadership provided by China, CICA is now perceived, next to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, as an important emerging forum for international cooperation and confidence building for both security and development. But to make the best use of its large members and to be effective, CICA has to evolve from it loose framework into a more structured organization. This does not have to be rushed. It can be done gradually in concert with the comfort level of its membership.
CICA, fortunately, is supplemented by the flagship mega-projects of One Belt One Road, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Corridor and four other corridors planned along the Belt. What is more, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Silk Road Fund give the necessary financial muscles to these proposals. CICA would thus facilitate China’s and East Asia’s connectivity with West Asia, Europe and Africa.
President Xi Jinping’s new Asian security concept has three dimensions: 1) the new security order has to be “common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable”; 2) the Asian countries have to demonstrate leadership in shaping such a security order; and 3) the Asian countries have to signal that they can manage their affairs and destiny themselves.
The old system of alliances dating back to the Cold War and the colonial era is fraying. But the new Asian security concept does not threaten the old order. It captures the essence of the emerging security parameters, synthesizes new values and rejuvenates the world order; it enables the new realities to cascade into the old ones. There would be no sudden break but a fusion. As misgivings about the SCO are being set aside, CICA should be seen and developed as a benign initiative for win-win cooperation. This alternative paradigm leverages economic geography and builds connectivity by linking a chain of adjacent economies into a network of interdependent transnational infrastructure, energy corridors, trade and investment, and joint industrial enterprises. This kind of induced economic contiguity and proximity would create new value systems for peace and security and new value chains for economic progress.
The good news is that most of the Western countries welcome these new developments and are ready to embrace new realities. The UK, France, Germany, Australia and other developed nations have subscribed to the AIIB. Canada is pondering to join. This means there would be less friction. Some 4.4 billion people and more than 60 nations will be part of the OBOR. This is happening on an astronomical scale.
It was a historic imperative to build common destiny and create a community of common destiny because today all problems have become global. Climate change, depleting biodiversity, disasters, conflicts, terrorism, migration, population growth, urbanization – affect us all, without exception. It is one planet, one destiny. The United Nations was created to save the succeeding generations from the scourge of war and to create conditions for a decent life for all individuals and nations. It has succeeded to a great extent by averting major wars, but asymmetric warfare has struck many corners of the world. Abject poverty still is the fate of billions of people. The good news is that the world has the resources to face these challenges. CICA and the new Asian security concept can work in tandem with the UN.
Moreover, China is the biggest and a phenomenal reality of our times. Its outreach is global; its home is Asia. This reality entails recognition. Mechanism like CICA and SCO give China the necessary traction for playing a constructive role for regional and global peace and prosperity.
President Xi’s proposed security concept envisages a new architecture that reflects the genuine aspirations of the Asian people, post-independence. China wants to be part of this new architecture – one amongst equals, not as a hegemon. This new architecture would require deeper multilateral and bilateral cooperation among CICA members, greater interaction among their citizens, real time exchange of information, and collaborative strategies to fight the Asian region’s common foes such as terrorists. A failure to communicate will lead to a failure to relate. As a large number of states in Asia and beyond will develop rapidly, there would be competition for scarce resources, especially land, water and energy. The new security architecture will help ensure that such competition does not morph into confrontation by constantly working on confidence building measures and conflict resolution through dialogue and diplomacy.
Pakistan is a close friend of China. It is pursuing its strategic cooperative partnership with China. Both Pakistan and China want peace and amity in the region; and make efforts to promote peaceful coexistence. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has bound the two countries in a stronger bond. Pakistan-China friendship is in fact a practical implementation of the new Asian security concept where the principles of win-win cooperation, mutual benefit, mutual respect and greater good of the regional communities take primacy. This is CICA spirit in action as the two countries work for global and regional public goods.