April 25: An Assertive China and Asia’s Emerging Regional Order: The View from a Potentially Conflicted American Ally

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April 25, 2012: Nick Bisley
(Click to enlarge) Nick Bisley shares his observations of Asia's evolving regional order at the East-West Center in Washington.
(Click to enlarge) Nick Bisley shares his observations of Asia's evolving regional order at the East-West Center in Washington.

An Assertive China and Asia’s Emerging Regional Order: The View from a Potentially Conflicted American Ally

WASHINGTON, DC (April 25, 2012) – It is widely recognized that Asia’s regional order is experiencing a period of flux due to the shifting fortunes and policies of the region’s major powers. Uncertainty about the future is widespread and a key driver of the recent increases in military spending across the region. Dr. Nick Bisley argued that while not entirely settled, many of the key components of Asia’s emerging order are already in place, most particularly the policies of the US and the PRC toward the region. He explained how the events of 2010—when China displayed a much more assertive approach to its regional interests—are a leading indicator of how Asia’s security order is likely to evolve. If left unchanged, the policies of the major powers are likely to generate a much more unstable regional setting than in the past, and present many in the region with a considerable strategic dilemma as they face conflicts between their economic and security interests.

In examining Australia as an example of one such potentially conflicted ally, the policy debate in Canberra illustrates the impact that the changing order is already having on the region’s lesser powers. However despite seeming to be torn between its economic ties with China and security relationship with the US, Dr. Bisley concluded that the reality is that while Australia may be conflicted, in the past few years it has made unambiguous policy choices to clarify its strategic position: particularly by “doubling down on the alliance” with the US by agreeing to host marines in Darwin, and trying to develop institutional support in Asia for the American vision for the regional order. Policies of closeness with the US that were spurred by China’s regional assertiveness in 2010, and dissipating fears cooled trade relations with China over a firm security relationship with the US would significantly impact the economy- with raw materials and higher education comprising the bulk of sales to China, other buyers exist.

The implication of all of this, he warns, is that friction in the region looks likely to increase. At present Asia’s strategic future appears to be more uncertain and unstable than at any point since the early 1980s, however, a contested order is by no means inevitable. As such the seminar concluded with an examination of ways in which regional powers may take steps to foster a more stable regional setting.

Dr. Bisley is Professor of International Relations and head of the Politics and International Relations Department at La Trobe University, Australia. His research and teaching expertise is in the international relations of the Asia-Pacific, globalization and the diplomacy of great powers. In 2009-2010, he was a Senior Research Associate at the International Institute of Strategic Studies and in 2012 is a Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center, Washington DC. His recent publications include Great Powers in a Changing International Order (Lynne Rienner, 2012) and Building Asia's Security (Routledge for IISS, 2009, Adelphi No. 408).

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