Earlier this year, FPRI convened a conference to assess Asia’s shifting strategic landscape. Participants addressed long-term trends that have transformed the strategic environment in Asia, including the rise of China as an economic and military power, Japan’s protracted reconsideration of its place in the international order, the end of the Cold War and the decline of Russian power, and the escalating nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula. Participants also examined the impact of 9/11, including its effects on the focus of U.S. foreign policy, U.S. relations with powers in the region, and approaches to the North Korea problem. Participants included Kurt Campbell, Kent Calder, Jonathan Pollack and Stephen Blank (principal paper-givers) and Richard Betts, James Kurth, Gilbert Rozman, George Packard, Jacques deLisle, Michael Swaine, Stephen Kotkin and Vladimir Zubok (commentators). Panels focused on the major regional powers: the United States, China, Japan and Russia. In a keynote address, Ambassador Donald Gregg commented on the Korean crisis. Articles based on papers presented at the conference and additional articles on “Asia’s Shifting Strategic Landscape” appear in the current (Fall 2003) issue of Orbis, FPRI’s quarterly journal of world affairs.
The United States: Coping with a Rising China, North Korean Nukes, Troubled Allies, and a New Type of War
Participants agreed that the challenge of coping with China’s rise remained a central and durable issue for the United States in East Asia, and that the U.S.-PRC relationship had recently entered an exceptionally good phase. The improved climate in bilateral relations stemmed from several sources, including the post-9/11 shift in the focus of U.S. foreign policy. It became less plausible to argue that a rising and revisionist China presented the greatest obstacle to American power and interests internationally — or, more radically, that the “China threat” would fill the void in American foreign policy left by the demise of Cold War anti-communism. The George W. Bush administration’s strategy for prosecuting the “war on terrorism” and addressing the “axis of evil” required China’s cooperation, in tolerating a vastly expanded U.S. military presence near its western borders, in helping to secure Pakistan’s cooperation with the U.S. agenda, and in facilitating efforts to address the North Korean weapons crisis. Recognizing that it “needed China,” the Bush administration moderated the confrontational rhetoric and action of its first eighteen months in office with respect to China and, especially, Cross-Strait issues. Interest in improving ties came as well from Beijing, which was pleased with the U.S.’s more accommodating stance and the reexpansion of military and technical cooperation, relieved at U.S. preoccupation with matters other than the “China threat,” concerned about its own (albeit minor) Islamic terrorism problem, and confident in its growing influence in the region and the world.
Panelists identified several factors that cautioned against assuming that the recent improvement is durable. U.S.-PRC relations have long exhibited a cyclical quality that is unlikely to have changed fundamentally in the aftermath of 9/11. American foreign policy’s shift in focus away from China and East Asia and toward the Middle East and Central Asia likely would moderate. Indeed, the North Korean nuclear issue had begun to attract grudging (but persistently insufficient) attention from Washington despite the U.S.’s preoccupation with the war in Iraq and its aftermath. While 9/11 struck a blow to the U.S.’s sense of security, it did not undermine the U.S.’s “strategic activism.” In tangible ways, 9/11 increased the U.S. commitment to maintaining and using military primacy. This agenda portends disruptive change in the U.S. relationship with China if the PRC continues to grow stronger, build its military capacity and assert itself as a regional power. Many of the possible outcomes — ranging from U.S. strategic retrenchment in East Asia to sharpened clashes between the U.S. and China to a division of the region into spheres of influence between the U.S. and China — could entail significant instability.
Alternatively, China might stumble under the weight of its many domestic challenges, including high and rising inequality and unemployment, massively indebted and unreformed firms in key economic sectors, emergent social unrest, incomplete leadership transition and an unsettled trajectory of political reform. Such a troubled China, its rapid ascension arrested, could be destabilizing for the region and an irascible partner for the U.S., far less willing or able to sustain the post-9/11 salutary state of the bilateral relationship. Moreover, as the arms sales package and several policy statements from the Bush administration’s opening months once again showed, the Taiwan issue remains a perennial source of potential conflict in U.S.-PRC relations.
While China poses the biggest long-term challenges for U.S. policy in East Asia, North Korea is the focus of the most pressing crisis. As 9/11 underscored, and as U.S. foreign policy had previously recognized, failed states and rogue states can pose significant threats. Participants were highly critical of the U.S.’s handling of the principal rogue and potentially failing state in East Asia, noting that the Bush administration had failed to devote sufficient attention to the North Korean situation, and had adopted an approach — refusing to engage Pyongyang while threatening military action or demanding regime change — that led to further festering of the crisis, gave the North Korean regime no incentive to cooperate, and strained relations between Washington and Seoul. Panelists identified several possible sources for this unfortunate approach, ranging from the inherent difficulties and frustrations of attempting to negotiate with North Korea, to the Bush administration’s near-obsessive “not Clinton”-ism, to the inherent inability of U.S. administrations to focus on more than one crisis at a time, to the constraints imposed by the heavy commitment of U.S. military resources to western and central Asia. The relative inattention and ill-chosen approach to North Korea, panelists concluded, could not be explained by North Korea’s being less significant than Iraq as a threat to U.S. interests. In terms of rogue international behavior, development of weapons of mass destruction, or weapons proliferation, the DPRK was at least as dangerous as Iraq. The six-power process centered initially on talks in Beijing promised a welcome, if belated and limited, shift in the U.S. approach to dealing with North Korea and its weapons programs.
Another problem on the Asian strategic landscape for the United States is that America appears even to its regional allies to be a difficult and often unpredictable power. Some panelists characterized the U.S.’s approach to security issues in post-Cold War Asia as seeking to maintain an environment of stability and friendly relations, but doing so with ad hoc methods and on the basis of American primacy, with little effort to establish supporting institutions or a viable balance of power structure. In recent years, the U.S. has favored Japan’s taking on more active roles in security and political affairs in the region — roles that produce considerable political complications in Japan. Since 9/11, Washington also has pressed Tokyo to provide active, tangible support for the “war on terrorism,” while reducing pressure on Japan to undertake significant reforms to address economic stagnation. The Bush administration’s approach to the North Korean weapons crisis significantly strained relations between the U.S. and Japan and between the U.S. and the Republic of Korea. Divisions between Seoul and Washington over policies toward the North combined with increasingly vocal objections to the U.S. military presence and resentment over perceived U.S. meddling in Korea’s presidential election to contribute to a deepening popular anti-Americanism. At the same time, U.S. contemplation of substantial long-term troop reductions in the region triggered concerns, especially in South Korea, that the U.S. would reduce its strategic commitment — a perception that could accelerate the trend, already well-developed in Southeast Asia, toward engaging China’s as the region’s most important power in the long run.
Concern over the stability and security of U.S. support is an issue in U.S.-Taiwan relations too. Panelists generally favored the shift in U.S. policy from “strategic ambiguity” toward the “strategic clarity” of opposing PRC coercion of Taiwan and Taiwanese formal declarations of independence. But several other factors contributed to disconcerting uncertainty about the U.S. from Taiwan’s perspective. These included the substantial improvement in U.S.-PRC relations after 9/11, the related backing down from the more strongly pro-Taiwan stance of the early George W. Bush administration, the continuing economic difficulties and loss of confidence in the Taiwanese model on Taiwan, and the apparent confidence from Beijing that time was on its side in Cross-Strait relations.
Finally, the East Asian strategic landscape changed most dramatically for the U.S. after 9/11 in South and Southeast Asia. The related issues of the war against terrorism, Islamic radicalism and growing anti-Americanism became newly central to U.S. relations with Pakistan (and, as a result, India), Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and even Singapore. In these regions, the U.S.’s security policy moved farthest toward what one panelist described as a twenty-first century-style conflict with non-state actors — a conflict that focuses on preemption, policing and close cooperation with governments of states where terrorist cells lurk.
Japan: Toward a Less “Reactive” Foreign Policy?
Participants agreed that Japan has been a “reactive state” in its foreign policy and, specifically, in addressing security issues throughout the postwar era. Japan primarily has sought a stable and open regional and international environment for trade and investment. This has implied security goals of keeping open the channels for the international flow of goods and capital, a stable regime of deterrence in Northeast Asia, and sufficient stability in the Middle East to maintain vital oil supplies. At the same time, Japan has eschewed the military and security roles that would be commensurate with such economic might and with the security interests in a “normal nation” — and activist or nationalist foreign and security policies more generally.
Several factors may account for Japan’s enduringly “reactive” foreign policy. On some accounts, the trauma of World War II instilled a deep popular aversion to militarism and geopolitical involvement. From another perspective, the explanation for the absence of proactive foreign policy lies in Japan’s external environment, which has been remarkably stable and characterized by good relationships with the two major regional powers (the U.S. and the PRC) and most other regional states. On another view, the explanation lies in Japan’s domestic institutional structure (including some features established under postwar U.S. occupation) which embed a reactive foreign policy by limiting and subordinating the military within the governmental structure, and by fragmenting the political authority to make foreign policy.
Panelists identified several forces conducive to Japan’s becoming a less “reactive” and more “normal” state. The last two decades have transformed Japan’s economic interests in Asia, with a substantial shift from trade toward investment, and a shift from Southeast Asia toward Northeast Asia (especially China and the China-Japan-Korea triangle). Such a shift toward outbound investment typically brings greater concern with the economic policies and internal orders of recipient states and, thus, a more proactive foreign policy. Similarly, deeper economic integration with a large neighboring power and other nearby states ordinarily generates a foreign policy that is less passive and more focused on security implications. Demographic trends portend additional erosion of reactive foreign policy traditions. The aging of the Japanese population likely will reinforce dependence on outbound investment and economic integration with Northeast Asia, and also may draw many more Japanese women into the workforce. Moreover, a younger generation less inclined to acquiesce in traditional institutions, more critical of close U.S.-Japanese ties and newly cosmopolitan compared to its isolationist-minded predecessors, may open the way to new approaches.
Participants identified several political and institutional developments that may be adding significant means for articulating new, more proactive ideas in foreign policy. The institutional custodians of Japan’s reactive foreign policy — including the Self-Defense Forces, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Liberal Democratic Party — have been seriously discredited. Electoral reforms in 1994 (introducing single-member districts in which candidates compete for a majority of votes cast) created new incentives for Diet candidates to make broad appeals on policy issues, including foreign policy. There has been increasing centralization of foreign policy decision-making within a national government that has shown signs of consensus favoring new approaches to foreign policy, and that is led by Prime Minister Koizumi who has shown a penchant for dramatic — and poll-boosting — foreign policy gestures such as his hostage release-securing trip to North Korea. Seemingly paradoxically, local governments have become more assertive as well, articulating agendas and defending interests that can constrain foreign policy. The rise of a more diverse media and NGO’s has created more powerful forums for the articulation of heterodox foreign policy views. And, in light of Japan’s changing international economic roles and interests, big business too may be emerging as a more active and influential participant in foreign policy debates.
Finally, Japan’s external environment has become less benign and stable. While Japan remains primarily a status quo power, few others in the region are. The U.S. shift toward a policy of preemptive war has posed policy difficulties for Japan and raised questions in Japan about the U.S. as a potentially disruptive actor in Northeast Asia. Although China generally has sought a stable international environment, the PRC remains a rapidly rising power — a development that typically produces pressure to revise the existing security order, at least in the long run. In this context, Japan’s growing economic dependence on China raises the troubling prospect of Finlandization for Japan. North Korea is an avowedly anti-status quo actor, and the crisis over North Korean weapons program is the most obvious threat to regional security. South Korea’s commitment to the status quo is increasingly in doubt, not least because of tensions with the U.S. that have escalated amid the North Korean weapons controversy. Taiwan feels increasingly threatened by what it sees as a status quo that is evolving in a direction favorable to Beijing’s agenda for reunification.
Panelists differed somewhat about whether these many forces for transformation would produce much movement and make Japan a significantly less “reactive” state in foreign policy. None of the participants, however, foresaw a major qualitative shift. They pointed to several factors that reflect or underpin limits to change. The anti-activism legacy of World War II may have faded, but it has not disappeared as a factor in Japan’s foreign policy, as is reflected by the domestic political controversies that erupt around any measures that suggest an expanded military role for Japan, and in the lingering ambivalence toward Japan among the nations its armies once conquered in Asia. The close and enduring alliance with the U.S. imposes significant external constraints on Japanese foreign policy initiatives. Moreover, Japan’s protracted economic doldrums — and Japan’s political inability to undertake reforms to address economic problems — have tarnished the Japanese model throughout the region, undermining the “soft power” that could help to underpin a more active foreign policy. The institutional foundations for foreign policy innovation in Japan remain shaky, with a weak executive beholden to the Diet, a foreign ministry far smaller than its U.S. counterpart, defense and intelligence agencies that remain bureaucratically weak, and a ruling LDP riven by factionalism and dependent on support from coalition partners (including the pacifist-leaning Komeito). Pro-active prime ministerial diplomacy is, at best, in its infancy under Koizumi and may be hampered by the decay of the networks of personal diplomacy with key regional partners that previous prime ministers had developed. New ideas in foreign policy still coexist with traditional and revanchist nationalist ones, and on many issues have yet to generate serious policy initiatives or coherent strategies. Regionalist pursuits, including a free trade area with South Korea or closer economic partnership with ASEAN, have been proffered without a developed sense of what regionalism would mean or achieve. Efforts to engage North Korea have been undertaken without sufficient consideration of their strategic significance. Post-9/11 anti-terrorism legislation and other measures permitting greater off-shore roles for the Self-Defense Forces came primarily as responses to U.S. requests and demands. Japanese proposals for an Asian Monetary fund in the wake of the Asian Financial Crisis fizzled in the face of domestic political and bureaucratic resistance and opposition from the U.S. and the PRC.
Panelists believed that it could take a major crisis to shake Japan from a primarily reactive foreign policy, and that no such crisis was yet at hand despite the newly challenging post-9/11 environment. As one commentator cautioned, however, change in Japan is often gradual and remains hidden until a moment of “breakthrough” arrives.
Participants concluded that a “reactive” Japan would not pursue a purely passive foreign policy or be an unimportant feature on Asia’s strategic landscape, as is illustrated by the Koizumi administration’s engagement with North Korea, anti-terrorism legislation and other moves to enhance the Self-Defense Forces’ roles after 9/11, the potential military power inherent in Japan’s economic might and dual-use technology, and Japan’s emergence as a possible alternative to China as a partner and destination for a Russian far eastern pipeline.
China: Durable Confidence and Comfort with the Status Quo?
China has become increasingly confident in its position in Asia and the broader international strategic order and, thus, more comfortable with the status quo. Panelists pointed to several factors contributing to this development. China has never been more secure form external threats and encroachment in the last century and a half than it is today. The PRC’s relationship with the state that poses the greatest potential threat to Chinese power and influence — the United States — is in surprisingly, almost eerily, good condition. Substantial and expanding economic interdependence between the U.S. and the PRC has established strong foundations of mutual interest in maintaining an environment that will sustain investment opportunities for U.S. corporations, inexpensive goods for U.S. consumers, and access to U.S. capital, technology and markets for China. The economic transformation wrought by China’s quarter-century-old policy of reform and opening to the outside world has built new constituencies in China (including substantial business firms, a rising middle class, and export-oriented and foreign-investment-dependent booming coastal regions) that have foreign policy interests favoring good relations with the U.S. and other key economic partners. Reform and opening also have fostered pluralization of the debate in elite and foreign policy-influential intellectual circles, giving greater voice to those who eschew Leninist analysis and “inevitable conflict” scenarios in favor of a less zero-sum and less narrowly security-focused conception of international relations.
At a more tactical level, the PRC has learned to cope more effectively with features of U.S. foreign policy and U.S. China policy that used to provoke significant tensions in the relationship. Beijing has come to understand that the critical rhetoric of American presidential campaigns generally does not yield significant changes in U.S. China policy. The Chinese regime has learned to modulate and moderate its reactions to perceived U.S. slights and critiques on issues ranging from Taiwan to trade to human rights. Beijing has recognized that strident reactions achieve little and can backfire.
The PRC’s ability and inclination to maintain good relations with the U.S. have risen in the wake of 9/11. Beijing’s prompt support for American intervention in Afghanistan, Pakistani cooperation with the U.S., and other aspects of Washington’s war on terrorism provided occasions for improving Sino-American relations, and comprised part of a package that also included U.S. gestures toward China such as selecting the APEC summit in Shanghai as Bush’s first post-9/11 foreign trip, increasing intelligence and defense cooperation, and listing an obscure Chinese Islamic group as a terrorist organization. More broadly, the U.S.’s post-9/11 focus on al-Qaeda, Afghanistan and Iraq severely undercut what had seemed to be growing U.S. sentiment to regard China as America’s principal post-Cold War rival and potential adversary. Beijing seized the opportunity to pursue an “Arbatov strategy” of “denying the U.S. an enemy” — an approach that served China’s foreign policy interests and warmed Sino-American relations.
For those in China’s foreign policy-making circles — including elements of the PLA — who remain especially wary of U.S. aims, 9/11 made the status quo and smooth relations with the U.S. less threatening by revealing the vulnerability of American power and diverting U.S. strategic attention and military resources to regions remote from the areas of greatest interest to Beijing. Moreover, such constituencies in China generally favor a prolonged period of good relations with the United States (and international stability more generally) as a means of buying time for China to achieve the military modernization necessary to defend and assert Chinese interests in a security environment that may be characterized by an information warfare-capable and National Missile Defense-shielded U.S., a more radically independence-seeking Taiwan, and other dangers.
The positive tone in U.S.-China relations and China’s relative contentment with its security situation also have stemmed in part from China’s rising confidence that the Taiwan issue is under control. Beijing has been relieved that the George W. Bush administration’s early weapons sales to Taiwan and “pro-Taiwan” pronouncements heralded no fundamental shift on Taiwan policy, and have been followed by signals of limitations to the U.S.’s commitment to Taiwan and signs of the Washington defense establishment’s growing impatience with Taiwan’s slow action on weapons purchases and inadequate strategic thinking. More fundamentally, Beijing has come to see Taiwan’s deepening economic dependence on the PRC as a potent lever for checking Taiwanese independence and moving Taiwan toward reunification. At the same time, the PRC has grown confident that its military modernization and diplomatic clout are sufficient to deter Chen Shui-bian (or other Taiwanese leaders) from taking steps that Beijing finds truly unacceptable. All of this has elicited a more accommodating line from the PRC concerning the political dimensions of cross-Strait relations and, this, in turn, has reduced a principal source of tension in U.S.-PRC relations.
Other potential irritants in Sino-American relations have remained in check. The U.S.’s nearly unilateral military intervention to effect regime change in Iraq clashes with the PRC’s long-standing emphasis on respect for state sovereignty and multilateral processes to govern the use of force. But China’s concerns are matters of general policy and principle rather than with Iraq itself, and the opposition to U.S. action voiced by other states (including other permanent members of the Security Council) has permitted China to remain largely on the sidelines in the Iraq war controversy. The PRC’s long-standing ties to the DPRK and its alarm at a possible U.S. intervention near its borders once would have made the North Korean nuclear weapons issue a flashpoint in U.S.-PRC relations. But the growing gap between the two neighboring regimes on matters of policy and ideology, Beijing’s recognition of Kim Jong-Il’s dangerous paranoia, and the PRC’s desire to avoid a crisis on the Korean peninsula and to maintain good relations with Seoul have led China to play a constructive role in pressuring Washington and Pyongyang to deal with one another, and in brokering and hosting the six-power talks.
China’s relative confidence and comfort with the status quo also are reflected and rooted in its relationships with other states in the East Asian region. Sino-Japanese relations are in good shape, with China perceiving gains from deepening and arguably asymmetrical economic interdependence. China’s relationship with South Korea has been following a similar trajectory. China has a stronger relationship with North Korea than does any other state. China’s Free Trade Area initiative with the ASEAN states has been a dramatic component of the PRC’s broad diplomatic advances in the region. The PRC’s central role in APEC and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and its roles in the U.N. Security Council and the WTO are other elements that embody and contribute to China’s engagement as a stake-holder in the international institutional and organizational orders and China’s ascension to the status of an indispensable and engaged state in regional affairs. Moreover, China’s sustained economic success has given the PRC considerable “soft power” as a model of development that other states might emulate.
Despite these many signs and sources of stability and engagement in China’s foreign policy, participants stressed several significant risks. U.S.-China relations have gone through cycles before, and another downturn will likely occur. The war on terror may become less of a focus for U.S. foreign policy, and Washington may turn more of its attention to issues and areas where the assertion of American power and interests is more threatening to China’s aims and interests as a rising regional power. The risk of conflict is heightened by the influence of some Chinese foreign policy intellectuals who argue that China should be more assertive in pushing its interests and articulating its own agenda in foreign policy, and by the risk that American analysts will overestimate the influence of bellicose fringe thinking in Chinese defense circles. A more immediate impetus to souring relations may come from the Korean peninsula, where the crisis is far from defused, where Beijing is determined not to appear to be doing Washington’s bidding, and where the PRC sees North Korea’s nuclear program as a means to legitimacy, security and international aid rather than as a strategic threat that could warrant American military intervention. Taiwan remains a source of potential volatility and tension in China’s foreign relations, especially if Chen Shui-bian presses ahead with reforms to the constitution and to permit referenda on issues that include questions of Taiwan’s status. Given the central role of the Taiwan question to the PLA’s legitimacy and drive for military modernization, China’s transitional leadership cannot be expected to remain calm in the face of perceived provocations from Taipei.
Finally, China faces daunting internal challenges including the uncertainty of an incomplete leadership transition, and the pressing need to deal with the plight — and discontent — of the hundreds of millions left behind by China’s long reform-era boom. While these features of the domestic political landscape thus far have been compatible with an absence of destabilizing foreign policy initiatives and a desire to maintain a stable external environment that can secure room for dealing with internal challenges, they can also create openings for a more aggressive and nationalistic foreign policy if the domestic political or economic situation deteriorates.
Russia: Slouching Toward Irrelevance?
The unanimous view among the panelists was that Russia has a weak — and much-weakened — place in the strategic landscape in Asia, especially in East Asia. Russian power has declined sharply in relative terms and fallen in absolute terms as well. Moscow faces the disturbing prospect of a bipolar East Asian security order dominated by the sole remaining superpower and an increasingly powerful China. A sharp decline from Soviet-era levels of influence with other regional states, including Vietnam (where Russia has withdrawn from its principal regional naval base) and North Korea (where Moscow has been able to play only a modest role in addressing the nuclear weapons crisis), reflect Russia’s newly strapped material and military resources and exacerbate Russia’s descent as an East Asian power. The post-9/11 U.S. war on terror has increased U.S. interest and military presence in central Asia and south Asia, eroding Russia’s relative influence in other Asian regions of long-standing interest and concern to Moscow. In addition, Russia’s position in Asia had no prospect of recovering the “soft power” of the Cold War era that stemmed from Moscow’s claiming the mantle of a communist Rome.
Participants concurred that Russia’s strategic weakness in Asia, and especially in East Asia, stems in significant part from Russia’s internal problems. The military and political preoccupation with Chechnya absorbs attention and resources that might otherwise be available to address Russia’s Asian interests. More broadly and more fundamentally, Russia’s domestic governance crisis — the weakness, corruption and criminality of the Russian state — have made the regime ineffective on the ground in the Russian Far East. Panelists disagreed about whether dire prognostications — including those voiced by President Putin — of a Chinese-dominated (or Chinese-Japanese-Korean-dominated) Russian Far East were mere hyperbole, but all agreed that the governance deficit in the region was serious and contributed to Russia’s lack of international clout in East Asia.
Panelists noted that Russia did have two sources of influence or potential influence in the region, but were moderately to deeply skeptical about their likely effectiveness. First, Russian far eastern energy resources are of great interest to China, Japan and more distant markets in the region and beyond (including the United States). The prospective pipeline to northeast China or the more costly alternative to serve Japanese markets has given Moscow a card to play in its dealings with the key regional powers, and held out the prospect of adding a much-needed economic dimension to Russia’s relations with this pair of economically powerful neighbors. The development of eastern Russia’s energy resources, through foreign investment, could provide the material foundations for rebuilding governance in the Russian Far East, could aid Moscow’s effort to re-exert central political authority in the region, and could give the U.S. a greater stake in maintaining effective Russian control in the region. But the potential gains are far from realized and would be accompanied by significant costs. The Japanese option risks souring Russia’s relations with China, requires more capital than may be available, and faces the impediment of unresolved Russo-Japanese territorial disputes. The Chinese option risks a further shift in the balance of influence and dependence in the Sino-Russian relationship. U.S. and other foreign investment in Russian energy development has not been forthcoming, in significant part because of worries over lack of transparency (although one panelist discounted that concern, noting that multinational oil companies have been willing to incur the risks of investing in Nigeria). Also, any Russian government decisions concerning a pipeline or other major energy projects are inevitably entangled with the volatile politics of the Russian energy sector.
Second, Russian arms sales have provided a measure of influence with key Asian states, including China and India. But this apparent strength too is a shrinking asset with imbedded liabilities. Demand for Russian hardware faces secular decline as major customers develop their own arms industries to serve their own markets and third-country markets, and as the technological gap between American and Russian products has become obvious and cavernous. Although the PRC has purchased Russian arms primarily to advance its agenda toward Taiwan and the U.S., Russia has been understandably wary of selling top-drawer weaponry to a potential rival with which it shares a long land border. Moreover, arms exports have served as a substitute for meaningful reform of Russia’s military-industrial complex, and the lack of such reform is a persisting and significant source of Russia’s economic and political weakness and, in turn, its diminished role in the Asian security order.
Participants differed over whether Russia has played its concededly weak hand relatively well or relatively badly. The more dire account of Russia’s diplomatic efforts in Asia saw Russia as having made little progress and having few prospects to check Sino-American bipolarity in East Asia. Russian critiques of the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty did not enlist Chinese support for alternatives that could forestall the PRC’s development of missiles that might threaten Russian security. Moscow’s efforts to strengthen ties with New Delhi were at best a modestly successful reaction to post-9/11 improvements in India-U.S. ties. Moscow has played no significant role in the Korean weapons crisis. Russia’s limited diplomatic capacity has remained directed primarily to the West, seeking acceptance in Europe and stressing post-9/11 cooperation with the U.S. Lacking resources and internally divided over which way to lean in Asia, Russia faces dim prospects for achieving the role of a balancer, with better relations with both China and the U.S. than China and the U.S. have with one another.
A more sanguine view pointed to Russia’s relative successes in an unfavorable environment and to the positive aspects of some sources of Russian weakness. Moscow had been wise and successful in avoiding a China-centered Asian policy, steering between the extremes of an unappealing and possibly unattainable alliance with China and an unviable confrontation with China. Russia seized the opportunities 9/11 presented for closer ties to the U.S. (especially in light of China’s more tepid response) and soundly moved to improve relations with India. Prospects for building a much-needed commercial dimension in Russo-Japanese and Sino-Russian relations were relatively promising. Russia could also claim diplomatic accomplishments in its relatively good relations with both Koreas and Iran, and its continued high levels of influence — without the costs of maintaining an empire — in the former Soviet Central Asian states. The seeming danger of an American military presence in Central Asia also served Russian interests by removing the hated Taliban regime at no cost to Moscow. Moscow’s apparent weakness in the Russian Far East was not solely a matter of declining governmental capacity; it also reflected a more realistic response to long-standing Russian weakness and a salutary decline in the influence of military and military-industrial interests in Russian policy-making. The seeming incoherence or division over relatively “pro-China” and “pro-U.S.” approaches in Russia’s Asian policy represents a healthy pluralization of the foreign policy debate in a more democratic Russia.
Participants in the conference portrayed a strategic landscape in Asia characterized by a rising and generally — but not inevitably — pro-status quo China, a still-dominant but distracted and unnerving United States, an exceptionally good but potentially vulnerable relationship between the U.S. and the PRC, a Japan that seems fated to remain relatively reactive in its foreign and security policy despite considerable pressure for change, and a Russia that has limited means for avoiding irrelevance in the region. In addition to these relatively fundamental and structural features, participants in the conference saw 9/11 as having little to moderate effect on the regional security landscape in general, but significant impact in some discrete areas, including aspects of U.S.-PRC relations and U.S. relations with Southeast Asia. Of greater near-term significance was the crisis surrounding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, the U.S.’s response to it, and resulting strains in America’s relations with some of its key regional allies.