Asian Security and China: 2000-2010
Bhartendu Kumar Singh ·       

The economic, military and political rise of China in the last two decades has been followed by a new wave of literature on the 'Middle Kingdom'. In particular, there are writings which apprehend that a rising China will have disastrous consequences for Asian security. The book under review, however, attempts to play down any such geopolitical eventuality. 'The China threat theory' that has been so dearly nurtured by Western Sinologists is missing in this book. Instead, much has been written upon the evolution of China as a cooperative partner in Asian security ventures.

The book is the end product of a conference. The good thing about the book is that it has contributions from people with diverse background: statesmen, policymakers, serving and retired diplomats, academicians and even scientists. The bad thing is that the book includes all sorts of papers: speeches, articles, short papers, long papers, well-researched, under-researched etc. Some of them have footnotes and references. Others probably don't believe in this art. The book is neatly organized. And although some of the chapters deal with the 'Asian security' theme, most of the chapters are a re-work on China's bilateral relationships. And there are some chapters which are not needed at all.

As the first part of the book reveals, Asian security, despite a proliferation of numerous security architectures, is beset with two contending approaches. On the one hand the United States, the practitioner of 'realism', still relies on unilateral actions and takes occasional help from allies to give a legal face to its actions. As against this, the Asian nations are still in an evolutionary stage, although they are close to the European 'institutional' approach. China is also in a learning stage experimenting with new concepts and institutions meant to usher peace in the region. It is willing to cooperate with the other key player in the region- the United States on key regional issues. Even on the crucial question of Taiwan, China is following what Arthur Ding calls in one of the chapters a 'triad' theory. The triad theory is that "economic development, re-unification with Taiwan and Chinese national revitalization are tied together".

That China is serious about Asian security is also evident from the fact that China has managed to improve its bilateral relationships with most of the countries. It is consolidating old friendship with countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, building new inroads with Central Asian republics and bridging differences with Southeast Asian countries through institutional arrangements. The irony is that China itself does not believe much in institutional arrangements such as ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) as Amitav Acharya puts it or Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as P. Stobdan believes. Part of the reason could be that both these institutions have denied China that leadership role which it had been vying for itself in the post-Cold War environment. While in the Central Asian case, the U.S. and of late even Russia are the front-runners, in the case of Southeast Asia, the ASEAN countries are putting up a united effort.

A good factor about the book is that it provides space to scholars from those countries or regions whose bilateral relationship with China is discussed. Even though some of the papers are not up to expectations, they do provide a different perspective on bilateral relationship with China. It does help in knowing the China perspective of some of the small and marginal countries in international relations or for that matter even in Asian security considerations.

According to the book, China faces two Herculean tasks in its preparation for Asian security: first, it has to carry together the major countries that matter in Asian security. Although China has been enjoying very cordial relationship with Russia, there being no outstanding dispute between the two sides, the same cannot be guaranteed in future. After all, the two are great powers with a common border and a conflictual past. China has more problems with regard to Japan and India. It perceives Japan as having "imperialist and militaristic designs" and as capable of restraining China's influence in future. Similarly, India is assessed "as a sort of half-scale version of Japan". Even if these views of Michael Pillsbury are bit stretched, China does feel uncomfortable with these two countries. And even though China's relations with the Unites States has improved, as Harry Harding rightly believes, the biggest challenge for China lies in converting this relationship into "an enduring partnership".

China is also faced with the task of meeting some global challenges common to other nations. This is dealt in the last section of the book. Terrorism has emerged as a problem for China due to its geographical proximity to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asian republics. Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism emanating from these areas have created unrest in China's Xinjiang province. Further, this disease is spreading in other parts of China. For this reason, in the forthcoming future, as Fang Jinying, a Chinese scholar puts it, "counter-terrorism will become Chinese Army's another important duty". In the particular case of Xinjiang, Dru Gladney suggests that secessionism can be overcome through adoption of an autonomy model and there are plenty of them available in the world. However, both Fang Jinying and Dru Gladney overlook 'Han aggressevism', a fact more subtly brought out by Vijay Kranti in his chapter on Tibet. Two other challenges discussed in this section are growing energy (in)security and environment problems for China but they hardly discuss any new fact.

Overall, the book exposes an important consideration for academic community in India. We seriously need to be cautious while converting conference papers into book chapters. Editors need to be blunt and straightforward and should see to it that all chapters adhere to the conference theme, use a common research manual and have some qualitative stuff. Proper research should be of paramount concern. Dru Gladney has repeated what he has earlier written in Current History. Such repetitions should be avoided. Only then, we can enhance the shelf-value of such books and make them a pleasant reading.