Sino-Indo-German Trilateral Conference

15 Oct, 1997    ·   18

Report of the Adenauer Stiftung Conference held at Bonn

This unusual event took place in Bonn between October 5-7, 1997 under the auspices of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. Delegations from China , India and Germany took part in frank discussions during this Conference within the general rubric of Global Security in the 21st Century. The three sub-themes identified were Geopolitical Trends at the End of the Cold War, Regional Security and Global Stability, and Conflict and Crisis Management in the Next Century. The keynote address was delivered by Dr. Hans-Dieter Scheel, Director for Asean and Pacific Affairs at the German Foreign Office.



Clearly, the issues discussed were so broad and global in their sweep that definite conclusions were hard to reach. But the Conference did achieve a broadening of mutual understanding regarding these large questions confronting the international system. Further, it was interesting to note the areas of agreement that were possible and disagreement that emerged, and the individual perceptions of the different country-delegations represented in the meeting.



Points of Convergence



There was general acceptance by the three delegations that peace and stability in the post-Cold War era was restricted to the global level. But tensions and instabilities were continuing to afflict several regions of the world like the Mediterranean , Middle East , and South Asia . For that matter, the Asia-Pacific region, too, was an area of economic growth certainly, but also one encapsulating many festering disputes. There was fair agreement also that the nature of instabilities had altered within the international system. The emphasis had definitely shifted away from the external to the internal and, further, the non-military dimensions of national security. Germany felt that the situation could more accurately be described as one wherein new causes of threat, rather than new threats, had now arisen. Some of these had transnational characteristics like international crime with its multiple facets, like money-laundering, drugs trafficking, arms smuggling and so on. Since hi-tech weapons technology favoured the advanced nations in the world, terrorism and the use of non-conventional weapons had become the instruments of the weak to redress this imbalance. A new meaning and relevance was now being provided to the imperatives of global interdependence and the need for multilateralism in international relations. For Germany, the threat from the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, international migration, and Islamic fundamentalism seemed the most important; for India, the whole medley of internal and non-military threats were deemed significant; for China, the threat to its national security basically emanated from the United States and Japan.





Points of Divergence



The future role of the US :



The sharpest difference between the three delegations concerned itself with the US?s global role and NATO?s eastward expansion. There were differences also in regard to whether Russia had accepted NATO?s expansion to which it currently subscribes unreservedly. These differences were sharper between China and Germany than between Germany and India . Indeed, a Sino-Indian agreement manifested itself here. NATO?s expansion was believed by them to be directed against Russia and China . However, the Germans appeared sanguine that the expansion of NATO and the EU was a pre-requisite for stability in Europe and had been accepted by Russia without reservations. Still, the situation in Europe emphasised that a difference existed between multipolarity and diffusion of power within the international system. This re-emphasised the need for interdependence, rather than weakening rival powers within the international system, as a better basis for a viable foreign policy.



The future role of China :



Prognostications on the likely future role of China in the world revealed an interesting identity of views between India and Germany viz. that it could proceed on either a co-operative or belligerent path as it acquires greater economic muscle. Since it was proceeding simultaneously to emphasise peace and development, whilst continuing with its military modernisation programmes, there was an understandable global concern with the direction of its future. It was therefore necessary that China defined its future role in the international system. There was agreement between India and Germany , however, on India?s future. It had the potential to become a major power, but needed to address its problems of internal stability, cohesion and economic reforms successfully.



The future of the Asia-Pacific Region:



Whether the Asia-Pacific region would become the new epi-centre of world power also showed up differences between the three country-perceptions. Germany felt that there were too many differences within this region to permit its rise, whereas Europe had the advantage of greater internal cohesion. This had permitted the Helsinki process to fructify, and a large number of CBMs being negotiated in Europe . However, there were multiple power centres in the Asia-Pacific region, which the ARF and other regional groupings were still trying to resolve. The applicability of European-style CBMs to Asia was strictly limited. In these circumstances, the US-EC combine showed greater promise than the Asia-Pacific grouping. On the contrary, India and China were agreed that Europe and Asia were different in terms of internal cohesion. The need for bilateral dispute mechanisms was apparent, but the major powers had not shown any interest in mediation in these disputes. In any case, the UN peace-keeping role had greatly over-extended itself and was of little utility for the Asia- Pacific region. However, the rise of the Asia-Pacific region seemed historically inevitable in the long run. It also embodied what had been perceived earlier as the Pacific quadrilateral of major world powers that were inter-meshing in this region.





Country Specific Views



Apart from these converging and diverging views of the trilateral meet there were individual and specific country-delegation views that are worth noting. Like hi-tech weaponry favouring certain nations at the global and regional levels to the detriment of others [Germany]; unilateralism being both possible and desirable in arms control and foreign affairs [China]; multilateral co-operation should have economic but not military dimensions [China]; CBMs and preventive diplomacy were important but a broad-based engagement was more important after setting aside difficult intractable issues from the dialogue for later attention [China]; elimination of nuclear weapons was essential for achieving the goal of nuclear disarmament [China/India]; multilateralism was gaining a new prescience as State sovereignty erodes; and the failure of arms control was as important as its success to date.



All in all, a useful trilogue between China , India and Germany was established in Bonn . There are plans to extend it in the future using both the bilateral and trilateral processes.