Global Forces 2006: Proceedings of the ASPI Conference, Day 2
Let me begin with a story that I heard recently about a conversation between Prime Minister John Major and President Boris Yeltsin. They were having a conversation and the British Prime Minister asked President Yeltsin, “If you could describe your economy in just one word what would it be, Mr. President?” President Yeltsin thought for a while and said, “Good.” The British Prime Minister said, “Well, I’m not buying that, your economy is in a big mess. I’ll tell you what; I’ll give you more than one word to describe the state of the Russian economy. What would they be?” President Yeltsin thought for a while and said, “Not good.”
If you ask me, how are relations between Indonesia and Australia, and if you give me one word the answer would be ‘good’, but if you required more than one word I think the answer would be ‘quite good’. You will be pleased to know that there is now good progress in the talks that are happening between the two sides to conclude a bilateral Treaty on Security Cooperation. This will be a comprehensive framework treaty which will cover cooperation in law enforcement, maritime security, counter-terrorism, intelligence, natural disasters and others. If it is signed, and hopefully it will be signed sometime this year, it will be an important development in relations between Indonesia and Australia. It will also highlight the shift in the geopolitical relationship between our countries. The treaty does not make Indonesia and Australia allies, because Indonesia cannot enter into any military alliance with any country, but it does express our common conviction, as President Yudhoyono said, that the security of Indonesia and Australia are interrelated and that we need to engage in cooperative security. It also does signify how far this relationship has progressed since the stressful and uncomfortable period of 1999 during the troubles in East Timor.
Clearly, there are new factors now driving the relationship between Australia and Indonesia, factors that were not noticeably there before but factors that have become important to both governments and have captured public imagination: terrorism, tsunami, earthquakes, people smuggling, avian flu. When I joined the Foreign Service back in the 1980s, these issues were not on the board, but today they are clearly at the top of our agenda. Again, it just goes to show you that countries change and relationships change—and I will repeat this phrase again throughout my presentation—and as times change, the security agenda also changes along with it.
But what has happened bilaterally between Indonesia and Australia is hardly an isolated event. If you look across the region and evaluate the security and strategic relationships, you will also find many changes, and this would be true between smaller countries, medium countries, major countries and major powers. It is not an across-the-board change but it is noticeable enough for us to assert that we are seeing a new trend, and I would like to call that trend the geopolitics of cooperation. Yes, there is still rivalry and competition and flashpoints in our region, but we are also seeing more and more geopolitics of cooperation, or cooperative peace, and we need to see more of that for the sake of our regional stability.
I think one of the greatest geopolitical transformations in our region has been in Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia has been transformed from a divided region to a cohesive geopolitical unit, the ASEAN 10. To be honest, I never thought it would happen during my career when I joined the Foreign Ministry, but it did and that is also to the credit of ASEAN. Southeast Asia was once a war-torn region and we had war in Cambodia and Vietnam, in Laos. Today no Southeast Asian country is engaged in war with another Southeast Asian country or with outside powers. I think the most symbolic development recently would be the change in US–Vietnam relations. The US and Vietnam have signed on to permanent normal trade relations, and trade between them has shot up from $1 billion in 2001 to $8 billion in 2005. Intel has just picked Ho Chi Minh City as the site of its $600 million microchip plant. All these things signify that, yes, times change, countries change and relationships change.
Another symbolic development in this context would be the evolving relationship between Indonesia and China. We froze diplomatic relations with China for a long time until they were normalized again, and now Indonesia and China have entered into a strategic partnership.
Another sign of geopolitical transformation in the region is the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. In 1976, it was only signed by six ASEAN members. Now, it has been signed by all of ASEAN plus 10, and others: India, China, South Korea, Russia, and Australia (congratulations), Mongolia, and I don’t remember all the countries that have signed on to it. But it is very significant for the region that more and more countries are signing on to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. I think we need to continue this process and encourage more countries to sign on to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, including, of course, the United States of America.
Regionalism is also growing. The ASEAN members now have committed themselves to reach an ASEAN community by 2020. This means that now we have a new geopolitical landscape and a roadmap, which means more predictability about where Southeast Asia as a whole is heading and how it will be managed. We did not have this in 1967 when ASEAN was founded.
We also had the emergence of democracies in Southeast Asia, which is also changing the geopolitical landscape. I think the most recent developments of that is the emergence of Timor-Leste as a democracy and also in Indonesia, which means that Southeast Asia now is the home of the world’s third largest democracy, which is Indonesia, third after India and the United States.
Despite all these geopolitical transformations, ASEAN still faces a number of challenges.
The region is still divided in terms of development gaps between the ASEAN 6 and the CLMV countries: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. If you add the GDP of Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, it is still less than the GDP of the Philippines or Singapore, for example, and that gives you an idea of the glaring development gaps that need to be reduced. There is also the issue of maintaining ASEAN’s centrality in the scheme of things, especially in the evolving regional architecture that is emerging, the East Asia Summit, for example.
ASEAN needs to be in the driver’s seat and how ASEAN does this and how ASEAN manages its relationship with the outside powers will be critical to this. There is also the need for ASEAN to evolve itself, which is why there is now an eminent persons group drafting an ASEAN charter. All these challenges, closing the development gap, maintaining centrality and evolving ASEAN, will necessarily mean that ASEAN will need to adopt more geopolitics of cooperation, which means ASEAN needs to cooperate more internally and also externally with the other players.
I think one of the most important developments in Southeast Asia in the last decade or so would have to do with China. My good friend Chris Hill, the US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, has said, and in fact has conceded, that ‘China’s most dramatic diplomatic, political and economic gains over the past few years have been in Southeast Asia’. Indeed, China has successfully adapted its approach towards Southeast Asia. It has de-ideologised its approach, it has not been heavy-handed in dealing with the region, it has refrained from commenting on internal affairs—perhaps because it expects others to do so as well—it has presented itself as a sympathetic, responsible, helpful and agreeable partner to ASEAN, and also bilaterally. China is spreading its soft power very, very well, it’s becoming a key trading partner to many Southeast Asian countries, and as a result China is building a lot of political capital in Southeast Asia. The comfort level towards China is probably higher than it has ever been. ASEAN does not see China as a threat, as some would say in the literature, but as a challenge and opportunity, and it is going to be an evolving relationship.
China has also signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, one of the early countries to do so with ASEAN. China is also the first nuclear state that has expressed readiness to sign the protocol to the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty. China is also very proactive and eager to shape the regional order, coming up with a lot of diplomatic initiatives on her own—the ASEAN–China Declaration of Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity, for example, the South China Sea Code of Conduct, the ASEAN–China Free Trade area, the ARF security policy conference, the ARF mechanism on disaster management.
All these regional schemes were offered by China, which indicates a growing confidence and pro-activeness on the part of China in dealing with Southeast Asia. There are now about twenty-seven separate China–ASEAN mechanisms at different levels. What China demonstrates in doing all this is that geopolitical relationships are not necessarily driven by military alliances—not today—but they are more driven by the expansion of soft power: trade, investment, educational scholarships, cultural links, aid, building railway links, and building Hun Sen’s office in Cambodia. All these things give substance to the relationships.
What about Northeast Asia? I will not dispute the fact that Northeast Asia has not made the geopolitical transformation as smoothly or as substantively as Southeast Asia, perhaps because of historical baggage, perhaps because the disputes are too complex, perhaps because the strategic rivalries are too strong. But in Northeast Asia old age tensions still persist between China and Japan, between China and South Korea, North and South Korea, the North Korean nuclear tension, between Japan and South Korea, between Japan and Russia, between North Korea and Japan, North Korea and the United States, and also across the Taiwan straits. These problems are not insurmountable, I think they can be undone, but their persistence all these decades do mean that it is difficult for Northeast Asia to become geopolitically coherent for the near future.
But there are some positive developments and I would like to focus on them. The first is improved US–China relations. I was posted in Washington DC in the year 2000 and at the time the new administration was talking about the US and China being a strategic competitor, and I remember that was also at the time when they had the EP3 incident. The relationship was very difficult and tense with lots of suspicion and rivalry at the time.
Well, that relationship has somewhat changed and improved now. You see this in the visit of President Bush to China and the visit of President Hu Jintao to the United States recently, and you see this in the change of language that is being used by both sides. Secretary Rice talks about, and I quote, “The US is welcoming the rise of a confident, peaceful and prosperous China and wants China as a global partner.” President Hu Jintao spoke about, and I quote, “All around long-term constructive and cooperative China–US relations.” He talks about close consultations between China and the US and coordination on major international and regional issues. He talks about China and the United States treating each other as equals and he talks about China and the United States engaging in a new security concept based on mutual trust.
The US National Security Strategy paper of 2006 talks about China becoming a global player, talks about China becoming a responsible stakeholder, and states that if China develops peacefully the United States would be able to welcome the emergence of a China that is peaceful and prosperous and that cooperates with the United States to address common challenges and mutual interests. It also talks about mutual interests that can guide our cooperation on issues such as terrorism, proliferation, and energy security. All these things are new languages, languages that I did not hear when I was posted in Washington at the embassy there. It does indicate improved relations, but of course, it doesn’t mean that the relations are problem free. There are still problems on the part of Washington, for example, with regard to human rights, with regard to transparency of China’s military activity, currency reforms and other things. But the relationship now and overall is in better shape.
Another positive development is the Six Party talks. Again, it has stalled, we know that it is not going very well, but I think it is quite significant that China is taking the lead in dealing with regional conflict and issues of regional and international concern and also of the fact that China and the United States are working together as part of the Six Party talks.
Another positive development is the growth of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. It is now five years old—it just celebrated its five-year anniversary. It is driven by China and Russia. They are talking about cooperation against terrorism, separatism and extremism.
The SCO probably needs more concrete programs to give substance to the activities of the organization but its role is expanding. China is talking about producing a legal document to signify neighborly relations among the members of SCO and President Putin has suggested a study on regional conflict management mechanisms.
The ASEAN plus Three and East Asia Summit are also other positive developments. We had a successful meeting of the East Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur last year, and it’s a plus that the EAS has taken the form that it has taken now that is different from the ASEAN plus Three. We are pleased to see that Australia, along with New Zealand and India, is part of the East Asia Summit. We hope that it will be a useful organization to promote constructive regional architecture.
Another positive development is Mongolia: Mongolia is coming out, as they say. There is a democratic transformation in Mongolia and there are growing relations with China, South Korea, Japan and the United States. Mongolia does not have tensions with any of its neighbors. It is a member of the WTO, it is a full member of the ARF, it wants to join APEC, and it is also an observer at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Yes, it’s only two and a half million people but Mongolia is quite strategic and it has a land mass larger than the Korean Peninsula and Japan.
Another positive development that will change the landscape of the region is the schemes of economic integration. Geostrategy is defined as the movement of goods, people and ideas, so one of the more significant factors affecting geopolitical relationships will be the economic integrations and the road maps, which are now in place. The ASEAN–China free trade will be a reality by 2010, normal track, or 2012 if it includes the sensitive list, if not sooner, the ASEAN–Japan economic scheme hopefully by 2017. That discussion is still going on, the ASEAN–Korea free trade by 2010, and then by that time, of course, the ASEAN FTA will be more mature. But these FTAs together will lock the economies, which take part in them. They will eliminate terrorists, open up borders, shorten distances, connect infrastructures, including railways and air links, our citizens will travel more, communities will link up and so will businesses, and there will be greater economic interdependence and communities also. All these will transform our economic space and will add to a condition of geopolitical maturity for our region.
There is a trend also of proliferation of security and strategic relationships. In my office, we just did a matrix, we lined up countries, about 18 or 20 of them in the region, and we tried to see what kind of security or strategic relationship they have with one another. A lot of the boxes were filled with either security relationships or strategic partnerships. If you produced this matrix ten or twenty years ago you wouldn’t have the same amount of boxes. That is a sign that now there are a lot more webs of cooperation, strategic and security relationships in our region. Indonesia is entering or has entered into strategic partnerships and security relationships.
With Australia, we have already a comprehensive partnership, as well as the security talks that are taking place now, and also have a strategic partnership with China, we have a strategic partnership with India, and we have a new partnership for the 21st century with Japan, and so on and so on. Australia has quite extensive security or strategic relationships with other countries. China has security and strategic relationships with other countries, including Australia, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Vietnam and others.
We also did a matrix of countries around the region who are members of regional organizations, of ASEAN, or those who have signed on to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, those who belong to ARF, to APEC, to ASEAN plus Three, Southwest Pacific Dialogue, East Asia Summit, Asia Cooperation Dialogue, SCO, ASEM, KEDO, FEALAC, and others. There were a lot of boxes filled with colors. Again, if you looked at this matrix ten or twenty years ago it wouldn’t have the same predominant boxes filled with colors.
We find that almost every country in the region faces in one way or another increasing non?traditional threats to their security, either in the form of diseases, natural disasters, terrorism, people trafficking and so on. It is our view that non-traditional threats are fast becoming a new driver of geopolitical relationships, driving the geopolitics of cooperation.
One very clear example of that is the tsunami in Indonesia. We would never have thought that there would be a foreign army who would invade our country and take the lives of 200,000 of our citizens and destroy a province, but this is what the tsunami did in just half an hour. The tsunami also led to a series of events, which produced the biggest humanitarian operation since World War II. It was a great confidence-building and a great cooperative venture between the militaries in the region.
But, again, it just goes to underline that these days the threats to our security are different and we need ways to respond to them. Of course, a tsunami is only one of them, terrorism is another threat, and I think Australia knows this very well with the Bali bombing and also the bomb in front of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. There is also the threat of avian flu. If a pandemic ever breaks out in Indonesia or any part of the world our economic calculations, our political stability, all this would be thrown off balance as we would have to deal with a very severe disaster.
But the thing about dealing with non-traditional security threats is that we need to learn a lot on how to deal with them. When we first awoke ourselves to the threat of terrorism there was a lot of learning to do on how to cooperate. The threat is obvious but learning how to cooperate with other countries was an art on its own. It took some time and it is a process that we had to master. As we deal with non-traditional security threats there will be more drive towards the geopolitics of cooperation.
Let me just, as a way of concluding thoughts, mention two points. Firstly, as we advance the geopolitics of cooperation there is always an interplay between geopolitics or conflict or competition and the element of cooperation. This interplay between them will always be there. But it is always important to build on the bridges and the geopolitics of cooperation.
One example is North and South Korea. The conflict and the tension still persist, but there have been some new developments there in the past few years. They have built the Gaesong industrial complex, and since 2004, fifteen companies have operated there and 7,700 workers have worked in these companies, just five kilometers north of the military demarcation line. They have opened the Mount Kumgang tourism project, which has brought 1.2 million tourists from South Korea into this tourist destination in the North. In the South China Sea too, they have territorial disputes but in an effort to deal with problems in that area recently China, Vietnam and the Philippines have engaged into cooperative efforts to deal with piracy in that area.
We know of the problems in China and Taiwan, but here there are also more bridges being drawn, direct flights, and there have been 13 million visits from Taiwan to the mainland, 50,000 mainland Chinese have travelled to Taiwan, and oil companies in the mainland in Taiwan have decided recently to explore for oil in offshore areas. There has been a transfer of some manufacturing base to the mainland. China has now surpassed the United States as Taiwan’s key trading partner. The total is $61 billion, which is a 30% increase from the previous year. But the point is there is always opportunity in conflict, or out of crisis, and the rule is you never cease from building these links and these bridges as part of the geopolitics of cooperation. You may not immediately resolve the conflicts, but sooner or later you will change the dynamics of how the conflicts will be dealt with.
The second point I want to close with is that we need to change the mindset. I grew up during the Cold War and I am used to thinking of the practice of geopolitics in terms of building walls, creating divisions, drawing lines, forming alliances, or non-alignment—that was the geopolitics of the twentieth century. But in the twenty-first century, we need to change from geopolitics of competition to cooperation and the geopolitics of cooperation is about building bridges not walls, it’s about promoting cooperation and not preventing conflicts, it is about accepting differences and overcoming disputes. In some ways, the fight against terrorism, against natural disasters, against infectious diseases, against transnational crimes, all these are forcing us to adapt to this new geopolitics of cooperation.
But this is only at its infant stage. If we continue to nurture this geopolitics of cooperation, then the strategic landscape might change. The rise of China need not go into a collision course with the United States. The world is big enough for the major powers, so long as they compete for peace. The more they compete for peace, the better it is for everyone else as everyone will benefit in a win–win situation. Regional flashpoints will not only be contained but might also get resolved. Multilateralism will rise to prominence and regionalism will flourish. The notion of community, ASEAN community, East Asia community, or maybe even the Asia–Pacific community, will become a living reality.
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