June 13, 2013
Significant movements in world affairs often go unnoticed by the media. For what fits inside the strictures of hard news are usually dramatic statements by politicians, dramatic actions by military units or dramatic economic shifts. But what also really changes history are the gradual developments that accrue over time. That's one of the reasons you are liable to learn more by reading serious books or scholarly reports than by reading newspapers. Asia is a case in point.
The news about Asia is relentlessly repetitive and often insignificant, however tragic in human terms sometimes. Indeed, the recent building collapse in Bangladesh was heartrending, but geopolitically it was of marginal importance. The jousting between China and Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea is important -- but after reading about it for months on end, unrevealing. The same with the islands in the South China Sea. We already know that Japan has a more activist prime minister and for years his country has been shedding its quasi-pacifism, if only the media would finally tell us more.
So what is really going on in Asia, slowly and undramatically in news terms but critically in historical terms? It is the demonstrable tendency of Asian countries to strengthen ties with each other rather than solely depend on the United States for balancing against China. According to the Center for a New American Security in Washington, a centrist think tank with which I am affiliated, the growing momentum of bilateral links of nearly every country with nearly every other one is nothing less than an "emerging Asian power web." Over the past decade, this expanding network of relationships within the Indo-Pacific has included high-level defense visits, bilateral security arrangements, joint operations and military exercises, arms sales and military education programs.
The bottom line: As Asian countries -- from India to Vietnam to Indonesia to Malaysia to Japan and so on -- arise out of poverty, guerrilla war and stagnation, they are forging robust relationships with each other, providing a whole new security dynamic to go alongside the U.S.-China rivalry. The Asian power web is also an offshoot of the emergence of midlevel powers, which are now forging deeper links with each other -- thus "widening the analytical aperture," in the words of the report, through which international relations must be viewed.