The Jakarta Post
The Pacific and Indian Ocean (Pacindo) region is in flux. The on-going geopolitical transformation is plagued with uncertainties. The final outcome of the process is still subject to speculation among academics and policymakers.
That process, however, could lead to more tension in major power relations in the region, before a new regional order emerges. Ensuring peaceful strategic adjustments has become a key challenge for the region.
The current trajectory in the relationship between the US and China has not been encouraging. They might fall into a 'Thucydides' trap' of a power struggle between a rising power and a ruling power. We have seen some indications that the US-China relationship will become more and more competitive. The good news is that both sides are also trying hard to prevent strategic rivalry from becoming a dominant element in their bilateral relationship.
The ongoing geopolitical transformation also has its own regional dynamic. The relationship among regional major powers is also undergoing some fundamental changes. China and Japan are still finding it difficult to reach a modus vivendi in their relationship. The relationship between Japan and South Korea has not been an easy one. The emergence of India as a regional power might also create some difficulties in its relationship with China. Indonesia's determination to become a global maritime fulcrum will also have some impact on the region.
Amid rising concerns over the future of regional order in the Pacindo region, there has been a flurry of diplomatic activities to manage the changing geopolitical landscape.
For one, ASEAN has begun to see the need for reform and greater institutionalization in order to maintain its centrality. ASEAN is also reviewing the East Asia Summit (EAS) with a view to strengthening it so that the EAS can become more relevant to future challenges. The region needs an EAS that is well equipped to withstand the challenges stemming from shifting power relations.
The major powers themselves are also taking some steps to address issues among them. The US and China, for example, clearly recognize the importance of having a positive relationship. India and China have taken steps toward improving their cooperation. Japan and South Korea are in the process of thawing their bilateral relationship. China and Japan, after the meeting between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the Asia-Africa Commemorative Summit in Jakarta in April, have also maintained some level of communication among their leaders.
All these diplomatic initiatives clearly suggest that regional powers do recognize the importance of managing the ongoing strategic transition in a peaceful manner.
Despite the goodwill and such recent encouraging initiatives, one should not be complacent. The future of the Pacindo region is still far from certain. Three challenges still require careful handling.
First, the relationship among major powers is still marred by the difficult problem of territorial disputes. Second, as their economies are on the rise, nationalism has also become visible. Third, with growing wealth comes national pride, and the desire to expand a nation's influence in regional and global affairs.
These three challenges, if not managed well, could serve as a recipe for conflict and rivalry. Consequently, the promise of an Asian century of peace and prosperity could be derailed.
There is a need for four Asian powers to sit together and find a mechanism through which they can cooperate to shape the future of regional order. Indonesia, as a middle power in the Pacindo region, is well placed to undertake more active steps toward that goal. We have good relations with all the major regional powers.
Indonesia, therefore, should not be a bystander waiting for others to decide on the future of the region. We must come up with fresh ideas and exercise intellectual leadership on this issue.
One idea that Indonesia should consider is to convene an informal gathering of China, Japan and India, with Indonesia as the host, to discuss the future of the region. These four countries constitute the fulcrum of Asia's stability and prosperity.
Whether Asia will become a region of peace or a region of turmoil will rest on the ability of regional powers to work together. The promise of the Asian century is too valuable to be missed.
The writer is executive director of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta.
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