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China strives to reshape Asia’s regional security architecture




Learn more about global ChinaChinese President Xi Jinping first presented a new vision for Asian regional architecture in a 2014 speech at the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), a pan-Asian multilateral security organization. Xi argued that it is up to the Asian people to run the affairs of Asia, solve Asia’s problems, and keep Asia secure.1 This speech was the first signal of Beijing’s more focused effort to change the institutional scaffolding, or security architecture, supporting the Asia-Pacific regional order. To achieve this goal, China seeks to challenge the power of the network that has enabled US leadership in Asia-Pacific.2

This article explores China’s attempt to challenge this network power by reorienting the Asia-Pacific security architecture. He argues that, in a sense, China is taking a page out of the Americas’ own handbook: it seeks to build a tiered network of security institutions, partnerships and cooperative activities that strengthen its regional influence.

China’s ambitions are to put in place a more exclusively Asian security architecture, free of alliances, more in line with its internal security concerns, less liberal and firmly anchored in China’s economic power. These ambitions are not new, but under Xi, China is focusing more actively on how to operationalize and institutionalize its vision.

China’s strategy for shaping a new regional security network is nascent and has yielded mixed results so far. This article suggests that Beijing faces a series of obstacles that stand in the way of its goals, including its inability to convince Asian partners that China can be a just and trustworthy security guarantor, the institutional resilience of existing structures such as as American alliances and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the backlash against China’s aggressive territorial ambitions. Nonetheless, Beijing is creating partnerships, institutions and alternative security principles that generate a stronger sense of Asian integration and that particularly appeal to authoritarian leaders less aligned with a liberal system. In addition, China is increasingly disseminating new tools and practices by selling conventional weapons and dual-use technologies, and placing more emphasis on training and exercises to support these tools which have the potential to reorient regional institutions and standards over time.

While the United States remains the security partner of choice for many countries in the Asia-Pacific region, American policymakers cannot afford to rest on the laurels of the power grid that the United States built in the 20th century. century. As Beijing strives to develop an alternative security network, US policymakers will need to reassess the necessary institutional investments the United States should make to safeguard its interests. These include modernizing US alliances, strengthening support for open and transparent national governance, reinvesting in Asian institutions and refocusing on public diplomacy.

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