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A Path for Sustained Prosperity

Against the backdrop of rising geopolitical tensions both outside and inside the region, the Asia-Pacific should establish itself as a model for peaceful and sustainable development

By Cui Hongjian Updated Jul.1

The Asia-Pacific region has an important position in the world’s economic and political landscape, primarily for two reasons. First, the Asia-Pacific region is emerging as a global economic, investment, industrial and innovation center. The region’s economic output now accounts for more than 60 percent of the world’s total, and the figure is still growing. More and more Asia-Pacific countries and regions are becoming major global economies. It is expected the region will attract more trade, investment and industry from all over the world, a result of four decades of rapid globalization.  

Second, the Asia-Pacific is becoming a critical region that could shape the global geopolitical landscape. As the region emerges to become the world’s economic center, it has attracted the attention of more players outside the region, which have exerted geopolitical pressure on regional countries. During the rapid globalization of previous decades, Asia-Pacific countries seized the chance to achieve major economic development. As globalization has encountered major setbacks amid rising geopolitical tension, the region faces a major challenge over whether it can handle geopolitical risks while continuing to maintain growth and prosperity. In order to do this, regional countries need to find solutions to two major issues.  

The first question is how to handle the relationship between small and large countries within the region. In the process of globalization, regional countries have minimized the impact of their strategic concerns through cooperating with each other on trade and investment and expanding the overall market for the entire region. But as strategic tensions intensify, the relationships between small and large countries are key to whether the region continues to enjoy peace and prosperity.  

The second question is how regional countries will handle the tension between maintaining political inclusiveness and the grouping and institutionalization of security relations. The geopolitical landscape of the Asia-Pacific region has been fragmented. Traditionally, the indigenous political and security mechanism in the region is diverse and inclusive. But lately, the US and its allies outside the region have pushed political and security arrangements aimed to group regional countries into exclusive military alliances, which contradicts the political tradition of the region and caused rising tensions. For Asia-Pacific countries, what is happening in Europe provides a warning against the possibility of two different directions leading to conflicts or confrontations. While these alliances, such as AUKUS, are still in their infancy, regional countries must think carefully about what kind of impact these alliances pose to the region’s security, especially when the alliances are seeking to expand and upgrade. Asia-Pacific countries need to take the situation seriously and respond accordingly.  

Based on China’s overall assessment of the global situation, peace and development are the major trends of the times. But as war erupted and rages in Europe, regional countries should uphold the values of peace and development more than ever. The Asia-Pacific should show the world it can achieve sustainable development while maintaining peace. It is the biggest challenge for the region.  

In order to secure sustainable development and become more resilient in maintaining peace, the region needs to avoid the difficulties Latin American countries suffered since they achieved economic take-off in the 1950s and 1960s (mainly a widening wealth gap, political instability and social disorder). In the past decades, the Asia-Pacific region’s economic growth was driven by the rise of mega-economies such as China and India. But in the next stage, it is important to support small and medium economies to achieve industrialization and modernization, so the whole region can reach high-level balanced development, which will serve as major support for the region’s long-term peace and prosperity.  

The ongoing military conflict between Russia and Ukraine does have a complicated spillover effect in the Asia-Pacific region, especially in the realm of security, and it looks set to intensify regional arms races and provide perverse incentives for nuclear proliferation, as well as cause the proliferation of medium-range ballistic missiles and anti-air missile systems. On one hand, it shows that after decades of globalization, the world is closely connected and it is hard for the Asia-Pacific region to isolate itself from issues in other parts of the world and maintain its own economic momentum. On the other, it clarifies that Asia-Pacific countries must learn from these lessons and try their best to control and minimize any spillover effect from the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Regarding security issues, regional countries must think carefully about introducing external powers within the region. They should strive to establish a balanced, effective and sustainable security mechanism based on the region’s particular conditions, exploring a path for the long-term security and stability of the region.  

The West has required China to choose between following the international community led by the West and supporting Russia. By doing this, they expect to exert the pressure of both morality and interests on China, so it would have to face the choice between right and wrong, as well as possibly huge losses if it supports Russia.  

From the perspective of morality, the US and other Western countries appear to adopt a dichotomous thinking with a strong tendency for self-fulfilling prophecies, while ignoring the complexity of the issues and the reality that the world is now multi-polar. China does not see the necessity to prove its righteousness by standing on the side of the West. China’s priority is on the conditions and the prospects of bringing the conflict to an end pragmatically. For China, the top consideration for its diplomatic policies is how to end conflicts, rather than making empty declarations based on morality. If the entire world adopts dichotomous thinking and divides everything and everyone into either black or white, friends and enemies, the world will be driven to a Cold-War style confrontation.  

From the perspective of realpolitik, China’s refusal to join the West’s sanctions against Russia will make it harder for the US to achieve its policy goals. But China’s decision could benefit both the global economy and economic development in the Asia-Pacific region. By the same token, China’s refusal to explicitly condemn Russia’s actions is against the interests of the US-led “anti-Russia” camp, but can provide space for international mediation and diplomatic solutions. The reason China has not provided military support to Russia, as many in Washington were concerned about, is not because of US pressure, but lies in China’s own goal to bring the conflict to an end.  

China’s stance on this issue is in line with most countries in the world and reflects its own assessment of the current status of its bilateral relationship with the US. Bearing in mind its international responsibilities, China has not chosen to address its disputes with the US following the conventional approach based on sphere of influence. From this perspective, China’s current policy stance is already the best possible outcome the US could hope for. Not only has China not created “new troubles” that many in the US are concerned over, it also provides space for future diplomatic maneuvers to de-escalate the situation.

Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force conducts a joint amphibian drill with US Marines in Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan, late March

Royal Australian Navy submarine HMAS Rankin is seen during AUSINDEX 21, a biennial maritime exercise between the Royal Australian Navy and the Indian Navy, Darwin, Australia, September 5, 2021