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The 7th Xiangshan Forum, Beijing, Oct. 11-13, 2016

It’s obvious that Asia-Pacific region, hosting the first three economic giants of the world, namely USA, China and Japan, as well as the most powerful nuclear states of the planet: USA, Russia and China, is not one of the peaceful regions of the planet in terms of security. The existing tensions between various players of the region in terms of the competition for resources – translated in divergent narratives related to the sovereignty on the maritime areas, for instance the South China Sea -, the actions of the global terrorist networks and the divergences between the great forces are present and frequent. Not to mention the sources of crisis dating back decades, threatening with evolutions meant to challenge the regional peace, as in the case of North Korea. Pyongyang is developing a nuclear weaponing program since around twenty years ago, worrying the whole international community. Being already expressed for a long time ago and increasingly frequently repeated by experts and officials of the states in the region, the lack of trust between the regional players is one of the significant factors feeding this situation. In the same direction also acts the fact that the divergent interests of some of the great systemic forces meet in this region, where China’s unprecedented economic growth has reformulated the global and regional power hierarchies.

In the circumstances of this picture of the regional security, it’s normal for meetings of experts and decision-makers as the ones occurred on the occasion of Xiangshan Forum, held annually by China Institute for International Strategic Studies (whose President is Admiral Sun Jianguo, Deputy Chief of the Joint Staff Department of China’s Central Military Commission), together with China Association for Military Science (President: General Cai Yingting) is ambitioning for some years ago to provide a tribune for discussing the regional and global issues. This meeting enjoys the attendance of both the decision-makers and the experts in security and defense, so that the level of trust between the regional players will grow. Well, openly, transparently expressing their own concerning regarding the security or of the criticism of certain ongoing events or developments, as well as debating ideas and opinions on this occasion, definitely have the role to increase trust between the regional players. Starting with the 6th edition that enjoyed in 2015 of a notable presence (more than 600 guests, from heads of states and of governments to ministers of defense or of foreign affairs), Xiangshan Forum remarks itself by significant results from this perspective in the regional and global landscape of the security and defense forums. In our opinion, Xiangshan Forum consists in a prominent presence on the global map of the annual security meetings, the size of the annual meeting in Munchen – Germany in February (Wehrkunde).

This year’s edition of the Xiangshan Forum – with the attendance of almost 500 decision-makers and experts from 65 countries – was held from October 11 to 13, under the title “Build a New Type of International relations through Security Dialogue and Cooperation”.  The meeting proved to be very important once again, through the proposed strategies or the launched ideas in order to solve some regional security files expressed by the attending decision-makers and experts. And since the Asia-Pacific region is attracting today the interests of the major systemic players, its global significance cannot be underestimated in any way.

Right from the beginning of the meeting, its host, Amiral Sun Jianguo, mentioned that the organizers aimed to clarify and strengthen a climate of regional trust and transparency, proper to cooperation. In the same direction, the Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister of China, Liu Zhenmin, proposed the idea of “building of an Asia-Pacific security architecture”. What Beijing considers by this proposal is related to building a cooperation network, in a comprehensive and multi-layered manner between the various already existing institutions in the field, including ASEAN, which is deemed to be a model of joint approach of the difficult issues. We have to mention that in China’s view, this architecture should include states belonging to different alliances (therefore, belonging to Shanghai Cooperation Organization, or allies of the US), which will make inclusivity to be one of the main qualities of the envisaged construction.

Also related to this chapter of the security architecture, we have to mention that China, the country with the most dynamic economic growth in the region, whose imposing regional status causes apprehensions to some of its neighbors, is programmatically opting for multilateralism and for the rejection of the unilateralism in this construction to which all the regional players are called. Of course, the attendants have discussed about the terrorism issue, the head of the Malaysian Ministry of Defense underlining, right at the beginning of the forum, the cardinal importance of this regional file which claims the cooperation relied on trust. He stated that “While terrorism takes many forms, few would argue that the threat posed by groups driven by religious extremism is not the greatest challenge of our time.”

Issues related to the maritime security were also discussed, an understandable matter in a region with many countries are insular states. A firm position was expressed in this matter by the head of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Chinese Parliament, Fu Ying, who mentioned that “We hope that countries who are not involved in the disputes respect the countries who are having the disputes to … work among themselves/…/Outside involvement, I think the developments have shown, interferences can only complicate the differences and sometimes even add to the tension.” One of the most important moments of the forum was represented by the Chinese-Russian joint press conference, showing a concerted position of the two states regarding the US intention to install an operational missile location in South Korea, meant to counteract the danger represented by North Korea’s nuclear weaponing.

Being organized as a demonstration of a joint position of the two states related to the US global missile shield and held in front of the deputy heads of defense of the two countries, the event polarized the attention of the participants, who considered it to be an event with a considerable impact on the future developments in the region. To be mentioned that, while the Chinese representative mentioned that the unilateral dislocation by US of the missile shield is a “non-constructive behavior” damaging the global and regional strategic balance, the Russian one stressed that, this way, USA aims to “contain Russian and Chinese strategic nuclear prowess”, “which aims to give the US absolute advantage against potential adversaries around the world“. Xiangshan Forum has been the occasion for opinion expressed by both Chinese and American experts, or by experts from the states in the region, related to the fact that the threatening situation in the Korean Peninsula, caused by the stage of weaponing and nuclear tests of the Pyongyang regime, could be defused by establishing a format of negotiations for solving the file, to which the partners should be China, USA, Japan and South Korea. In this frequently repeated proposal is detached a main line of the variable geometry in the international relations today, namely the one in which a cooperation file developed on trust and reaching punctual objectives allows the conciliation of the divergent interests (r at least placing them in the background) in cases of litigations between major players like USA, China or Russia. Thus, communication channels are permanently maintained open and overcoming a red line to confrontation is avoided. This year also, Xiangshan Forum highlighted its increasing importance as a tribune for discussing global security and defense issues between decision-makers and experts.

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