TOKYO – There was little surprise in President Barack Obama’s announcement late last year that the United States will strengthen its position in East Asia while drawing down its forces in Europe. After all, the security environment in East Asia is unpredictable and rapidly changing, unlike in Europe, where it is relatively stable. Against this background, efforts now underway to establish a comprehensive multilateral framework for the region can learn from the recent history of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The US is not alone in shifting its security focus to East Asia. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to host Russia’s first Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Vladivostok in September reflects his country’s growing interest in the region. And, like the US, Russia attended last November’s East Asia Summit (EAS).
The EAS, along with the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) ministerial meetings last July, made important contributions to improving the region’s security environment. The ARF’s effort to build a more predictable and constructive pattern of relations for the Asia-Pacific region is based on three stages: confidence-building, preventive diplomacy, and conflict resolution. At its 18th ministerial conference last year, ARF entered the second phase, preventive diplomacy, while continuing to strengthen confidence-building measures.
Maritime cooperation was a focus of attention at both the ARF ministerial meeting and at the EAS, not least because China’s activities in the South and East China Seas have generated fresh uncertainty in the region. The ARF welcomed the adoption of “Guidelines for Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.” Likewise, the EAS focused on combating “sea piracy, search and rescue at sea, marine environment, maritime security, maritime connectivity, freedom of navigation, fisheries, and other areas of cooperation.”