The China Question

President Bush’s recent visit to Asia made little news – by design. But that’s because Bush didn’t begin to address the issue that is looming ever larger in the region: the changing face of security in Asia in view of China’s growing economic and military might.

This summer, for example, China and Russia conducted their first-ever grand-scale joint military exercise. This was followed by Russian news reports that China, Russia, and India would conduct trilateral military exercises, named “Indira 2005,” on the same scale before the end of this year.

In the past, such a combination of countries was almost unthinkable, and these exercises cannot be explained away as simple “one-off” affairs with little resonance. Instead, they reflect China’s long-term strategic goal of establishing hegemony across Asia.

One tool of this ambition is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), under which the Sino-Russian exercises took place. Established in June 2001, the SCO includes China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The SCO’s original purpose was to mitigate tensions on the borders of China and the Central Asian countries after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the arrival of the United States military with the war in Afghanistan.