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Asia’s Military Revolution

SEOUL – A vast revolution in military affairs is taking place across East Asia. The latest signs are Chinese President Xi Jinping’s purge of General Xu Caihou, an ex-Politburo member and former vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, on charges of corruption, and Japan’s “reinterpretation” of Article 9 of its constitution to permit the country to provide military aid to its allies.

Despite the rising regional tensions that inspired these moves, China’s relations with its neighbors and the United States are not fated to lead to direct confrontation. But the relentless march of new initiatives to meet the perceived “China threat” will require the region’s political leaders, including the Chinese, to address their disputes in new and more creative ways if that outcome is to be avoided.

In general, there are three ways to foster international peace: deepening economic interdependence, promoting democracy, and building international institutions. Unfortunately, because East Asia’s political leaders have failed to pursue the latter objective, they now find themselves playing dangerous balance-of-power games reminiscent of Europe a century ago.

Deepening economic interdependence in the wake of Asia’s 1997 financial crisis has not generated political momentum for peace and cooperation. The region’s business leaders have been unable to prevent deteriorating foreign relations from harming their interests. By contrast, military lobbying now deeply influences foreign and defense policies – witness China’s double-digit increase in defense spending and rising US arms sales in the region.