“There are parrots and cockatoos walking the streets as if they were common pigeons!” I exclaimed after only a couple hours in Canberra, Australia. Seriously, wild parrots! I am here for a 4-day conference and lecture series at Australian National University called Asia-Pacific Week. With events and sessions planed from 8am-8pm, it will be hard to blog about it in depth, but I would like to briefly explore some takeaways from the first two sessions and discussions and point to some points that I feel are particularly relevant to the theme of small states that I am trying to address with this blog. For the first time so far, this post will NOT focus on Mongolia; however, there are parallels to be made.
1. The Asian Century:
Our first panel addressed the “Asia Pacific Century”. While the goal of the panel was to begin a discussion on the changes taking place in Asia and probably to set the tone for the rest of the week, the heavily Sinocentric narrative of the panel left me thinking about what happened to rest of the Asia Pacific. China has managed in the past 20 years to conduct its economic policy in a hugely successful fashion; it is by far the largest indigenous military power in the region; has a population of 1.3 billion; and, has become a major contributor to international development through FDI. This is, of course, just a quick look at what China has become and why it matters. Luckily for me, we are far past the stage of having to convince anyone that China is important. Rather, I am left with the impression that it may be necessary to prove that China is not the only country that matters.
As the name of this blog suggests, I am arguing that small countries do matter in international affairs more generally, and international security affairs on a slightly more specific level. This panel presentation seemed to take China’s continued rise as a given, and posed Asian security as a singularly US-China issue. They further assumed a fixed-pie of influence and power in the Asia Pacific, whereby China’s rise meant a lessening of US power in the region. However, I think that this perspective is confounded by the case of Asia’s other players. When one turns to Southeast Asia, one can quickly identify a number of players that are responding to China’s rise by inviting the US to take a stronger role. Singapore seems to welcome the US with open arms as a source of stability; the Philippines benefits from a strong security relationship with the United States; Thailand has been a military ally of the US for many years; and, Vietnam and the US recently signed military medical agreements that point to increased cooperation- just to point to a few examples. In fact, it looks like China’s rise might actually be an opportunity for the US to further entrench itself in Asia as many states will be looking to hedge against a possible Chinese threat. The small states of Southeast Asia, the developed states like South Korea and Japan, and to some extent Mongolia might actually help keep the scale tipped in the US’s favor. Small matters have Big Results.
China has made many astounding accomplishments in the past 20 years, but it is far from being able to command the kind of soft power that the US has managed for many decades. “Peace Rise” notwithstanding, China’s history of aggression and domination are not going to be soon forgotten. While few are hesitant to take advantage of the Chinese market to foster their own domestic development, at the same time even fewer would assume that no counter measures are necessary. States are willing to trade with China and maybe make some diplomatic/political concessions to maintain good relations; however, policies will continue to be taken to protect state sovereignty. Simply put, no state wants to bow down to every Chinese demand, and in an effort to prevent overwhelming Chinese economic and political domination, many smaller states in the region will attempt to ensure that they also maintain deep relationships with other major regional powers, including (and perhaps most importantly) the United States. Whether we call this balance of power, balance of threat, hedging, omni-entrenchment, or even a “Third Neighbor Policy” (as Mongolia has done), the fact remains that China’s rise will be embraced on one end, and balanced on the other. To end with an example that I have brought up many times today, let me point to Mongolia (again, eh?). When the Dalai Lama visited Mongolia in 2002, China responded by cutting railway services to Mongolia for the duration of the visit. With the vast majority of Mongolian exports going to China, this was a clear effort to remind Mongolia of its proper place. This is exactly the type of situation that every country in Asia will want to avoid. (Mongolia’s planned rail-line from Oyuu Tolgoi up to Russia seems to be partly in response to this 2002 event, as well).
2. “The Arc of Instability”
I have to admit that I have never encountered this term before, but apparently it is readily identifiable to Australians. It refers to directly the island nations of the Pacific Ocean that arc around Australia, including such states as the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji. Who knew? This is one of those black places on the map for me, and I have to admit that I have almost no knowledge about these small states. What is clear, however, is that they have taken measures in their foreign policies and security initiatives that are seem common to my developing understanding of small states. Firstly, they all seem very close to Australia as a potential guarantor of their sovereignty and stability, which, as the arc suggests, is a far from certain thing. Secondly, they have all become well versed in how to play with giants. One excellent example that was brought up in this second session was that many of them have continued to recognize Taiwan was an independent state in return for Taiwanese development aid, while simultaneously entertaining and courting the PRC for more development assistance. Needless to say, in my future comparative work on small state foreign policy, I will explore several of these states in more detail. More information to come.
For more information on ANU Asia Pacific Week, visit:
Here you will find a detailed program, the other delegates profiles, and information on the application process. I highly encourage people to apply for next year’s event. It has just started and I am loving it. Not to mention, that food and lodging are provided for 5 days, AND travel funding was also available.
Analysis, Thoughts, Ideas
This blog will be an online publishing site for smaller analytical projects, news stories that I find relevant to small state foreign policy and indigenous autonomy, as well as a testing ground for new ideas and new projects that I may pursue.