The independent resource on global security

7. East Asian security


Overview [PDF]

I. Defence and security cooperation in the context of the US rebalance towards the Asia–Pacific [PDF]

II. Maritime disputes in the South and East China Seas [PDF]

III. China’s security diplomacy initiatives [PDF]

IV. Japan’s national defence policy reforms [PDF]

V. Terrorism and China’s international security cooperation [PDF]

VI. Russia’s evolving role in North East Asian security [PDF]


A number of significant regional military–security trends emerged in East Asia during 2014. A key aspect of these trends is China’s efforts to actively shape the regional security dynamic. Regional tensions have been increasing in East Asia since 2008, mainly because of concerns related to maritime territorial disputes, China’s strategic assertiveness, nuclear proliferation, military build-up in the region and the fear of a spillover of instability from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Regional military expenditure trends show that states engaged in territorial disputes with China have launched military modernization programmes. With the United States developing stronger military and security ties with allies in the region as part of its ‘pivot to Asia’ strategy, some analysts have evoked a ‘return of geopolitics’.


The US rebalance towards the Asia–Pacific

Military cooperation between the USA and its allies in the region is evolving as part of the US pivot to Asia strategy. Fuelled by China’s continued military modernization efforts, defence cooperation between the USA and a number of states in Asia deepened in 2014. This cooperation has been viewed by China as a US campaign to enlist regional states in US efforts to counter China’s rise.


Maritime disputes in the South and East China seas

In 2014, tensions remained high in the South China Sea while the security situation improved slightly in the East China Sea. Chinese oil-exploration efforts and the acceleration of land reclamation activities in disputed areas of the South China Sea have led to repeated standoffs with and protests by other claimants, especially the Philippines and Viet Nam. However, there was a reduction of Chinese Coast Guard patrols around the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea in 2014, and a historic handshake between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in November marked the resumption of high-level bilateral relations between the two countries.


China’s security diplomacy initiatives

A number of new security diplomacy initiatives have emerged from President Xi’s ‘Asia for Asians’ concept. China is accelerating efforts to create economic, financial and political institutions that provide an alternative to the traditional Western-led world order. Within the area of regional security, China is increasingly using its own forums to advance structures that diminish the capacity of the USA to help manage and resolve conflicts in the region.


Japan’s national defence policy reforms

The Abe administration has been promoting comprehensive reforms of the Japanese defence policy. Abe has continued to promote institutional and constitutional reforms that would allow for a ‘normalization’ of Japan’s defence policies. Efforts to change Japan’s pacifist post-World War II constitution have triggered negative reactions in China and South Korea, while the USA has encouraged the potential of a greater Japanese contribution to regional security.


Terrorism and China’s international security cooperation

China has been engaging in extensive counterterrorism efforts in Xinjiang, China’s most westerly autonomous region. In addition to bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan, Xinjiang also borders on Central Asian states, many of them former Soviet states. China has become increasingly active in regional counterterrorism cooperation as a result of a rise in domestic jihadist attacks, concerns about a spillover of instability from Afghanistan associated with the drawdown and closure of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission, and the fear of jihadist fighters returning home to China from conflict areas abroad, especially from Iraq and Syria.


Russia’s evolving role in North East Asian security

Russia has been attempting to cultivate diplomatic and security initiatives in North East Asia in the wake of the Ukraine crisis. Russia’s relationship with the West has deteriorated significantly as a result of its de facto annexation of Crimea and its military involvement in eastern Ukraine. As a result, Russia has attempted to strengthen its strategic relations in North East Asia: it has sought to deepen bilateral ties with China at the same time as it is exploring closer economic and political relations with North Korea. However, Russia’s attempts to raise its profile in North East Asia are unlikely to have a major strategic impact.