Future East Asian Security Architecture: Implications for the PLA

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Alan D. Romberg contributed the following analysis as chapter twelve of “Assessing the Threat”, a book published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“Security architecture” is too grand a term for what currently exists in East Asia and what is likely to exist in the foreseeable future. What we have, rather, is a set of security issues and relationships – some formal, most not – that constitute the totality of the present reality, with little prospect that this will change significantly. Therefore, although this chapter may occasionally lapse into the use of the term “architecture,” there is in fact no discernable structure to guide our analysis.

This chapter makes reference to Chinese security concerns in Central, South, Southwest, and Southeast Asia, but the focus is on Northeast Asia, because the main drivers for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) increasingly lie in that region. Over the course of the next fifteen to twenty years, questions relating to terrorism and other transnational issues could arise in other quadrants around China’s periphery. For example, Tibet in the post-Dalai Lama era could give rise to some particularly delicate conditions drawing PLA attention. Uighur separatism is likely to continue to be a focus of military responsibility as well. Moreover, at some point China may well feel the need to consider what would necessarily be an expensive strategic lines of communication (SLOC) protection force in Southeast and South Asia, especially for growing energy imports. But the fundamental fact remains that, as they are now, the issues that relate to China’s core national security interests will be far more concentrated in Northeast Asia than elsewhere.

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