The most important strategic partnership America can develop this century is with China. Washington and Beijing will benefit more from pragmatic military cooperation through the involvement of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) with NATO to resolve current tensions. Forming a lasting relationship between these two collective security organizations can be at the foundation of constructive Washington-Beijing relations in the Pacific.
We face a new precedent in our time: a multi-polar world, in which a Chinese-American relationship can be a pillar. Currently, that relationship is rather counter-productive, being one of a debt addict (America) and his dealer (China), with some uncertainty about what will be the re-defined role of the U.S. on the global stage.
China’s geopolitical security is more intricate than America’s. The country is very close to two epicenters of global instability – the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Various semi-failed and authoritarian regimes are also a stone’s throw from its borders: Pakistan, Myanmar, and North Korea. At the same time, it borders rising powers Russia and India, not to mention the economic powerhouse Japan.
The U.S. sits largely isolated. However, Washington’s involvement in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan is an underlying source of tension with China. Not to mention American aid to Pakistan, the presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the ongoing tensions with Iran.
What makes the positions of the U.S. and China even more interdependent is that both are permanent members of the UN Security Council and through that institution they have to find commonalities on the issues that surround China, most prominently: the North/South Korea divide, Iran, and NATO’s war in Afghanistan.
There are constraints between the two powers. Countries in Southeast Asia are growing increasingly restless at the sight of mounting Chinese influence. Furthermore, while militarily China is a long way from directly challenging U.S. military capabilities in the Pacific, the moment will come when that may very well become a reality. Similarly, China’s growing assertiveness on the global stage cannot be ignored or misunderstood.
Several mechanisms do exist to foster international dialogue and cooperation in Asia; ASEAN and the SCO are two regional blocs of which China is a member. However, these are inadequate in addressing the deepening Sino-American relationship. Purely from the security perspective, the option of integrating Pacific Rim countries into a collective security framework is the most effective way to alleviate fears and reduce tensions.
This could be done as a SCO-NATO North Pacific Agreement, an idea that presents an interesting solution to unresolved tensions.
Most countries in Southeast Asia are currently not members, and the SCO itself is not as developed and integrated as NATO. Yet, on the upside, some of the main stakeholders – China, Russia, Iran, and India – are members, or have that prospect. Undoubtedly, the most difficult part of the process is dealing with common standards in governance, structure, and capabilities. The aforementioned dictatorships can be left in isolation until they fall and then let the countries be associated. However, can communist, monarchist, theocratic and democratic governments still co-exist in a single collective security framework? There is reason to hope. In its current shape, the SCO already includes several of these of regimes.
China’s prominence alone has the potential to be a unifying factor for agreeing on common security goals in Asia first and with the U.S. afterward, taking the practical shape of SCO-NATO integration in the Pacific. The more important point, however, is that an SCO-NATO long-term framework goal means that all parties with a stake in the North Pacific will have a forum to voice their opinions and come to acceptable compromises. A weak parallel can be drawn from the NATO-Russia Council on what a practical framework might look like. Integrating continental collective security architectures will also be a first in world affairs, but it seems an acceptable solution to the current impasses.
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