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Risk of conflict growing in East Asia

Despite more than 30 years of peace in East Asia, it would be a grave mistake for political leaders and policymakers to assume that conflict, or even war, could not break out again in the region, according to the latest issue of Global Asia, a Seoul-based quarterly.

The journal, published by the East Asia Foundation, argues in a series of articles that the rise of geopolitics in East Asia, fueled in part by U.S.-China rivalry, could trigger miscalculations that could inadvertently escalate into armed confrontation.

“The number of troubling fault lines of possible conflict in the region has increased, rather than declined, over the past several years,” said Moon Chung-in, editor-in-chief of Global Asia.

“Tensions between China and Japan are on the rise; continued historical grievances between South Korea and Japan are providing Beijing with an opening to court Seoul, possibly at the expense of the U.S.; maritime disputes in the East and South China Seas have raised the temperature between China and a number of countries, including Vietnam, the Philippines and the U.S. In all, there is no shortage of geopolitical maneuvering in East Asia, and that is a troubling development,” Moon said. 

The journal’s analysis draws a parallel between the situation in Europe 100 years ago, before the outbreak of World War I, and the situation in East Asia today. Back then, as today, political leaders failed to see the potential for conflict.

“Few predicted that the economic interdependence of the continent and its network of alliances would suddenly unravel into the carnage of World War I,” Global Asia’s editors said in an introduction to the cover story, “Dangerous Games: The Revival of Geopolitics and the Risks for East Asia.”

The situation today in Ukraine is a case in point about what can go wrong in the face of complacency, the magazine said. In Northeast Asia, there has been a profound reemergence of geopolitics in recent years, driven largely but not exclusively by rivalry between China and the U.S., that potentially threatens peace and security in the region in ways unseen since the worst days of the Cold War, it argued.

Conflict, however, is not inevitable, as the articles in the fall issue of Global Asia point out. “The critical first step to resolution of growing tensions in the region is an awareness of the trend and the determination and political will to reach solutions that will ensure continued peace and prosperity,” Moon said.

While military confrontation involving the formidable conventional weapons of the armed forces of major nations in the Asia-Pacific would be bad enough, no threat to the region exceeds that of nuclear weapons.

In response to that threat, Global Asia published the full text of the “Jakarta Declaration on Nuclear Arms,” recently released by the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, with an introduction by former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans. It lays out a series of steps aimed at securing the region ― and the world ― from the horrors that have been visited so far only on an Asian nation.
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