The Current State-of-play of Northeast Asian Relations: A Youth Perspective
Nyamdavaa Ravdandorj, “Blue Banner” NGO, Mongolia
The Current State-of-play of Northeast Asian Relations
Since the end of the Cold War, the international political environment has rapidly changed. Interstate relations and multilateral cooperation have also broadened. Most of the world’s countries are trying to solve security issues and political misunderstandings through political and diplomatic means. Such commitments by the world nations have led to the establishment of security cooperation mechanisms in many regions, with some of them having made significant advancements. For example, the regional integration processes in Europe or Southeast Asia serve as models for other regions.
However, there has not been much improvement in Northeast Asian security, peace and stability for years, regardless of the continued efforts by governments and non-governmental organizations of the region. The main reasons of this stagnation are distrust, the nuclear arms race, historical tensions and territorial disputes between regional powers.
Nuclear weapons are seriously affecting the global order, security, peace and stability. One does not have to be a security or foreign policy expert to realize the destabilizing role of nuclear weapons in global and regional security, peace and stability. Especially in Northeast Asia, nuclear weapons are seriously affecting regional stability.
For instance, in the last two years, the frequency of ballistic missile tests by North Korea has increased. Following Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test in January 2016, there were South Korean calls to reintroduce US tactical nuclear weapons on the peninsula. Some South Korean politicians are again advocating the pursuit of an independent nuclear capability.[i] This may will lead to a nuclear arms race in the region.
A discussion of regional security issues should concern itself with relations between countries of the region. Tensions from the Cold War era still linger in Northeast Asia. Political misunderstandings and mutual distrust still dominate inter-state relations among Northeast Asian countries.
The peace and stability of Northeast Asia is highly dependent on alliances between US-Japan and US-South Korea and strategic triangles of US-China-Russia, US-Japan-China, China-South Korea-Japan as well as US-China-South Korea.
Northeast Asia is still witnessing territorial disputes between influential countries in the region, such as Japan, China and Russia. The Senkaku/Diaoyudai Islands territorial dispute between China and Japan and the Kuril Islands dispute between Russia and Japan have still not been resolved.
While the abovementioned territorial disputes are unlikely to result in wars or massive armed conflicts, there is no assurance that they will not affect Northeast Asian relations and lead to border conflicts or further incidents between countries of the region.
In general, the main challenges for Northeast Asian security, stability and peace are inter-state historical tensions as well as the lack of political trust. Unquestionably, these tensions and distrust are stalling the development of a regional multilateral cooperation mechanism.
Young people all over the world are waiting for the end of political misunderstandings, tensions and distrust among the countries of the region. In this author’s opinion, the most effective way to promote regional security, peace and stability, as well as establish a regional cooperation mechanism, is to start with removing widespread distrust and tension throughout the region.
Governments and non-governmental organizations of the region should persistently work towards the establishment of a regional multilateral cooperation mechanism. Such a Northeast Asian multilateral cooperation mechanism should commit to simultaneously promoting security, as well as economic and cultural cooperation among countries of the region. Promoting economic and cultural cooperation would benefit the development of understanding and trust across the region.
Unfortunately, a number of events in the past years have increased distrust and misunderstanding in the region. Frequent missile tests by North Korea as well as the deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in ROK are unlikely to contribute to trust and understanding in Northeast Asia, especially on the Korean Peninsula.
Compared to the closest sub-regions of Southeast Asia and Central Asia, regional cooperation in Northeast Asia is very weak though the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) show some signs of success in promoting regional cooperation. ASEAN, in particular, could be a useful model for the establishment of cooperation mechanism in Northeast Asia. Therefore, there is great interest in initiatives based on ASEAN, such as the East Asia Summit[ii], ASEAN Plus Three cooperation[iii] or the ASEAN Regional Forum[iv].
Initiatives by governments and non-governmental organizations in NEA to promote security cooperation within the region also cannot be overlooked. For over last two decades, countries within and outside the region have launched initiatives for Northeast Asian cooperation. Some notable examples are the Northeast Asian Cooperation Dialogue (NEACD)[v], initiated by the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation of the University of California, San Diego; the Northeast Asian Peace and Cooperation Initiative (NAPCI)[vi] by the Republic of Korea; and the Ulaanbaatar Dialogue on Northeast Asian Security Issues (UBD)[vii], an initiative by Mongolia.
Today, new enthusiasm for regionalism in Northeast Asia suggests that despite the potential causes of conflict, the countries of this sub-region are moving closer to embracing habits of consultation and cooperation even in the security realm. Leaders of China, Japan, and South Korea regularly consult on a broad agenda of shared concerns, ranging from Korean Peninsula issues to financial reforms, to the environment. There are important indications that greater cooperation between the countries of Northeast Asia is, more than ever, the most attractive option for addressing regional concerns. Indeed, efforts to pursue regional solutions to problems seem to attract public support even among societies that are often deeply suspicious of each other.[viii]
As mentioned in “Joint Declaration for Peace and Cooperation in Northeast Asia” on the occasion of the sixth trilateral summit, China, Japan and South Korea “decided to encourage a more active promotion of over 50 intergovernmental consultative mechanisms, including about 20 ministerial-level mechanisms, as well as numerous cooperative projects, and to promote the creation of new intergovernmental consultative mechanisms, including ministerial-level mechanisms.”[ix] Despite current political and security frictions, the three leaders have continued to express their unwavering support for cooperation in order to build permanent peace, stability and prosperity in Northeast Asia.[x]
Although the abovementioned initiatives have led to some advancements in specific ways, the attempt to establish a government-level official security cooperation mechanism in Northeast Asia is still far from reaching its goal.
The role of youth and the importance of their participation in building peace and stability in Northeast Asia
Today, the world’s youth population has reached its peak. They therefore have greater opportunities to contribute to the promotion of peace and stability on global, regional as well as national levels.
Global youth are trying to actively engage in peacebuilding processes and some governments, as well as international and national non-governmental organizations are supporting youth participation. I would like to mention few examples of the contributions that young people make towards peacebuilding around the world.
On 13 February 2016, the British Council’s Horn of Africa Leadership and Learning for Action project co-hosted a meeting on the strengthening of community cohesion and reconciliation in South Sudan. At this meeting the participants, including research fellows from Chatham House and government officials, as well as researchers from South Sudan, discussed the role of youth in the future of South Sudan and possibilities to approach youth in peacebuilding processes. Following the meeting, a document entitled “Peacebuilding, Reconciliation and Community Cohesion in South Sudan: The Role of Youth”[xi] was published and the document included recommendations and action points, mostly focused on broadening youth participation in South Sudan.
Furthermore, the UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development Report entitled ‘Young People’s Participation in Peacebuilding: A Practice Note’[xiv] presents a number of policy and programme examples from different conflict affected countries that would facilitate such participation more effectively.
One significant source of support for youth was the ground-breaking United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) on Youth, Peace and Security. The UNSCR 2250 was unanimously adopted by Member States in December 2015. As stated in the resolution “Through the resolution, which defined youth as persons aged 18 through 29, the Security Council also urged Member States to consider setting up mechanisms that would enable young people to participate meaningfully in peace processes and dispute resolution.”[xv]
Youth are often seen as important actors in peacebuilding. As they are the leaders and decision makers of the future, promoting trust and understanding among youth, as well as building a community of young people, could positively influence long-term peace, stability and security. Youth already have the ability to affect peacebuilding processes around the world. Empowering youth and enhancing their peacebuilding knowledge as well as connecting youth and government officials could help youth develop peacebuilding skills and strengthen their resolve to contribute to peacebuilding processes.
As most young people are not directly involved in politics, they could perhaps offer a different perspective of conflict management and peacebuilding. In addition, decision makers and peacebuilders could use their youthful energy and innovative abilities to reach their objectives.
Just like young people from other parts of the world, Northeast Asian youth have taken some steps to integrate and cooperate as well. In 2013, 51 young people of diverse backgrounds from China, Japan, Republic of Korea and Mongolia came together to take part in the North-East Asian Youth Conference[xvi] at Korea University in Seoul. They discussed and exchanged ideas and opinions on various topics, including peacebuilding processes and security issues in Northeast Asia.
The young participants of the conference adopted a resolution on the future of global and regional development, entitled “The World We Want: A Northeast Asian Youth Vision”. This vision consisted of six aspects:[xvii]
1) A world with peace and security;
2) Human development;
3) A world without discrimination, stigma and inequality where everyone enjoys basic human rights and human dignity;
4) A world that respects a clean and green environment (sustainable development);
5) Good governance and accountable leaders; and,
6) Economic development and stability.
In the declaration, youth from Northeast Asia agreed on the following points in support of achieving the first aspect of the declaration; a world with peace and security:
· We must settle regional territorial issues, including facilitating resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue;
· We must pursue prosperity in North-East Asia;
· We need an organization to discuss historical and territorial issues; and,
· We must promote cooperation among the public.[xviii]
Furthermore they even called on the UN to “strengthen international cooperation among states, work closely with governments and all countries as a more neutral actor” and called on governments to “strengthen cooperation among governments, NGOs, INGOs and the private sector to ensure peace and security in the region and promote active cultural interaction.” In addition, they called on the private sector, non-governmental organizations and international non-governmental organizations to focus on strengthening cooperation among governments, NGOs, INGOs, the private sector and the public.
Of course, this conference and declaration did not influence regional peace, security and stability directly. The conference had some shortcomings, such as the lack of participation from all Northeast Asian countries[xix]. However, these kinds of conferences could be an effective way to promote youth participation and unity in peacebuilding.
It is heartening to note that many regional non-governmental organizations and governments have taken specific steps to support youth participation in peacebuilding as well as empower and educate youth. In addition, many conferences and meetings on Northeast Asian security issues include youth participation as an important part of peacebuilding in the region.
A crucial challenge for Northeast Asian peace, security and stability is the existing tension, distrust and misunderstanding among countries of the region. Most states in the region, with the exception of Mongolia, have ongoing disputes with other countries.
A concerted effort to promote trust and understanding in the region and to solve this issue, will be an important step towards the resolution of other security issues, including the nuclear arms race and territorial disputes. In addition, it would be difficult to establish an efficient cooperation mechanism in Northeast Asia without trust and understanding.
Promoting youth participation and ensuring connections and cooperation among young people could be an important phase in achieving this goal. Youth is usually seen as a powerful group for positive change in the future. However, they can, even today, have influence and the ability to change the current state-of-play of the region. Therefore, empowering and educating youth as well as giving them possibilities to connect with each other and decision makers could be a practical and useful approach even today.
[i] Pollack, Jonathan D. , “Order at Risk: Japan, Korea and the Northeast Asian Paradox” Asia Work Group Paper 5., (September 2016): 16.
[ii] East Asia Summit has 18 member countries, including 4 Northeast Asian countries as well as the United States. East Asia Summit (EAS), http://asean.org/asean/external-relations/east-asia-summit-eas/.
[iii] ASEAN + Three Northeast Asian Countries of China, Japan and South Korea. ASEAN+3, http://asean.org/asean/external-relations/asean-3/.
[v] The Northeast Asian Cooperation Dialogue, https://igcc.ucsd.edu/research-and-programs/programs/regional-issues/northeast-asia/northeast-asia-cooperation-dialogue.html.
[vii] Permanent Mission of Mongolia to the United Nations: Ulaanbaatar Dialogue. https://www.un.int/mongolia/mongolia/ulaanbaatar-dialogue.
[viii] Smith, Sheila A., “New Impulses for Security Cooperation in Northeast Asia”, International Institutions and Global Governance Program, Japan Studies Program (December 2009).
[x] Kim, Si Hong, “NAPCI and Trilateral Cooperation: Prospects for South Korea-EU Relations,” IAI Working Papers 17/08 (February 2017).
[xi] Chatham House: The Royal Institute of International Affairs, “Peacebuilding, Reconciliation and Community Cohesion in South Sudan: The role of Youth”, Africa Programme Meeting Summary (February 2016) https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/files/chathamhouse/events/130216-peacebuilding-reconciliation-community-cohesion-south-sudan-meeting-summary.pdf.
[xii] Bennett, Ryan, and Sameer Karki. “Youth and Peacebuilding in Nepal: The current context and recommendations.” https://www.sfcg.org/wpcontent/uploads/2012/01/NEP_CA_Jan12_Youth-and-Peacebuilding.pdf Acesso em 20, no. 04 (2012): 2016.
[xiii] UNICEF, “Youth lead by example in Burundi,” (May 2016) https://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/burundi_91099.html.
[xiv] United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development, “Young People’s Participation in Peacebuilding: A Practice Note,” (January 2016) http://www.un.org/en/peacebuilding/pbso/pdf/Practice%20Note%20Youth%20&%20Peacebuilding%20-%20January%202016.pdf.
[xv] United Nations, “Security Council, Unanimously Adopting Resolution 2250 (2015), Urges Member States to Increase Representation of Youth in Decision-Making at All Levels,” (December 2015) https://www.un.org/press/en/2015/sc12149.doc.htm.
[xvi] United Nations Development Programme, “North-East Asian Youth Conference: ‘The World We Want’,” (November 2012) http://www.undp.org/content/seoul_policy_center/en/home/presscenter/articles/2012/11/27/north-east-asian-youth-conference-the-world-we-want-post-2015-.html.
[xvii] United Nations Development Programme “North-East Asian Youth Conference: ‘The World We Want’ Youth Declaration” (January 2013): 3 http://www.unescap.org/sites/default/files/North_East_Asian_Youth_Declaration_1.pdf.
[xviii] United Nations Development Programme “North-East Asian Youth Conference:’ The World We Want’ Youth Declaration” (January 2013): 6 http://www.unescap.org/sites/default/files/North_East_Asian_Youth_Declaration_1.pdf.
[xix] Youths from Russia and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea did not participate the conference.