from Center for Preventive Action

States on China’s Periphery Are Potential Source of Regional Instability, Warn Asia Experts at the Council on Foreign Relations

In this new memoranda series, four CFR fellows focus on crisis triggers, analyze where U.S. and Chinese interests converge and diverge, and present policy options for preventing such crises and mitigating the consequences.

September 22, 2011

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“China’s growing global engagement and presence has increased the number of conceivable places and issues over which it could find itself at odds with the United States,” asserts Paul B. Stares, director of the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), in a new memoranda series. “Potential developments in the territories immediately adjacent to China [North Korea, Myanmar, Pakistan, and Central Asian states] remain the most likely—and the most worrisome—sources of friction.”

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In each of the four papers of Managing Instability on China’s Periphery CFR fellows focus on crisis triggers, analyze where U.S. and Chinese interests converge and diverge, and present policy options for preventing such crises and mitigating the consequences.

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Highlights from the analysis in each paper are below.

Scott A. Snyder, senior fellow for Korea Studies and director of the U.S.-Korea policy program, on North Korea:

-     While the United States has implemented economic sanctions and deferred dialogue with North Korea, China’s trade relationship with the North has continued to grow at double-digit levels in 2010 despite the fact that North Korea has made no significant steps toward economic reform in this period.

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-     The deepest source of friction between the United States and China is their difference in vision for the political evolution of the peninsula. “Chinese anxiety about changes in the political balance (i.e. anything that might lead toward Korean unification) inhibits prospects for future Sino-U.S. Cooperation and even raises the prospect of Sino-U.S. conflict.”

-     Given the “lack of trust,” a U.S.-China bilateral dialogue on North Korea “may not be feasible.” Therefore, discussions on security arrangements on the Korean peninsula should also include South Korea and Japan.

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United States

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Joshua Kurlantzick, fellow for Southeast Asia, on Myanmar:

-     “Washington is extremely concerned about the potential of Myanmar developing a nuclear program, which would radically alter all relationships in Southeast Asia and make Myanmar a major proliferation risk.”

-     For China, greater control and stability of its long and porous border with Myanmar is of “paramount importance” because Myanmar is also a valuable trade and investment ally, particularly in timber, gems, and other extractive industries, as well as a growing source of oil.

-     While U.S.-China cooperation on political reform in Myanmar is unlikely, meaningful economic reforms can be achieved by delivering aid through third parties like the World Bank or Asian Development Bank. Additionally, “Beijing could put pressure on North Korea to halt exports of possible dual-use technology and material to Myanmar.”

Daniel Markey, senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia, on Pakistan:

-     While the United States and China want to see a Pakistani weapons program that is safe and secure, they have taken fundamentally different approaches on the issue. Washington has provided “limited, quiet assistance…to improve the physical security of its nuclear arsenal and facilities. China, on the other hand, has actively supported the expansion of Pakistan’s nuclear program.”

-     U.S. and Chinese views on regional terrorist groups converge, largely because Beijing also recognizes the potential for militant organizations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba to spark an Indo-Pakistani war. Such a war can potentially threaten China’s economic ties with India, and its strategic relationship with Pakistan.

-     To respond to another crisis in Pakistan, the United States and China should “quietly assemble a crisis coordination group of states with the greatest influence and interest in Pakistan, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and possibly also the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and Japan.”

Evan A. Feigenbaum, adjunct senior fellow for East, Central, and South Asia, on Central Asian states:

-     Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan emerged from the Soviet collapse with mixed results. While some are relatively stable, most remain fragile as social tensions persist and economies remain vulnerable to external or internal economic shocks.

-     The most promising way for U.S. and China to cooperate in Central Asia is helping reconnect Central Asia to the global economy. To do so, “Washington and Beijing should seek to lend additional impetus to the Asian Development Bank’s Central Asian Regional Economic Cooperation program.”

-     The United States and China should aim at complementary, but not necessarily joint, projects and actions. One example is counternarcotics: “Washington and Beijing can coordinate their areas of focus, and direct their respective financial assistance packages at similar drug-related goals…while maintaining separate efforts.”

For the complete series, visit www.cfr.org/china/managing-instability-chinas-periphery/p25838

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