Key developments and trends in Asia-Pacific security

Regional Security Assessment 2014

Since 2002, the International Institute for Strategic Studies has organised the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore as a venue at which defence ministers, military and top-ranking defence officials from Asia-Pacific states, and other powers heavily involved in the region, are able to discuss the most important regional security matters of the day. The Dialogue has become a fixture in the calendars of key Asia-Pacific defence decision-makers from 27 countries, and in mid-2014 it convenes for the thirteenth time.

This Regional Security Assessment 2014 is the first IISS Strategic Dossier to be issued in association with the Shangri-La Dialogue. It focuses on issues reflecting the most important themes to emerge from successive Dialogues:

  •  The evolving regional roles of the major powers, particularly the United States and China, but also Japan and India, among others.
  • The dangers posed by potential flashpoints, notably the Korean Peninsula, Taiwan and territorial disputes in the East and South China seas.
  • Pervasive low-intensity security concerns, from insurgencies in Southeast Asia to transnational threats relating to maritime, resource and cyber security.
  • The crucial overarching questions of military competition in the region and how best to construct a more secure and stable regional order.

This Strategic Dossier focuses on the evolving regional roles of the major powers in the Asia-Pacific, particularly the United States and China. It examines the dangers posed by potential flashpoints, as well as pervasive low-intensity security concerns. It also reflects on questions of military competition in the region and how best to construct a more secure and stable regional order.

The Dossier was launched at the Shangri-La Dialogue 2014 on Friday 30 May in Singapore. Watch the UK launch.

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  • Chapter One: The United States’ rebalance to the Asia-Pacific in 2013

    The origins of the United States’ ‘pivot’ to Asia – later renamed the ‘rebalance’ – can be traced to the early days of the Obama administration. After he was elected president in late 2008, Barack Obama directed his national-security transition team to conduct a strategic assessment of the international landscape and US security interests. The team addressed the question ‘Where is the United States overweighted in terms of its presence...
  • Chapter Two: The Party–Military relationship in China and its strategic implications

    The first years of the current decade have witnessed significant political change across the Asia-Pacific region. Most importantly, at the end of 2012 Xi Jinping became general secretary of China’s Communist Party and shortly thereafter president of the People’s Republic of China. Simultaneously, he also became the top military leader in China with his appointment as chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), the most senior military decision-making body. It...
  • Chapter Three: Powers in the Middle: Japan, India, Russia, Australia, South Korea

    As China rises on the global and regional stage and the United States responds, other countries in the Asia-Pacific are crafting their own national strategies for managing new power balances and tensions in the region. Five states may loosely be termed ‘middle powers’ in comparison with the US and China, although three of them – Japan, India and Russia – are in different ways major powers in their own right...
  • Chapter Four: Sino-Japanese tensions in the East China Sea and the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute

    Much commentary and analysis relating to Sino-Japanese relations focuses on the issue of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. To an extent, the focus of these discussions is warranted. But a singular emphasis on the disputed islands does not take proper account of the historical and more recent political context necessary for deeper understanding of the underlying tensions between East Asia’s two biggest powers. Understanding four important aspects of Sino-Japanese relations – hydrocarbon...
  • Chapter Five: The South China Sea disputes in 2013

    Efforts to manage the complex collection of overlapping sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea continued both to reflect and to foment regional distrust during 2013. The previous year had exposed divisions within ASEAN over the management of these disputes, with Chinese influence over Cambodia’s chairing role a key factor in the failure of ASEAN foreign ministers to agree a joint communiqué at the July summit’s conclusion for the first...
  • Chapter Six: The Korean Peninsula: North–South relations in 2013

    Even when set against the erratic patterns of the past, when relations between South and North Korea have often fluctuated sharply from tentative cooperation to near-conflict, 2013 seemed especially volatile. North Korea’s detonation of a nuclear device in February (its third since 2006) and a series of histrionic verbal assaults by the North against the South in March and April, coupled with threats to launch pre-emptive conventional and nuclear attacks...
  • Chapter Seven: The Taiwan Strait

    With Sino-Japanese relations at a low point and the South China Sea looking increasingly unstable, the Taiwan Strait was an apparent bright spot in Asia’s security landscape during 2013. However, shifts in the geopolitical environment and in the cross-strait balance of power with China suggested a potentially less stable future. The strait was fairly quiet in 2013. Ma Ying-jeou, re-elected as Taiwan’s president in January 2012, maintained his first-term approach to...
  • Chapter Eight: Domestic armed conflict in Southeast Asia

    Southeast Asian governments have for decades, in one case since the 1940s, faced significant internal security challenges from armed insurrections, based on either ideological difference or ethnic or religious particularism. However, over the last few years there have been notable shifts in the trajectories of several Southeast Asian domestic conflicts: nations have been willing to enter into negotiations and have recognised some of the demands of separatist groups; some insurgents...
  • Chapter Nine: Water security and climate change

    Water security may be one of the defining global issues of the twenty-first century. Worldwide, water use rose twice as fast as the population over the twentieth century, and further population growth and economic development will place increasing demands on this critical natural resource. Water security is inextricably bound with both food and energy security. It cuts across the entire range of social and economic activity and scales from the...
  • Chapter Ten: Cyber threats and responses in the Asia-Pacific

    Acute cyber conflict in the Asia-Pacific region is most likely to derive from China’s emergence as a rising global power and North Korea’s unpredictable behaviour. However, there are reasons for wider concern about cyber security and potential cyber conflict in the region. Cyber security is highly relevant to Asia-Pacific countries’ political, military and economic interests and constitutes an important dimension of international relations in the region, rather than a disconnected...
  • Chapter Eleven: Asia’s Energy Supply and Maritime Security

    The Asia-Pacific region accounts for a large and growing share of the world’s energy-demand growth. With imports growing to meet national demand, which has outpaced domestic production, the region is rapidly becoming the new centre of gravity for global energy markets. These dynamics have made energy security a key policy concern for many Asian governments. At the same time, national naval capacities are growing rapidly in the Asia-Pacific region. Although...
  • Chapter Twelve: Maritime security in the Asia-Pacific

    The Asia-Pacific includes some landlocked countries, such as Laos, but the largest, most powerful and most active states all have significant coastlines, and the region includes the world’s most expansive archipelagos. For centuries, the maritime domain has been a medium through which regional countries have traded, communicated and fought. It has been a key historical component to Asia’s development, and continues to be so today. In a region where much of...
  • Chapter Thirteen: Military modernisation and arms-racing in the Asia-Pacific

    Across Asia, continuing national efforts to strengthen military capabilities have taken place against the backdrop of rising strategic tensions among major powers in the region, including the United States. Asian states’ growing defence budgets are purchasing increasingly sophisticated military systems that enable armed forces in the region to deploy more substantial forces over greater distances, and to locate and engage targets at longer range with greater precision and accuracy. Purchasing new...
  • Chapter Fourteen: The Evolving Regional Security Order

    Policymakers and analysts alike have envisaged several divergent models for the evolution of the Asia-Pacific region’s security order. Many commentators have argued that a US-led hegemony has been the prevailing mode of security order in the region for at least the last four decades. Some argue that the US-led order endures and will do so for the foreseeable future, while others suggest that it is under increasing strain as a...
  • Conclusion

    The Regional Security Assessment 2014 has presented detailed analyses of contemporary security concerns in the Asia-Pacific region, most of which have featured in discussions at previous Shangri-La Dialogues (SLDs) and the first two meetings of the Fullerton Forum: Shangri-La Dialogue Sherpa Meeting. There has been no intention to present a fully comprehensive overview of Asia-Pacific security, and some important regional security matters have not been examined in detail here. Examples...
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Strategic Dossiers

Regional Security Assessment 2014

Key developments and trends in Asia-Pacific security