Security challenge in 2013

Updated: 2013-01-10 07:15

By Zhang Jie and Li Zhifei (China Daily)

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The United States' move to bolster its strategic presence in the Asia-Pacific region to contain China's rise and Beijing's response to it will define the security environment in the region in 2013. If Washington is expected to continue exploiting maritime disputes in Asia-Pacific to strengthen its security ties with its allies in the region, China is likely to be more determined to safeguard its maritime territories and sovereignty and resolve the islands disputes in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.

The US rebalancing in Asia-Pacific, irrespective of whether it succeeds or not, will create security uncertainties in China's neighborhood. It is too early to say whether John Kerry, who succeeds Hillary Clinton as the US secretary of state, will bring in the astute diplomacy of his predecessor to push forward Washington's "return to Asia" strategy. Also, it is uncertain whether the US, with fiscal budget cuts, can strengthen its military presence and hold more large-scale military drills in the Asia-Pacific.

But come what may, China has to work on three fronts in 2013. First, China has to prepare for a new period of Sino-US relations, especially because its foreign policy will need time to adjust after the leadership transition.

The report of the 18th Party Congress says that China will strive to establish relationships of long-term stability and sound growth with other major countries. As the most important world power, the US will continue to be a priority on China's diplomatic agenda. The two countries will enter a period of policy adjustment and adaptation this year, during which it will be a challenge for China to find ways to deal with the US' new Asia-Pacific strategy.

Second, China has to respond to the challenges from the Indochina Peninsula. Since Indochina is the meeting point of the Pacific and Indian oceans, the US has been bolstering its strategic presence there. That US President Barack Obama chose Myanmar, which is undergoing political transition, as the first foreign country to visit after his re-election is of more than symbolic significance.

For China, the Indochina Peninsula is of great security importance, because it is contiguous to the country's southern and southwestern regions and vital for China-Myanmar energy cooperation. The Myanmar-China oil and gas pipeline, which can help China overcome the "Malacca Dilemma", is likely to be completed by the end of this year. But political changes and ethnic conflicts in Myanmar, and the debate on the oil and gas pipeline combined with Washington's changing policy toward Myanmar could make Myanmar's political landscape more complex and uncertain, create new challenges for China-Myanmar energy cooperation and threaten China's energy security.

In short, an unstable Indochina Peninsula will weaken the security environment in China's neighborhood. Therefore, Beijing should prepare for the challenges ahead.

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