Surin Pitsuan. (Photo: Ric Wasserman)

Surin Pitsuan. (Photo: Ric Wasserman)

Over recent years, major powers such as the United States and Russia have announced strategic shifts to Asia.

The so-called pivot to Asia is hoped to forge new economic, political and military alliances.

As the global economic center of gravity shifts East, what are the pros and cons for the economic giants of Asia? And let’s not forget China. 

Ric Wasserman met with former ASEAN director Surin Pitsuan and South Korea’s Dr Jin Park in Stockholm to discuss the dynamics of Asia future.

Dr Surin Pitsuan has worn many hats – he has returned to Thailand’s parliament eight times since 1986, and was also minister for foreign affairs. 

From 2008-12 he was Secretary-General of ASEAN, the Association of South East Asian Nations.

Over recent years Dr Pitsuan has seen US interests in Asia grow – an important, but sometimes worrying development, he says.

“I think [a] superpower, major power, particularly [a] superpower-major power on the rise would like to have that kind of management in the neighborhood. In the early 19th century the US used to have something called the Monroe Doctrine, European powers keep out, this is our turf,” he explains.

“What I’m worried about is there will be a competition of power, that would lead to more tension and expose the countries of the region to more miscalculation, instability and insecurity in the end. And that would not be good for anyone.”

That meant the – as it does now –  a shift  in focus both politically and militarily.

The rebalancing of US foreign policy to Asia has intensified since troop deployments to the Middle East ended. The shift was also intended to address growing economic challenges, as China flexes its economic muscle in the region. 

There are benefits as the US plans to invest money and technology into the region, but there are risks too, says Dr Pitsuan:

“The risks would be is that it would become a theatre or battleground for power plays to the point where smaller countries in the region or an organization like ASEAN would lose control,” says DR Pitsuan.

One goal with any cooperative effort, be it in the US, Russia or China, is to stimulate technological development within ASEAN.

“Our wealth has been accumulated, capital has been gathered inside, we have enough inside to invest in each other, but we don’t have the science and technology to drive our economies together,” he said.

The future dynamic of Asia were recently raised in a meeting at Sweden’s foreign affairs department, which hosted Professor Dr. Jin Park, a former chairman of South Korea Foreign affairs ministry and president of the think tank, Asia Future Institute. 

Like the US, Russia has begun to look East, says Dr Park. And it may benefit the region.

“Russia is now under sanctions, international sanctions and is criticized by the EU member states. Ironically, this might have pushed Russia to look towards [the] Asia Pacific region,” he explains, “With regard to China, Russia has made a major energy deal providing natural gas to China for the next 30 years – a US$400 billion deal.”

To counter expanding US and Russian interests, China has also launched the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the AIIB. But Dr Park is cautious.

“We need to be careful about China’s intentions,” he said, “The reason why China is coming out with a proposal, something that is contributing to the regional development, and not being dominated by China’s own interest.

Dr. Park’s main concern is whether US or Russian influence in the region could effect the reunification of North and South Korea. And getting North Korea to stop producing nuclear weapons. 

New initiatives from both major power could play an important role in peace building, says Dr Park.

“We need to continue our efforts to resolve North Korea’s nuclear issue because this is a serious security threat,” said Dr. Park, “Not only on the Korean peninsula, but for the entire region as well.”

 

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