The rise in global demand for nuclear energy is heavily concentrated in emerging and aspiring Asian powers. While nuclear power may alleviate energy shortages and climate change concerns, the promotion of nuclear energy compounds Asia’s nuclear weapon proliferation problems alongside nuclear power safety risks. All this is exacerbated by rising geopolitical tensions in Asia with more assertive policies – especially from China – in the region testing regional stability.
Against this perilous setting, Nuclear Debates in Asia: The Role of Geopolitics and Domestic Processes – a new book by the Rising Powers Initiative (RPI) at the Sigur Center for Asian Studies – questions the extent to which we can infer nuclear thinking simply from external conditions and instead considers policy thinking on nuclear power and proliferation in Asia to be more complex and variegated than often posited. In this Asia Report, we present analysis offered at a recent RPI book launch event at the Elliott School for International Studies at George Washington University (GWU) with commentary by several of the authors on South Korea, Japan, China, and Taiwan. You can also listen to the event’s audio on the Sigur Center’s website.
Five Important Findings in the Book
The Nuclear Debates in Asia book found several illuminating common features across Asia:
- First, decision making on nuclear issues is still largely centrally controlled in a process dominated by elites in both democratic and authoritarian states.
- Second, this stranglehold on nuclear decision making has at times been confronted by grassroots level movements often focused on a specific nuclear question (e.g. protests against nuclear power plants or reprocessing facilities, anti-nuclear weapon groups) especially as pluralism is on the rise in parts of Southeast Asia, Japan, India, and even China.
- Third, nuclear weapons policy has been remarkably consistent despite tremendous external security challenges (particularly China’s ascendancy) and the rise of so-called “resource nationalism” alongside growing energy demands. Instead, nuclear policy appears to be relatively insulated from the whims of populist Nationalism.
- Fourth, the overall center of gravity in most of the countries studied shows the dominance of a Realist-Globalist coalition.
- Finally, Pakistan remains the outlier in this trend with nuclear debates essentially dominated by elites with Nationalist
A series of ASEAN meetings including the 22nd ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the 48th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) took place from August 1-6 in Kuala Lumpur. Concerns over territorial disputes in the South China Sea came under the spotlight at these meetings, with ASEAN’s foreign ministers struggling until the eleventh hour to issue a joint statement. In this Policy Alert, we examine reactions from China, Russia, India, Japan, and South Korea to last week’s ASEAN meetings.
Chinese media defended accusations by other nations regarding China’s land reclamation activities in the South China Sea. (more…)Continue Reading →
The launch of a UN arbitration tribunal on the China-Philippines maritime dispute has Asian powers watching closely as these debates unfold. From July 7 to 13 at The Hague, the Philippine delegation argued China violated the Philippines’s rights to exploit waters within a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as established by the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The treaty – which set rules on countries’ exercise of maritime activities – counts China, the Philippines, ASEAN countries, and many others as member-states. Sea-lanes through the South China Sea account for $5 trillion in trade every year. Therefore, the case could have a significant impact on many Asian nations, including Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam who attended the hearing as formal observers.
While Beijing refused to formally participate in the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) – the chosen UNCLOS dispute resolution mechanism – Chinese officials have taken opportunities to state their case through formal and informal channels, raising legal questions about whether China can dip its toes in the water without getting drowned by the tribunal’s verdict. Before the tribunal can begin to consider the case, the PAC will first decide if it has jurisdiction over the dispute in question before a later possible hearing to determine the legal merits of the Philippine complaint.
This Policy Alert — written by Timothy Westmyer, the program and research assistant at the Sigur Center, is part of our series on Energy and Maritime Security for the Rising Powers Initiative’s new project: The Linkages between Energy Security and Maritime Strategies in the Indo-Pacific. The research effort looks at how energy security debates shape and influence maritime strategies and vice-versa in China, India, Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam and the implications of these linkages for U.S. policy toward the region. (more…)Continue Reading →
On November 13-14, Myanmar’s President Thein Sein will host the East Asia Summit, the apex of his country’s debut as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Myanmar has inherited a daunting agenda, notably the need to move ASEAN toward completion of an economic community and to maintain dialogue with China on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, however slowly. At the beginning of the year, Myanmar had set as one goal for its chairmanship persuading the five permanent members (P-5) of the U.N. Security Council to sign the protocol to the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (SEANWFZ) Treaty, in which they would promise to uphold the treaty’s principles. This has been a continuing but elusive goal for ASEAN since SEANWFZ went into force in 1997.
In this Policy Brief, Catharin Dalpino, Contract Course Chair in Southeast Asian Studies at the Foreign Service Institute and Adjunct Professor at Seton Hall University’s Washington program, discusses whether the ASEAN countries will be able to sell the SEANWFZ to the P-5 nations. She argues that “there is scant evidence that Myanmar will be able to meet its self-imposed goal this year – none of the P-5 has signed the protocol – but the prospects in the future are by no means dim.”Continue Reading →