By Nicholas Redman, Editor, The Adelphi Series
Asia is well on the way to becoming the world’s biggest regional economy – but this is being accompanied by an accelerating regional arms race and territorial conflicts, according to Kim Kwan Jin, South Korea’s defence minister. He added that his country would not continue to show restraint in the face of North Korean aggression.
Addressing the 10th Shangri-La Dialogue on 4 June, Mr Kim said that with 31% of the world’s population and 20% of its GDP, Eastern Asia is already a big player in the global economy. While China looms large, Asia’s rise is a bigger story than that of a single giant country. Stephen Smith, Australia’s defence minister, pointed to the rise of India and the ASEAN economies, the potential of Indonesia and the achievements of Japan and South Korea.
East Asia’s trade-driven growth underlines the importance of protecting the sea lanes around Asia, as a common interest. And yet as Mr Kim noted, the region suffers from traditional and non-traditional threats that could be stoked as much as ameliorated by changes in the distribution of power. Mr Kim went on to insist that his country would deal more robustly with North Korea in future. Seoul won plaudits in 2010-11 for its restraint in the face of the sinking of its Corvette, the Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. Yet now Mr Kim says his country needs to have sufficient military preparedness to deter North Korean aggression, as well as a new channel of communication with Pyongyang. He stressed that his country should be prepared for provocations and asymmetric threats, and that in the case of future northern aggression the south would not show restraint because this had not worked in the past.