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Conference Report

Report on the Fourth Meeting of the CSCAP
North Pacific Working Group

8-10 November 1998
Jing Lun Hotel, Beijing, China

Brian L. Job (CSCAP Canada)
Yoshinobu Yamamoto (CSCAP Japan)

Fourth NPWG meeting in Beijing, 8-10 November 1998

The fourth meeting of the North Pacific Working Group was held in Beijing, November 8-10. This was the first time that the NPWG has met outside the home countries of the co-chairs, previous meetings having been held in Tokyo (1995), Vancouver (January, 1997), and Makuhari (December, 1997). CSCAP China served as the host for this fourth meeting.

The NPWG continues to be a "full house" dialogue engaging all parties in the North Pacific. The meetings were attended by representatives from the following CSCAP Member Committees: Australia, Canada, China, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Europe, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand, United States, and Vietnam. Also participating were two "other participants" and one expert invited by the co-chairs. The Member Committees of Russia and the Philippines sent observers to the meeting. Officials from various local embassies and institutions in Beijing attended sessions as well. In all, approximately 40 individuals were present during the Working Group sessions. (A list of participants is provided in Annex A. Copies of papers delivered, as listed in Annex B, may be obtained from the Co-Chairs.)

Advance consultation with Member Committees by the Co-Chairs resulted in agreement to focus four topics at the Beijing meeting:

In light of the significant developments that had occurred since the last WG meeting, there was a general sense among participants that this meeting was taking place at a critical moment for security cooperation at regional and global levels. In their opening remarks, the Co-Chairs drew attention to the positive and potentially negative implications of certain events and trends in Northeast Asia. They pointed to the challenge to the NPWG to formulate an agenda that advanced multilateral security cooperation in Northeast Asia along two avenues: first, in the general area of confidence-building and dialogue; and second, in more focused efforts to identify and jointly study issues of concern to the actors of the North Pacific.

Security Implications of the Asian Economic Crisis

This was the first opportunity for the WG systematically to consider the economic crisis and its potential impact upon security matters. The papers presented and subsequent discussions were far-ranging, considering the impact of the crisis on domestic conditions, (including civil-military relations and military acquisitions), on the systemic security environment, and on regional economic/security cooperation activities in Northeast Asia and in the Asia Pacific region.

There was unanimous agreement that the crisis had brought great economic turbulence to the region and had reversed the results of decades of economic growth and prosperity for vast numbers of people. There was little debate about the causes of the crisis, which were seen to be a combination of internal factors (lack of regulation and transparency, irregular business practices, etc.) and external forces (global capital markets, initially misguided responses from IFIs, etc.). There was, however, less consensus among participants concerning the security implications of the crisis. In part this depended upon whether one took a short vs. long term perspective or focused upon Northeast Asia as opposed to Southeast Asia.

Several participants suggested that the graver security implications of the crisis were exaggerated. While domestic instability was a serious concern in Southeast Asia, it was not in Northeast Asia. Because the overall economic and security fundamentals were sound, in several years the region would be on the rebound. The most optimistic suggested that the "economic crisis has promoted subregional cooperation É among the regional economies in Northeast Asia." "Asia may turn a misfortune into a blessing." Others noted the dampening of arms acquisitions and defence budgets in Southeast Asia (but not in Northeast Asia, except for South Korea.) There was some discussion about the observation that countries that had recently undergone political reform, i.e., South Korea and Thailand appeared to be better equipped to weather the crisis.

Others cautioned that the WG was paying "not enough attention to what might happen", as the crisis was not over yet and would not be for several years at best. Furthermore, the crisis needed to be appreciated, not simply as a series of economic downturns, but as a phenomenon that undermined the psychological, social, political, and security fundamentals of the post-Cold War Asia Pacific community. From this perspective, the following issues were highlighted:

Korean Peninsula

The unfolding situation on the Korean Peninsula remains at the core of the Northeast Asian security complex and thus is a central focus of each NPWG meeting. A series of recent, important political and economic developments in both the North and the South were noted by participants in this fourth meeting. These included the consolidation of Kim Jong Il's leadership in the DPRK and the election of Kim Dae Jung in South Korea. The economic difficulties being experienced in both countries were reviewed. Progress (or the lack thereof) on Four-Party Talks and on KEDO's operations were discussed. In general terms, while most agreed that there have been certain positive movements, an overall, "apparent intractability" prevails regarding the Peninsula. This continues both because of the impasse between North and South and, in the words of one participant, because the "major powers thus far have failed É to build a habit of formal sub-regional security cooperation or to implement other practical cooperative measures that might more strongly facilitate inter-Korean reconciliation efforts."

It was agreed that progress towards settlement on the Korean Peninsula must necessarily involve resolution of bilateral issues between North and South and at the same time establishment of an international regime, or regimes, that satisfies the interests of the major powers and engages their commitment over the long term. Thus, inter-Korean and international issues are inextricably intertwined, but how to manage and effectively implement a workable "division of labor" (a term that some objected to) among interested parties remains an illusive goal. There was agreement, however, that there are notable contradictions and discontinuities in current policies that could and should be resolved. (Indeed, participants suggested that this would be a useful avenue for further work by the NPWG.)

There was substantial discussion on several specific issues:


Northeast Asia remains among the most militarized regions of the world. Defence budgets are not declining appreciably. Acquisition of high tech, conventional weaponry proceeds apace, (unlike in Southeast Asia were the economic crisis has stalled such purchases). Developments over the past year to do with proliferation of weapons and Northeast Asia have not only heightened concerns about regional stability, but also raised major questions regarding the efficacy of the traditional strategies associated with nonproliferation regimes. In what was the first session that the NPWG has devoted to proliferation matters, attention was focused on the consequences of three sets of events: the nuclear tests of India and Pakistan, the satellite launch/missile test by the DPRK, and the sale of missile and missile technology by regional states into other regions. NWPG participants wrestled with how best to come to terms with weapons proliferation issues. The consensus view was that the most effective strategy is to promote the acceptance of global nonproliferation regimes that are universal and non-discriminatory. It was admitted, however, that current regimes such as the NPT do not meet such criteria in the view of certain states. Furthermore, the strategies of denial and sanctions mandated by these regimes and by individual states in their efforts to enforce the regimes were seen to have been ineffective. Addressing the root causes of proliferation, namely the structural forces of supply-push and demand-pull--the latter arising from continued perceptions of threats to national security--remains the most difficult challenge.

Certain initiatives at the regional level were noted: the 1992 intra-Korean agreements, the 1994 agreement between the US and the DPRK, and the 1994 communique of the US and PRC concerning the MTCR.

However, the issue on which most attention was focused was the introduction of theatre missile defence (TMD) systems into Northeast Asia. The prospect of initiatives by the US with Japan, and possibly Taiwan, on development and deployment of TMD systems is viewed with great concern, most directly by the PRC. WG participants briefly touched on the arguments being advanced pro and con regarding TMD by the parties involved. There remained a general concern that introduction of such systems may set off further destabilizing actions by states attempting to compensate for their perceived loss of security.

Bilateralism, Multilateralism in Northeast Asia

The status of relations among the major powers of Northeast Asia is a determining factor of regional stability and thus the subject of continued attention at NPWG meetings. This was particularly true of the meetings in Beijing. The consensus of participants was that recent steps taken by the major powers have created a network of bilateral relationships with significant, largely positive, results both for the states concerned and for regional security as a whole. In addition to the US-PRC, (which participants viewed as the determining dyadic relationship of the Asia Pacific region), US-Russia, US-Japan, China-Japan, China-Russia, and Japan-Russia bilateral ties were reviewed. The net effect, in the words of one participant, has been to create a "regime of summits". In the terminology of another, a process of "concerted bilateralism" has been established, effectively replicating certain aspects of a concert of powers. WG participants pursued these matters at some length, focusing particular attention on the following issues:

Next Steps for the North Pacific Working Group

There was a consensus that this Fourth Working Group meeting had been successful. There has been a notable trend towards fuller and franker discussion of issues at WG meetings. Certainly, all involved appreciate the importance of sustaining the NPWG's confidence-building role as the only "full house" security dialogue for the subregion.

Regarding the agenda for the Working Group as it looks forward to its next meeting (tentatively scheduled for Japan in late summer/early fall of 1999): Given the specific regional focus of the Working Group, its meeting agenda will always include sessions on (a) recent developments in Northeast Asia, (b) major power relations, and (c) the situation on the Korean Peninsula. There were a number of suggestions of additional topics to be considered at the next meeting, a specific agenda to be negotiated through the usual process of consultation by the Co-Chairs. These suggestions included: the security implications of the economic crisis as it continues to evolve; issues of human security, e.g., food security; the potential impact of the introduction of new weapons systems into the subregion, particularly TMD; review of the potential frameworks for reconciliation of North and South on the Korean Peninsula; and analysis of the integration of bilateral and multilateral processes among Northeast Asian/North Pacific actors.

The Co-Chairs were asked to investigate the feasibility of having preparatory work done on certain topics, facilitating consultation among Member Committees prior to the meetings, and allowing an agenda with more time for discussion during the meetings themselves.

Concerns were raised regarding Russia, both as a subject of discussion concerning regional security and as an active participant in the NPWG and other Track 2 processes. The Co-Chairs were encouraged to explore this matter with an eye to greater substantive consideration to Russia and to ensuring CSCAP Russia representative participation. The Co-Chairs indicated that the collection of papers from past Working Group meetings would soon be made available in a hard-copy compendium. Papers from this meeting would be placed upon an internet website in the near future, with all CSCAP participants to be informed of the location and details.

All participants at the meetings in Beijing, and particularly the Co-Chairs of the NPWG, wish to acknowledge with thanks the generous hospitality and excellent logistical arrangements for the meetings provided by their host, CSCAP China, and the most competent staff of the Chinese Center International Studies.