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  • ASEAN’s Defense Diplomacy and China’s Military Diplomacy
  • Penghong Cai (bio)

Unlike other major powers outside Southeast Asia, China directly borders the region and lays claim to being at least partially included as a Southeast Asian state. This geographic connection is an important dimension of the geopolitical and security environment for China. In the nineteenth century or even earlier, the Western intrusion into China followed Southeast Asian land and maritime routes, and in the early 1940s Japan first occupied the Indochinese Peninsula and then southwest China. The region surrounding southernmost China, referred to as the south gate of China, has significant implications for the country’s security. Therefore, China logically harbors doubts about a newly developed mechanism related to defense cooperation at its doorstep. Labeled as a tool of defense diplomacy, the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) is diplomatically and tactically supported by China, but philosophically and practically the grouping’s vision of defense diplomacy remains divergent from the concept and policy of Chinese military diplomacy.

This essay first examines the achievements of the ADMM-Plus and its benefits for China. It then analyzes the concept of defense diplomacy in Chinese military culture and concludes by considering obstacles to the future of the ADMM-Plus from a Chinese perspective.

The ADMM-Plus’s Achievements and Benefits for China

The ADMM-Plus was established in 2010 as a collective platform to ensure ASEAN centrality and realize the ADMM vision of being outward-looking, open, and inclusive. It consists of eighteen member states, including the ten ASEAN members plus Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. All the outside states have consented to ASEAN’s central role in regional affairs. When the ADMM-Plus began, some observers expected it to be “one of the more substantial pieces of Asia’s multilateral security architecture.”1 [End Page 89] These expectations require the ADMM-Plus to set up rules and carry out substantial activities.

The last six years have seen some achievements. The ADMM-Plus has contributed norms for building regional security architecture and proposed new concepts like “dynamic equilibrium.” At the same time, it has upheld the ASEAN values of respecting national sovereignty, exercising self-restraint in defense diplomacy, finding peaceful solutions to disputes, maintaining ASEAN centrality, and promoting cooperative security (from Europe to ASEAN). In practice, the ADMM-Plus has set up working groups in nontraditional security areas such as counterterrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), military medicine, and peacekeeping and has gradually begun working in traditional security fields like maritime security—for example, by setting up a hotline for preventing incidents at sea. The most significant accomplishment of the ADMM-Plus is the joint military exercises it has held since its establishment. The most recent exercise was held in Brunei and Singapore in early May 2016 and comprised 3,500 personnel, 18 naval vessels, 25 aircraft, and 40 special forces teams from all eighteen member countries. Another significant result is that the ADMM-Plus has given the United States and China opportunities to work together despite tensions in the South China Sea.

China supports and benefits from the ADMM-Plus process. It regards ASEAN countries as important neighbors and tries to improve its relationships with them through the ADMM-Plus. China dispatches its defense ministers to take part in the ministerial meetings, while only dispatching deputy ministerial officers to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue conferences. China can take advantage of the ADMM-Plus to deliver and circulate defense policies, associate with old and new counterparts and participants, learn different points of view, and establish necessary contacts. The forum also supplies China with specific information on the development of new security mechanisms and how they may affect China’s military diplomacy.

Defense Diplomacy in the View of China’s Military Diplomacy

Defense diplomacy is a traditional security concept used for the realpolitik purposes of strengthening Western allies against common enemies.2 The concept’s intellectual roots are in the use of defense alliances [End Page 90] as a tool to defend the Western democracies from Cold War enemies like China, but the emphasis now is on peacetime military cooperation and assistance. China...


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pp. 89-95
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