Territorial disputes ‘no basis for war’


Day Two of the conference on regional security issues: Felix Soh and Derwin Pereira report


Will Asian countries keep the peace? Two experts yesterday gave their views – one optimistic and one pessimistic.

* The optimist

THE risk of an armed conflict in South-east Asia is clearly overstated, according to an Asian expert.

Dr Amitav Acharya of Canada’s York University said that historical research showed that territorial disputes by themselves were not the basis for inter-state conflict unless ideological and political factors interacted with them.

“In South-east Asia, as in much of the Third World, territorial issues have not been as significant a factor in regional conflict as political and ideological cleavages,” he said.

“But these factors have become muted in the post-Cold War, post-Cambodia relationship among South-east Asian nations.”

He stressed that although regional countries were spending more on weapons, they were not caught up in an arms race.

“In general, bilateral relationships within South-east Asia are too stable to fit into the arms race pattern.”

He said that South-east Asian countries were engaged in an arms rush by virtue of the uncertainties in Asia – the reduced presence of US forces in the region, China’s military power and the prospect of Sino-Japanese competition.

Most South-east Asian countries were finding sophisticated weapons more readily available and affordable, said Dr Acharya, who is a senior fellow and co-ordinator of the South-east Asia and Pacific Security Project at the University of Toronto-York University Joint Centre for Asia Pacific Studies.

“The view that an arms race is in progress in South-east Asia is partly fuelled by the changing mix of weapons systems being acquired,” he said.

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