The Asia-Pacific today is characterized by a mixture of intergovernmental organizations, alliance blocs, and individual states of varying levels of strength, organization, and regional clout. Indeed, the Asia-Pacific as a region perhaps stands alone in the world for the extent to which the complex interplay of these various actors influences, and is influenced by, regional dynamics. Ultimately, it is difficult to predict which of these actors will come to dominate the region over the next decade. As stated, their development and regional position are all influenced to varying degrees by changes in regional dynamics. In the event of a belligerently rising China, for example, the region may come to be dominated by a bipolarity of alliance blocs. Alternatively, should regional prosperity and interconnectedness continue to grow, it may come to be dominated by intergovernmental organizations. Nonetheless, taking into consideration general regional trends, a basic prediction for the next decade can be made: the Asia-Pacific of 2024 will likely be characterized by the dominance of individual states, yet within a broad alliance bloc/treaty framework.
The Asia-Pacific is a rising region in which various states, such as China, Japan, and South Korea, are becoming increasingly more economically, militarily, and internationally powerful and significant. At the same time, the United States, which has largely dominated the region over the last half century, is experiencing a gradual decline. Even if the decline of the United States is overstated, as it often may be, the extent of its power relative to the rising states of the Asia-Pacific is narrowing. In light of this, the states of the Asia-Pacific are becoming more comfortable with and more willing to craft their own foreign policy goals and intentions, and are more capable of unilaterally engaging the regional and international community. Considering the complex interdependence and interconnectedness which has emerged in the region, individual states are beginning to reevaluate longstanding economic and security relationships and are starting to develop new ones in order to preserve their continued economic growth. Meanwhile, because of the security threats manifest from the rise of powers such as China, they are starting to come into arrangements which balance or “hedge” against potential threats. No longer is the character of international relations in the Asia-Pacific dominated by the United States and its alliance system; rather, it is coming to be dominated by the actions and interactions of rising regional states.
That said, the United States’ alliance system still serves as a framework in which this balancing takes place, and still plays a prominent role in the region. States that have traditionally been allied with the United States, such as Japan and South Korea, still look to it for protection against an increasingly hegemonic China, and such is likely to be the case in the next decade. Though these states may be more willing to make their own unilateral foreign policy goals and decisions, such decisions are likely to fall within the foreign policy interests of the American alliance system. Seeking a degree of protection against China, these states will turn to the American alliance bloc; as of yet, there is no other real option. Meanwhile, states which have historically fallen outside of the American alliance system may seek to join it as a strategy to “hedge” against China. Even if such a decision is taken by a state solely to maintain its own position instead of supporting the alliance, it will nonetheless reinforce the significance the American alliance bloc plays in the region. At the same time, China is seeking to foster its own close security and economic ties with various states in order to create a counter to the American alliance system. To a large extent, China is doing so in order to buoy its own strength against the United States. As such, a broad alliance framework is likely to be the method through which individual states will dominate the region.
Thus, rising states in the Asia-Pacific will likely come to dominate it in the next decade. As they seek to continue their economic and military growth, they are likely to forge their own foreign policy goals and unilaterally take action. Each state is now more actively making security calculations, and accordingly is now more willing to break old arraignments or make new ones in order to preserve that security. Yet, despite this coming dominance of individual states, they will likely still fall within a system of alliances blocs. These alliance blocs, such as the American alliance system or a future Chinese alliance system, provide individual states with a degree of security and support that they cannot and would not receive if alone. Accordingly, alliance blocs will still maintain a position of dominance in the Asia-Pacific, and, if not, will at the very least help individual states come to dominate the region.