Peace and Security in Northeast Asia By Hugh Miall  |  20 June, 2023

Northeast Asia Prospects after the G7: High Winds, Choppy Waters and Even Dangerous Storms

Image:  George Dolgikh/


Tensions remain high in Northeast Asia following the G7 summit, which asserted the principles of the US-led order rather than seeking to accommodate the conflicting interests and orders in the region. Efforts to sustain dialogue while strengthening deterrence are the mainstay of current policy in the region for Japan and other US allies, while President Xi warns the Chinese to prepare for ‘extreme scenarios’.

The G7 summit

The G7 summit, on May 19th-21st, was notable for being held in Hiroshima and for the unexpected presence of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. What stole the headlines was the summit’s support for Ukraine and its denunciation of Russian nuclear threats.

The G7 committed to uphold an international order based on the rule of law, support a free and open Indo-Pacific and oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion. The G7 also pledged itself to achieve a world without nuclear weapons and sustain the NPT Treaty. However, Hiroshima survivors expressed disappointment that the nuclear states in the G7 said nothing about reducing their nuclear arsenals or altering their posture on nuclear deterrence and offered no roadmap towards nuclear abolition.

India and other states from the Global South were invited to join the summit, but US efforts to gain support for its campaign to isolate Russia and promote a US-led rules-based order pitting democracies against autocracies had little success in the Global South.

Japanese defence minister proposes deterrence and dialogue

On June 3rd, the Japanese Defense Minister, Yasukazu Hamada, called on the international community to use a mix of deterrence and dialogue to prevent conflict and maintain peace and stability in East Asia.   “Today, the international community is at a crossroads between ‘conflict and discord’ and ‘cooperation and harmony’”, he said. “Attempts to unilaterally change the status quo through force and coercion, especially in the maritime domain, are gaining momentum.”  He added that it is essential to “avoid misunderstandings and miscalculations by strengthening communication and promoting confidence building through dialogue.” Japanese and Chinese officials began operating a military hotline, as part of this effort. The move is part of a broader bilateral communication mechanism to prevent accidental clashes at sea or in the air.

Whether this combination of deterrence and dialogue will succeed in avoiding confrontation and conflict, as Hamada hopes, remains to be seen.

US seeks guard rails while China prepares for the worst case

Secretary of State Blinken met President Xi Jinping in Beijing in mid-June. This was an effort to restore dialogue and put in place guardrails on the US-China relationship, after the US shootdown in April of a Chinese balloon. The two sides agreed on the need to avoid open hostility, the scope for cooperation on issues like climate change and the importance of top-level dialogue, but a US proposal on military-to-military dialogue was rebuffed. 

At the same time, in response to the PLA’s missile build-up and its development of hypersonic missiles, the US is moving to reduce the vulnerability of its bases in the Asia Pacific by dispersing assets and creating temporary bases for aircraft.

Earlier, Xi Jinping warned his people, through a top-level national security meeting on May 30th, that “We must be prepared for worst-case and extreme scenarios, and be ready to withstand the major test of high winds, choppy waters and even dangerous storms.” A week later, at a conference in inner Mongolia, he said that efforts to build up the domestic economy are necessary to “ensure normal operation of the national economy under extreme circumstances”. China plans to build a more resilient economy over the next five years that is less dependent on foreign markets and technology.

The Law of the Sea in the South and East China Seas

China is rewriting the law of the sea in the South and East China Seas, according to a new book by Isaac B. Kardon: China’s Law of the Sea: The New Rules of Maritime Order  (Yale University Press, 2023). By asserting its sovereignty over the areas within the nine-dash line, China repudiates the provisions of the international law of the sea, which, it argues, cannot overrule its prior historical rights. China objects to visits by foreign warships in international waters near its coasts and rejects the rulings of the Law of the Sea dispute settlement system. However, China remains a party to the Law of the Sea, which the US has refused to ratify.  China is therefore able to appoint a judge to its International Tribunal and to shape the evolution of the regime. This is said to be an example of how China is starting to reshape the rules of the East Asian order. 

China-South Korea relations deteriorate

The deterioration of US-China relations is realigning other relationships in the region. While Japan and South Korea are attempting to patch up their relations, the relationship between China and South Korea deteriorated after Yoon Suk Yeol became president. The Chinese Ambassador to South Korea is reported to have threatened South Koreans for siding with the United States, and public perceptions of China in South Korea have sunk to a new low.

Naval near misses in the Taiwan straits, amid new security initiatives and an uncertain political outlook for Taiwan

In the Taiwan Straits, a Chinese destroyer came within 150 yards of a US destroyer, in what the US described as a dangerous manoeuvre. Meanwhile China appealed to Southeast Asian states and states in the Indo-Pacific to join the Global Security Initiative, avoid siding with blocs, and promote mutual trust over bullying and hegemony. In Taiwan, a new contender in the 2024 presidential election, Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People’s Party, is benefitting from scandals in the ruling Democratic People’s Party. He argues for political and economic engagement with China across the Straits.

Checking the downward drift

There are clearly still opportunities to check the downward drift in interstate relations in the region. A Toda Institute policy retreat held at the same time as the G7 discussed the changing constellation of power and the scope for new norms and reforms in global governance, to prevent conflict and strengthen cooperation and human security. A Summary Report from the policy retreat can be read here.

Related articles:

Northeast Asian rivalries intensify before G7 (3-minute read)

De-risking not de-coupling: Is it more than a smart shift in terminology? (3-minute read)

Whom does the shift from Asia-Pacific to Indo-Pacific serve? (3-minute read)

Hugh Miall is Emeritus Professor of International Relations at the University of Kent, and Chair of the Conflict Research Society, the main professional association for peace and conflict researchers in the UK. He has been Director of the Conflict Analysis Research Centre and Head of the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent and a Research Fellow in the European Programme at Chatham House. He is a Senior Research Fellow at the Toda Peace Institute.