The role of Middle Powers in an era of uncertainty in the Asia Pacific

South China sea  

The rise of China and subsequent simmering tensions with the United States has resulted in a power struggle that has reverberated throughout the Asia Pacific region.

A symposium at the University of Western Sydney on May 16 will draw academics from across the Asia-Pacific to explore the opportunities and limitations on middle-powers in the current environment. 

The organizer, Dr David Walton, from the UWS School of Humanities and Communication Arts, says regional territorial disputes and lingering cold war tensions on the Korean peninsula have enhanced perceptions of the region as a geo-political 'hot spot'. 

"Yet despite the tension between established and rising powers in the region, middle powers can play a key role in searching for non-confrontational outcomes to reduce existing tensions," he says.

"For example, middle powers in the Asia Pacific region have been active in creating regional forums and layered architecture to conduct inclusive discussions on contentious issues."

"In this context, middle powers are ideally placed to provide the mechanisms and framework for creative solutions."

Dr Walton says an example of the role middle powers can play is the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which has sought to mediate on regional issues.

"Several countries, moreover, have formally or informally offered their good offices as middle powers over the past few decades - Singapore, South Korea and Australia – and have been active in this capacity," he says. 

"Nonetheless, the current great power rivalry and threat of a conflict between the US and China has led to a polarisation in the Asian region."

"New regional architecture with imaginative and creative diplomacy is required."

Speakers at the conference include:

  • Virginie Grzelczyk, Aston University, UK:Transcending Power? Evaluating South Korea's Role in Security Governance
  • David Walton, University of Western Sydney: Middle Powers and Power shifts: Australian foreign policy towards Japan and China
  • Go Ito, Meiji University, Tokyo: Japan and Middle Power Concepts
  • Lam Peng Er, National University of Singapore: Singapore as a Middle Power
  • Hieyeon Keum, University of Seoul: Overcoming the Asian Security Paradox: The Role of Korea as a Middle Power


13 May 2015

Mark Smith, Senior Media Officer

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