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The Gap between Threat and Threat Perception in the Asia-Pacific

The Gap between Threat and Threat Perception in the Asia-Pacific

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This policy brief explains that inaccurate threat perceptions can have serious consequences for state-to-state relations.
This policy brief explains that inaccurate threat perceptions can have serious consequences for state-to-state relations.

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Categories:Types, Brochures
Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Jun 20, 2014
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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01/15/2015

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Summary:
Against the backdrop of a rising China and the U.S. “rebalance,” security frictions have been on the rise in the Asia
Pacic over the last few years.
An important reason for the current tensions is that countries deviate in threat perception.
The gap between actual and
perceived threat is usually the result of underestimation, over-estimation, and/or misjudgment. Overestimation and misjudg-ment factor into China’s past perception of threats from the USSR, and in its current percep-tion of threats from the United States and Japan. Inaccurate threat perceptions can have serious consequences on state-to-state relations by either aggra-vating differences and frictions and creating hidden dangers or by pointlessly causing tension and confrontation. The basic requirement for reducing the
gap between actual threat and
perceived threat is to have an
objective and scientic method
for making judgments. This should include a comprehensive
assessment as well as qualita
-tive and quantitative analyses, and an empathy that enables one to assess the other party’s behaviors and motivations.
Stockholm China Forum
Paper Series
 The Gap between Threat and Threat
Perception in the Asia-Pacifc
By Zhang Tuosheng 
1744 R Street NW Washington, DC 20009 1 202 683 2650 F 1 202 265 1662 E ino@gmus.org
February 2014
Against the backdrop o a rising China and the U.S. “rebalance,” security ric-tions have been on the rise in the Asia Pacific over the last ew years. Some analysts and policymakers liken Asia now to pre-World War I Europe. Tis is a rather specious view. oday’s Asia is hugely different rom the Europe o 100 years ago. oday’s China-Japan relations are markedly different rom those between Germany and France then, and today’s world is undamen-tally different. So what is the problem? In my view, an important reason or the current tensions is that countries deviate in threat perception. I these deviations are not addressed, they may well lead to conflict or war.While security threats caused by different geopolitical interests exist objectively, the perception o threat is a subjective exercise, ormed on the basis o a comprehensive assessment o the differences between sel-interest and the capabilities, motives, and will o another. When threat perception is accurate, security policies tend to be both correct and easible, and thus conducive to serving national security interests. On the other hand, when there is a gap between perceived threat and objective threat, the biased secu-rity policies that result harm national interests and external relations.Te gap between actual and perceived threat is usually the result o under-estimation, overestimation, and/or misjudgment. In today’s Asia Pacific — and in East Asia in particular — over-estimation or misjudgment o threats are among the miscalculations most commonly seen. I see six reasons or this.Te first is serious shortage o mutual trust between the countries concerned. Te second is the lack o adequate accurate inormation and intel-ligence about the other parties, which is related to the low level o transparency. Tird, some countries still have a Cold War mentality and preer to over-state threats and prepare or worst scenarios in order to ensure their own security. Fourth, some countries also exag-gerate threats in order to excuse armament expansion. Fifh, the lack o an effective crisis management mechanism leads to outbreak and escalation o crises, which uel the sense o threat.
 
2
Stockholm China Forum
Paper Series
Countries tend to overestimate threats from big and/or strong countries, including those that
are still emerging, as well as
threats from countries that have historically caused them harm.
Sixth, the ever-increasing influence o mass media plays a magniying role. In addition, countries tend to overestimate threats rom big and/or strong countries, including those that are still emerging, as well as threats rom countries that have historically caused them harm. Overestimation and misjudgment actor into China’s past perception o threats rom the USSR, and in its current perception o threats rom the United States and Japan. Tese actors are also present in U.S., Japanese, and some Southeast Asian perceptions o the threat posed by China. In comparison, countries tend to underestimate the threats posed by weak, small, or riendly counterparts, such as China’s previous perceptions o threats rom India and Vietnam or its current perception o the threat posed by North Korea’s (DPRK) development o nuclear weapons. Between states where there is hostility, it is common to overestimate the threat o the other — such as in the U.S.-DPRK, Republic o Korea-DPRK, and Japan-DPRK rela-tionships.Be it overestimation, underestimation or misjudgment o threats, inaccurate threat perceptions can have serious consequences on state-to-state relations by either aggra- vating differences and rictions and creating hidden dangers or by pointlessly causing tension and conrontation.Te basic requirement or reducing the gap between actual threat and perceived threat is to have an objective and scien-tific method or making judgments. Tis should include a comprehensive assessment as well as qualitative and quan-titative analyses, and an empathy that enables one to assess the other party’s behaviors and motivations. Countries should make efforts in the ollowing five ways.First, they must try their best to acquire comprehensive and accurate intelligence and inormation.Second, they should ormally and inormally conduct, maintain, and strengthen security dialogues, contacts, and exchanges, including between their militaries and at track 1 (official dialogue), track 1.5 (government offi-cials and non-officials), and track 2 (non-officials and academics), in order to improve their knowledge and understanding o one another. Tis is a job that has been done better when it comes to the China-U.S. and China-ASEAN relationships. Tere is still a lot o room or improvement between China and Japan.Tird, efforts should be made to progressively strengthen confidence-building measures, strategic reassurances, and mutual trust. Confidence-building measures (CBMs) between China and India since the 1990s have played an important role in relaxing territorial disputes. However, in the ace o maritime disputes, strong CBMs are still not present between China and Japan or China and Southeast Asian countries concerned. Te recent incident between Japan and China, where Japan disrupted Chinese military exercises in the East China Sea, highlights how essential confidence-building measures between the two countries are. I China and the United States are to succeed in creating a new model or relations between major countries, while strength-ening CBMs in the area o traditional security and global commons, the two sides should start advancing strategic reassurances at an early date.Fourth, an effective crisis management mechanism must be established in order to avoid the escalation o differ-ences into crisis. Between countries with significant differences and disputes, the lack o a airly strong crisis management capability increases the chances o a worst scenario with one or both sides resorting to orce in order to solve their problem. Such a situation must be undamentally changed. Since the end o the Cold War, China and the United States have gone through multiple crises. Although prog-ress has not been satisactory, improvement has been made in crisis management dialogues and the establish-

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