Tumultuous year ahead for Northeast Asia

Tumultuous year ahead for Northeast Asia
Marine troops in full gear patrol along a barbed-wire fence on Baengnyeongdo Island near the tense inter-Korean maritime border.

SOUTH KOREA - Northeast Asia faces another tumultuous year, as geostrategic rivalries are expected to intensify while Pyongyang's nuclear programs continue to pose a threat to the region.

Tokyo's long-simmering territorial rows with Beijing and Seoul may further escalate with none of the countries willing to budge. Diplomatic friction between Japan and its neighbours is also likely to increase after its leader Shinzo Abe's visit to a controversial war shrine in Tokyo last week.

The US is expected to reinforce its strategic shift toward Asia, which could further aggravate tension with China. Beijing suspects that Washington seeks to encircle it militarily through a closer-knit network of its allies and other partners.

Experts are calling on the concerned nations to exercise more restraint and prudence and enhance communications both bilaterally and multilaterally to promote regional stability ― and to preserve Asia's economic vibrancy.

"2014 could be a very interesting year, and a year very difficult to predict. We can certainly hope to avoid the worst developments, though we need to be preparing for them because they could still happen," said Bruce Bennett, a senior defence analyst at the RAND Corporation.

"If South Korea and the US are not better prepared for North Korean attacks on the ROK (Republic of Korea), North Korean collapse, Korean unification or Chinese intervention into North Korea, the consequences could be very serious."

Above all, the Sino-Japanese relationship will be a crucial variable when it comes to regional security.

"A game of chicken has been unfolding, with China and Japan stuck in their territorial dispute over the East China Sea islets. Limited armed clashes could occur between them," said Nam Chang-hee, a security expert at Inha University.

"But the US may reaffirm its security commitment to the region as part of its pivot to Asia and seek to ease tension between the two countries."

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