Journal Article - Asian Affairs

The Art of Mediating Regional Conflict in Asia

| Winter 2008/2009


Mediating regional conflict in Asia is a delicate art. It requires acute understanding of the unique mediation culture in the region. China’s largely successful mediation in the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula reveals key elements of this art and offers useful lessons.

As illustrated by China’s experience, having a neutral, harmonious-oriented yet influential mediator is critical in the Asian context. Equally essential is for the mediator to: 1) abide by the principle of non-interference into other countries’ internal affairs while maintaining active intervention as dispute escalates; 2) stand ready to nudge towards action when necessary to advance peaceful negotiations; 3) establish an optimal environment to foster communication and reduce hostility between the major parties in dispute; 4) serve as an honest broker but be firm in its own position and cautiously take initiatives to guide the talks; 5) advocate a step-by-step approach to the negotiation process; and 6) aim for a give-and-take agreement as the outcome of negotiations.

Asia is a conflict-prone region but traditionally Asians confuse mediation with “muddling”. As a result, more non-Asians are trying to serve as mediators for Asia. For more effective conflict resolution, it’s essential for Asians to rediscover their useful mediation skills, and for non-Asians to understand better the Asian art of mediation when they try to apply western experiences.

From "The Art of Mediating Conflict in Asia":

The nuclear issue involving the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) turned out to be the exceptional case that has exposed China's mediation potential and skills for the first time in the international arena. Since 2003, China has been playing a decisive mediation role in the six-party talks aimed at finding a solution that mitigates the potential for crisis. The reasons that prompted China's switch of mind were: First of all, DPRK's nuclear problem poses a direct and pressing security threat to China and the region. China views a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula as essential to lasting peace, security, and stability in Northeast Asia, and non-proliferation as a high priority to assure an optimal environment for its continued domestic economic development. The foremost risk of not putting DPRK's nukes under control would be disrupting East Asia's nuclear balance. A North Korean bomb could jeopardize long-term stability in the region by triggering nuclear ambitions on the part of Japan, South Korea, or even Taiwan.

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For Academic Citation: Qian, Cheng and Xiaohui Wu. The Art of Mediating Regional Conflict in Asia.” Asian Affairs, vol. 29. (Winter 2008/2009):

The Authors