This note is less about mediation in Asia, than about the potential Asian role in mediation beyond those geographical boundaries.
It is an article of faith, and a regularly repeated principle of regional – ASEAN and East Asian – politics, that neighbour states do not become involved in the domestic affairs of others. Without going into the reasons for or defences of this policy, it’s interesting to note a recent apparent shift, at least on the part of China. One of the issues that is a subject of comment – at least in Western media – is that the policy of non-intervention in self-serving in that it permits ongoing commercial engagement with nations that have dubious human rights records; and permits aid policies that – unlike many Western aid projects – are linked to the improvement of human rights conditions in recipient countries. The non-intervention policy becomes, in such circumstances, a no-comment policy: aid cannot be tied to domestic policies, on which the donor nation chooses not to comment or pass judgment.
However, recent news items show that China is willing to act as mediator in the ongoing conflict between Sudan and South Sudan: http://thediplomat.com/2014/06/in-south-sudan-conflict-china-tests-its-mediation-skills/
Cynically, the observation is made that this is less about diplomacy than about commercial interests and that the policy of non-intervention can be at least partially waived where (i) there are significant commercial interests of the prospective mediator nation; and/or (ii) that third party nation also has the necessary leverage with both parties to have some impact; and/or (iii) the mediating state has a strong “good neighbour” reputation.
Leave aside the scepticism about motives for a moment – what this does suggest is that we may see more of those ASEAN and Asian states, as regional and even as global mediators, where those states are seen as acceptable third parties; and they may well be acceptable precisely because they do not have the kind of history of political intervention that other “mediating” states have. Consider, as a parallel, the effectiveness of smaller states such as Norway in international politics.
In all cases, however, there will be reason to keep an eye on the reasons for this kind of ‘intervention’, not least as research on international mediation underscores the importance of the leverage of the mediator.