And so peace is primarily talked about in terms of power, trade, democracy, discourse, law and norms and so on but, although the negative peace holds (for now), many Asian countries remain on a tense, aggressive footing with each other.
While interstate war
is absent, armed conflict still exists. There are still stockloads of weapons, risks of threat and encroachment, internal repressions and civil firefights. These are in no way entirely just or harmonious societies.
China had recently placed more missiles on the coast, and the Taiwanese know that they would lose a war quickly without immediate American intervention. This kind of high-alert war game is something new.
China has also been using major force to keep Uyghur population in Xinjiang, where anti-Chinese sentiment is resultingly high but there's no possibility to fight back because the repressions are so total. The model for internal unity seems to be built on repression and deterrence.
Tønnesson says that the peace, as fraught as it is, is still incredibly valuable. He doesn't like to call negative peace negative as if it's a bad thing. Living without war is important in itself, regardless of almost anything else that happens. Less people are killing each other, and this has to be the start.
With the exception of World War Two, perhaps every other conflict has made the local situation worse: avoiding war is important for everyone. Either rebels lose and make things miserable, or they win and create terrifying regimes.
Some call these internal factors structural violence
and he's against this terminology: he uses words like repression and dictatorship instead, because he finds words like violence to legitimize violence in response.
For him, peace is a continuum. Giving a no
to war will give you a low-quality peace. You start with saying no to war, and then to armed conflicts, and then to arms, to murders, to violence. Then you start saying yes to justice, to equality, to human security and democracy and finally to a high-quality peace. Negative peace, he argues, isn't the opposite to positive peace. It's the first step there, and we need to respect it when it's the only thing holding back an entire regions' worth of armies out to kill each other.
If we compare the repressive Asian governments to other governments, some interesting figures reveal themselves. Out of the 50 cities with the highest amounts of homicides in 2018, 3 are in Africa and 47 in the Americas. The negotiated peace in Guatemala was followed by a spike in murders. This hasn't happened in Asia. This should matter.
If we look at life expectancy at birth, every country has seen a dramatic increase, with Cambodia making the leap from 33 to 68. This is huge.
While many people have legitimate greivances for possibly rising up against their governments, Tønnesson also wants to draw attention to the main dilemma involved in armed rebellions: they can start with good intentions, but they often create the conditions for disaster. By not rebelling against the system, though, you accept that you may be controlled, oppressed, you may have increased dangers if you belong to a vulnerable group, you have a higher risk of prison. But your life expectancy is higher. This is the dilemma.