Filter +

Why Are Current American Relations with Asia More Stable than with Europe?

Ambassador Nicholas Platt, Asia Society President

New Haven, CT
February 9, 2004

International Security Seminar
Yale University


This question occurred to me several months ago when I joined a team of regional specialists convened to brief Senator Bob Graham, who was then a candidate for President. As we went around the world, the speakers detailed a diplomacy in tatters in Europe, where France and Germany (sneered at as the “old Europe”) opposed our unilateralist initiatives at every turn. We had better support from the “new” European countries like Poland, but that only exacerbated the split on the continent. Russia had strong interests in Iraq and stronger doubts about our policy there.

The Middle East presented a similarly grim picture, dominated by disapproval over our tacit support for Israel’s draconian measures against the Palestinian population designed to control terrorist attacks. This attitude was shared across the Muslim world and blocked the development of positive relationships. Similar concerns were voiced about policy toward Latin America and Africa. The US administration was criticized for an arrogant, domineering, go it alone diplomacy, lacking in consultation, resulting in the worst drop in world opinion since the Vietnam War.

When in came my turn to review relationships in Asia, I found myself describing a different pattern. While there was scant approval among the populations of the Asian countries for our policy towards Iraq, the behavior of the governments was generally supportive of the US, and our relationships were, for the most part in good shape.

Japan, our oldest ally in the region, was backing us, even to the point of authorizing the dispatch of military units to Iraq, the first time forces were to be sent outside the country since WWII, an unprecedented measure that could even require a revision of the post war constitution. The security relationship and economic links are as good as they have been for a long time.

China, while disapproving of policy in Iraq, was determined not to spoil the improvement in bilateral relations that they had developed since 9/11, and which they regard as an essential element of their twenty year development strategy. In the UN, where they held a key veto as a member of the Security Council, they stood aside at key junctures in the tortuous debate over action in Iraq. A series of high level visits by the leaders of both countries in the last year have cemented the highest level of cooperation in recent years, despite some friction over trade.

South Korea has gone through a generational and a leadership change, which at one point seemed to threaten the foundations of the oldest most operational of our security alliances in Asia. But both sides have adjusted and a consensus has emerged in favor of continued cooperation. The ROK government is sending troops to Iraq as a token of support.

There is disagreement over the tactics of dealing with North Korea, to be sure, but the issue has always been treated as a neighborhood problem, with the United States adopting a consultative diplomatic approach involving the Chinese, the Japanese and the Russians as well as the South Koreans.

In Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Thailand have gained concessions from the United States for early supportive measures. Indonesia and Malaysia, both Muslim countries are unhappy with our policy in the Middle East, but continue to work with us bilaterally. Singapore, the smallest country with traditionally the biggest grasp of strategic realities is helping in a number of ways.

Australia’s Howard government has gone out of its way to back the United States, proudly parrying domestic criticism that it is our “Deputy Sheriff” in the region.