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

President Bush has gone out, one might say way out, of his way to attend Annual APEC meetings in an effort to pursue a collaborative multilateral approach to the countries of Asia and the Pacific.

The pattern continues as you move to South Asia. India relishes it’s new position as a potential strategic partner of the US—a big boy on the block at last—despite the fact, as our Ambassador once put it, that anyone walking from Delhi to Madras would not find a single person supporting our position in Iraq. We have just signed an agreement to cooperate in the fields of civilian space, high tech trade, and to discuss missile defense.

The US is using its new leverage with India to work quietly behind the scenes to facilitate dialogue with Pakistan. For its part Pakistan, while uncomfortable with the choices we have forced it to make against Islamic fundamentalists in its own society and across the border in Afghanistan, has opted for a closer relationship with the United States, and is reaping tangible benefits for its cooperation.

Afghanistan is dependent on the United States and the rest of the international community for its survival. President Hamid Karzai reacts to accusations that he is a US stooge by saying,”You bet I am.” The entire international community, including increasingly NATO, agrees that it has a key role in the complicated task of Afghanistan’s national reconstruction. This is clearly a collaborative rather than a unilateralist effort.

A stable Afghanistan is the key, in turn, to Central Asia, where the US now has bases in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, a tactical response to the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban to the south. These moves may end up having strategic significance.

So, what accounts for the differences in approach as well as the results of US relations with Asia? This is really the topic of our discussion today. I hope you will help me with some of the answers, because I do not have them.

Let me suggest some factors for you to consider:

Strategic imperatives

The key to stability in East Asia is a balanced, essentially constructive relationship between Japan, China and the United States. When I last spoke to this group, in December 2001, I focused on the US –China relationship, starting with the Nixon Trip. I made the point that the visit resulted in a situation that the US had not seen since the 1930s. For the first time since Japan annexed Manchuria in the 1930s we had constructive relations with both Japan and China. This gave us an enormous advantage in the region over the USSR--including both the strategic land-mass along the Soviet border and control over the Pacific seas. This, among other things, enabled us to prevail. For the Soviets this was the beginning of the end. Perhaps more important and enduring, the elimination of Sino-American confrontation and the end of the Vietnam War stabilized East Asia, facilitating the onset of an unprecedented two decades of explosive economic growth that enveloped virtually all the countries of the region.