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The Williamsburg Conference 1997

The Role of the United States

Even if peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula is eventually achieved, it will be important for the United States to continue to be the strong military presence in Asia that has helped safeguard the region's prosperity, many participants said. It was recognized that reunification could spur calls from some segments of the public in Korea and Japanparticularly on Okinawafor American troops to be withdrawn. Yet the United States remains firmly committed to the maintenance of a credible military presence in Asia, currently around the 100,000-troops level. Reunification would allow some redeployment of troops out of Korea and possibly reductions in Japan, but the situation at the timeincluding the comportment of Chinawould determine whether those countries wanted a drawdown.

It is common to hear that "the United States doesn't have an Asia policy." But supporters of the Clinton administration say it does indeed have a clear policy, and one that differs markedly from the approach of the Bush administration. Instead of focusing exclusively on bilateral security treaties, the United States is encouraging the building of what it calls a "Pacific Community," underpinned by multilateral ties. To this end, it is encouraging the development of regional organizations such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which provides a mechanism for talking about security issues, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

The U.S.-Japan relationship was not discussed nearly as extensively as in previous years, which reflects the relatively good state of this crucial bilateral relationship. In the past two years, in part because of Japan's economic problems, American concerns over the trade imbalance have diminished. At the same time, the two countries reinforced their security relationship with the April 1996 security communiqué. Nonetheless, a warning was issued against complacency, with tensions over trade liable to reemerge unless progress continues to be made.