Victor D Cha. Foreign Affairs. Volume 86, Issue 6. November/December 2007.
Inside the Beltway and on op-ed pages across the United States, it has become increasingly popular to lament the demise of U.S. influence in Asia. Power transitions, resurgent Asian nationalism, and poor policy choices in Washington have supposedly undermined U.S. leadership in Asia. According to critics, the Bush administration has been distracted by Iraq, has failed to deal adequately with China’s economic and political rise, and has alienated many Asians with its singular focus on counterterrorism. The lack of U.S. leadership after the Cold War, detractors charge, has made Asia ripe for conflict.
But the conventional wisdom is wrong. The United States’ position in Asia is now stronger than ever, and Asia remains at peace. The United States has achieved a pragmatic, results-oriented, cooperative relationship with China, and it has expanded and strengthened its alliance with Japan just as Tokyo and Beijing are improving their bilateral relations. This confluence of events has created an emerging U.S.-Chinese-Japanese partnership that greatly enhances regional stability. Washington has also improved its defense relationship with South Korea and successfully facilitated the shutdown of North Korea’s bomb-making capabilities through the six-party talks. Finally, the United States has steadily improved its relations with Southeast Asian nations, largely by building on the goodwill it created by leading the humanitarian response to the tsunami in 2004.
Few commentators in Japan, South Korea, or the United States will give any credit to the Abe, Roh, and Bush administrations for these accomplishments. Rather than conceding that the Bush administration has made progress, naysayers in Washington tend to attribute Asia’s good fortune to benign neglect while the administration’s neoconservatives were busy focusing on Iraq. But they are wrong. President George W. Bush’s Asia policy has worked.
Who’s Asia’s Daddy
Contrary to the dire warnings issued by many Asia pessimists, China is not eating the United States’ lunch in Asia. Beijing is indeed building its military capabilities, pressing for free-trade agreements, and increasingly occupying central positions in various regional organizations. But those who argue that these moves signal a power transition, whereby China is displacing the United States as the region’s new benefactor, are mistaken. A power transition may come to Asia someday, but not anytime soon.
Critics who predict an American sunset in Asia are missing a fundamental point: in order to be a region’s benefactor, a leading power must be willing and able to provide for the region’s public good. After World War II, the United States became the world’s undisputed leader, first by providing markets for the recovering European and Asian economies but also by offering international security. Today, China offers a vast market to other Asian countries, but it has not proved itself as a provider of public goods. Beijing’s response to the 2004 tsunami, for example, which killed 280,000 people and displaced over 1.8 million, was slow, feeble, and parochial (China initially provided only $60 million and one medical team). Meanwhile, within 48 hours of the disaster, the United States had enlisted Australia, India, and Japan and organized the largest emergency relief mission in modern history. It sent over 16,000 U.S. military personnel, two dozen ships, and 100 aircraft as part of its immediate $346 million relief package, followed by an additional U.S. commitment of $600 million. This rapid response gave UN agencies both the time and the infrastructure they needed to mobilize and get on the ground. No other nation, and no international organization, could have coordinated such a response. Faced with a crisis of unprecedented magnitude, the world reflexively turned to the United States for leadership. Whether the United States covets this role or not, it is still the only true leader in Asia.
Washington’s New Comrades
Far from being supplanted by China, the United States is enlisting Beijing’s help. The Bush administration’s China policy, which was once confrontational, has evolved into a hard-nosed but cooperative dialogue. Its goal is to turn China into a “responsible stakeholder” in the international system, as Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank and former deputy secretary of state, has put it. The Chinese leadership has welcomed this effort because it demonstrates the United States’ acceptance of China’s rightful place in the world, implies that China’s growth is not threatening, and leads to cooperation on numerous global issues. The respect accorded to China through the stakeholder concept has allowed Washington to raise difficult issues such as democratic values. Because the United States is not imposing its values, China seems more open to discussing the need for greater political liberties as it seeks its proper place in the world. This effort has paid off. High-level diplomatic talks, led by Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and his Chinese counterpart, Dai Bingguo, have produced cooperation on counterproliferation efforts, such as those aimed at North Korea and Iran, and on devising a post-Kyoto climate policy that focuses on programs that are both energy efficient and pro-growth rather than on unrealistic reductions of emissions. The dialogue has been less successful on human rights and China’s policy toward Africa, but U.S. persuasion and the spotlight of the Beijing Olympics are likely to compel changes over the coming year. The U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue, led by U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, which seeks to manage difficult issues such as currency valuation and intellectual property rights, has made some progress. The yuan has appreciated by 9.4 percent since mid-2005, and Beijing is beginning to clamp down on software piracy. Tensions with China over trade remain high: 27 percent of current U.S. antidumping orders apply to Chinese goods, the U.S. trade representative has authorized four cases against China in the World Trade Organization since last year, and Congress is threatening to slap tariffs on all goods made in China. Nevertheless, these talks signal a U.S. commitment to manage trade tensions through negotiations, rather than through trade wars. Discussions between President Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao constitute the least formal but most important aspect of U.S.-Chinese relations. From early on, the Bush White House understood that the most effective way to get things done in China was to go to the very top. When agreements are made at this level, both sides take their commitments very seriously. For this reason, the administration worked to cultivate relations with Hu and his predecessor, Jiang Zemin. This channel was particularly important in garnering support for a firm UN Security Council response to Pyongyang’s October 2006 nuclear test and in setting the diplomatic course toward the agreement last February that shut down North Korea’s only known operating nuclear reactor. The strength of the U.S.-Chinese relationship pays dividends in quiet but critical ways. Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian has been pushing the envelope on independence in the run-up to the March 2008 elections in Taiwan (for example, Taipei recently applied for UN membership), yet China has not responded militarily because it is confident that Washington considers such antics a risk to peace in the region. Similarly, Beijing has remained conspicuously quiet about former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s much-publicized steps to upgrade Japan’s military capabilities. China’s poise stems from the current healthy state of U.S.-Chinese relations and an overarching fear of Japanese rearmament without the United States’ presence as Tokyo’s security guarantor. When U.S.-Chinese ties are strained, Beijing sees U.S.-Japanese cooperation as an effort to contain China, but when U.S.-Chinese relations are good, Beijing tends to view the U.S.-Japanese alliance as a check on Japan’s regional ambitions. Today’s goodwill has resulted in unexpected U.S.-Chinese-Japanese cooperation, which stabilizes Asia. The United States still talks tough about China’s arms buildup (which is intended to intimidate Taiwan), expanding defense budget, and drive for an antisatellite capability. But today, these difficult discussions constitute only one part, rather than the entirety, of the relationship.
Japan’s Global Alliance
The U.S.-Japanese alliance has reached an unprecedented level of intimacy. Beginning in his first term, President Bush chose to reinvest in Japan as the United States’ key ally in Asia and to overhaul its military posture there. This base realignment—the most significant in 30 years—includes moving 7,000-10,000 U.S. marines from Okinawa to Guam, transplanting dangerously congested facilities in Okinawa to less populated areas, and creating joint training facilities in Guam. The changes will enable greater interoperability between the two militaries, give the United States more mobility in the Pacific (thanks partly to a U.S. nuclear carrier based at Yokosuka), and reduce civil-military tensions with Japanese host communities, thereby ensuring long-term domestic support for the alliance. Washington and Tokyo are also advocating a “global alliance” that would focus on common values such as liberal democracy, free-market economics, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. As a result, Japan has taken unprecedented steps into the international arena. It has deployed ground forces in Iraq for humanitarian operations, flown C-130 supply missions, and become the second-largest donor to Iraqi reconstruction, with an assistance package valued at nearly $5 billion. In support of coalition forces in Afghanistan, Japan has deployed two naval vessels in the Indian Ocean, which provide critical water and refueling services. At the Bush-Abe summit last April, Tokyo committed to continuing its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as stepping up assistance to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in eastern Pakistan, a suspected al Qaeda haven. Japan has also joined the United States in efforts to improve the business climate in Indonesia and supported France, Germany, and the United Kingdom in nuclear negotiations with Iran. These are hugely important and unprecedented steps by Japan, and they represent a new norm in Japanese foreign policy. As Japan expands its security profile to become more of a global player, it is doing so wholly within the context of the U.S.-Japanese alliance, which acts as a constraint on more ambitious Japanese rearmament. This should be comforting to other states in the region. Moreover, both Abe’s October 2006 visit to Beijing and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s wildly popular visit to Japan last April helped thaw Chinese-Japanese relations, which had turned chilly under Abe’s predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi. Historically, Asian states have become concerned whenever the United States has grown close to Japan in order to contain China or close to China at the expense of traditional U.S. allies and smaller regional powers. The situation today—a cooperative U.S.-Chinese relationship, a strong U.S.-Japanese alliance, and good relations between Japan and China—is a viable equilibrium.
Bush Lost Korea?
The situation is similarly hopeful on the Korean Peninsula. Five years ago, policy wonks, pundits, and academics on both the right and the left were openly predicting the end of the U.S.-South Korean alliance. Anti-American demonstrations in the streets of Seoul in 2002 and the election of the leftist Roh Moo-hyun as president in 2003 suggested that the two allies were drifting further and further apart. Critics blamed Bush for branding North Korea part of the “axis of evil” and thereby encouraging young South Koreans to view the United States as a greater threat to peace than North Korea. They predicted that Bush would botch the policy toward the Korean Peninsula entirely—losing an ally in the South and the nonproliferation battle in the North. However, these gloomy predictions have not come true. Washington and Seoul have made significant strides in improving relations. The allies have agreed on a major base-restructuring agreement that includes the return of over 60 U.S. camps to the South Koreans, the relocation of U.S. Army headquarters away from the center of Seoul, and the return of wartime operational control to South Korea by 2012. The two governments also defied all expectations by signing a far-reaching free-trade agreement (FTA) in June 2007. South Korea is the United States’ seventh-largest trading partner, with trade between the two countries valued annually at over $78 billion, making this the largest bilateral FTA ever signed by the United States. Despite some congressional opposition, the accord will likely be ratified given that Congress has never undermined an FTA negotiated by the U.S. government. On the diplomatic front, the White House has overseen the creation of an informal but highly effective channel between the two countries’ national security councils and the creation of a formal new dialogue between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her South Korean counterpart. These changes have expanded the scope of the U.S.-South Korean alliance beyond the peninsula to other areas of mutual global concern. Much like Japan, South Korea has become an important coalition partner in Iraq. It has provided the third-largest contingent of troops there, performing tasks ranging from humanitarian operations to protective missions for U.S. and UN agencies. South Koreans are also providing medical and logistical support in Afghanistan—where they have been targeted by Taliban terrorists—and participating in peacekeeping operations in Lebanon. This state of affairs is a far cry from the doomsday scenarios announced five years ago. Likewise, the situation in North Korea today appears to be progressing, even though the nuclear standoff with Pyongyang has not been resolved. The United States has worked with China, Japan, both Koreas, and Russia to create a denuclearization road map, embodied in a September 2005 joint statement and the February 2007 implementation agreement. In July 2007, North Korea shut down the Yongbyon nuclear facility, which it had used to make plutonium for nuclear bombs. In addition, it admitted inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the facility for the first time in five years. The aim of the six-party talks is to obtain a full declaration of nuclear materials from Pyongyang (including highly enriched uranium, plutonium, and nuclear devices) and the disablement of all North Korean nuclear facilities and activities by the end of 2007. Meeting this interim objective would bring North Korea closer to disarmament than it has ever been. The ultimate goal is to permanently dismantle all nuclear facilities and the existing weapons by the end of 2008. In return, North Korea would receive energy assistance and the United States and Japan would begin to normalize relations with North Korea, with a view toward final-status peace talks.
Despite progress toward these goals, critics outside the U.S. government and across the political spectrum charge that the Bush administration has acted unilaterally and inconsistently in its policy toward Pyongyang. In the eyes of liberals, Bush erred by labeling North Korea “evil” and pursuing a policy of “regime change” that failed to pressure Kim Jong Il into obedience and therefore led to the October 2006 nuclear test. Conservatives, led by former UN Ambassador John Bolton, criticize Bush for being inconsistent. In their view, the administration had the right get-tough mindset for dealing with Pyongyang but unwisely gave up its strong financial instruments and a UN Security Council resolution pressuring Kim to temporarily shut down Yongbyon—even though the latter would have been only a symbolic victory guaranteeing nothing in terms of validating North Korea’s denuclearization intentions. These criticisms mistake tactical shifts for inconsistent strategy. Despite the charges of inconsistency and a directionless policy, voiced most recently by Michael Mazarr in these pages, three core principles have systematically guided U.S. policy toward North Korea over the past seven years. First, the United States has remained committed to a peaceful diplomatic solution. Despite speculation that the Bush administration has seriously considered coercive options and regime change, peaceful diplomacy was always considered the only practical solution. No high-level White House official ever advocated or presented the option of regime change to any Asian counterpart. Second, Washington has long believed that the North Korean nuclear problem must be handled through a multilateral approach. After the breakdown of the 1994 U.S.-North Korean nuclear agreement, U.S. policymakers insisted that key regional players with material influence over North Korea be involved, especially China. Beijing’s hosting of the six-party talks has forced China to take ownership of the problem. Indeed, China’s own reputation has come to depend on its ability to bring about nuclear disarmament in North Korea. At each critical point in the crisis, U.S.-Chinese cooperation has been vital. The Chinese lent unprecedented support to UN Security Council Resolutions 1695 and 1718, which imposed economic sanctions and a luxury-goods ban on Pyongyang after it conducted missile and nuclear tests in 2006. In addition, the Chinese government and the Chinese military establishment turned a cold shoulder to North Korea after the tests, and Beijing has since pressured Pyongyang in material ways that do not show up in trade figures but have had a real impact. Any future U.S. administration would be wise to ensure that China stays tough on North Korea. The third principle behind U.S. policy has been to negotiate with the purpose of testing North Korea’s intent to dismantle its nuclear program. A popular criticism is that U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill was given the green light to negotiate seriously only after Pyongyang’s nuclear test. This does not accurately reflect the record of past U.S. diplomatic outreach to North Korea. As early as October 2002, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly confronted North Korea about its covert acquisition of materials consistent with the pursuit of a nuclear weapons program based on highly enriched uranium. He explained how denuclearization could bring it a more fruitful economic and political relationship with the United States. In the course of 2004, North Korea stalled and then rejected a proposal by the United States, Japan, and South Korea to trade denuclearization for security assurances. In September 2005, Pyongyang accepted a similar deal that included the promise of energy assistance and the possibility of diplomatic normalization. Since the resulting September 2005 joint statement, which declared that North Korea would “abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs,” the Bush administration’s singular focus has been to test whether Pyongyang is serious about this commitment. In this spirit, secret meetings between the United States and North Korea were held in Berlin earlier this year, leading to February’s implementation agreement.
Conservatives in Washington, led by Bolton, were outraged in May when the Bush administration agreed to release $25 million of North Korea’s frozen assets held at Banco Delta Asia in Macao. Pyongyang refused to shut down the Yongbyon reactor until it received these funds, and critics saw the concession as a sign of weakness from an administration distracted by Iraq and desperate for a foreign policy victory. But in fact, this decision was another sign of Washington’s unusual political will and patience in pursuing a long-term goal: moving beyond a temporary IAEA-monitored shutdown of the Yongbyon reactor and permanently disabling the facility.
The United States may engage in normalization talks with North Korea or discussions involving China and both Koreas on a peace treaty officially ending the Korean War, but it will not conclude either of these discussions without complete nuclear disarmament. Conservatives should rest assured: no U.S. administration, Republican or Democratic, will normalize relations or conclude a peace treaty with a North Korea that is a nuclear weapons state. Bush administration officials have not suddenly become wide-eyed optimists when it comes to North Korea; they have pursued a systematic diplomatic strategy designed to test Pyongyang’s intentions. If Pyongyang proves to be serious, then the six-party forum can move on to the final phase of nuclear dismantlement in 2008. But if Pyongyang does not implement the most recent agreement, the other five parties must be prepared to adopt tougher measures.
Asia’s New Regional Architecture
Over the past several years, a U.S. vision for a new regional architecture has begun to take root. It has none of the fanfare of organizations such as the East Asian Summit, which is a new regional structure in search of a purpose. The U.S. view on regional organizations in Asia has always been driven by results rather than rhetoric. The U.S. plan—although less formal and more incremental—involves deep engagement with Southeast Asian states, a security system in Northeast Asia, and a network of interconnecting bilateral, trilateral, and multilateral institutions to deal with security problems. Academics steeped in power transition theory, which holds that rising powers and declining powers are prone to conflict when their capabilities converge, might argue that these U.S. efforts clash with Chinese aspirations in Southeast Asia. But in fact the opposite is true. Washington looks forward to China’s assuming a major role as a real problem solver in the region. Skeptics complain that the United States’ fixation on its bilateral alliance structure is “prehistoric” and stands at odds with efforts to build Asian multilateralism. But when the 2004 tsunami put hundreds of thousands of lives at risk, the only response that worked was a multilateral relief effort fashioned by the United States in conjunction with its allies Australia, India, and Japan. Not bad for a dinosaur.
U.S. alliances in Asia are a necessary part of the future regional architecture. But the United States is branching out to create new multilateral structures. The largest and most well established of these networks is the six-party talks, which are chaired by China. This is the first multilateral security forum in Northeast Asia, and its members hope that it will become the basis of a broader Northeast Asian peace and security regime that would include a four-party forum to discuss a formal end to the Korean War. Canberra has promoted a U.S.-Japanese-Australian strategic dialogue to address issues such as missile defense, nuclear proliferation, maritime piracy, climate change, damage to the environment, disaster relief, and UN reform. In a similar vein, former Prime Minister Abe personally proposed to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, and President Bush the idea of a quadrilateral grouping of their countries focused on disaster preparedness and relief. At the September Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Sydney, Australia, President Bush proposed the formation of an Asia-Pacific democracy partnership, to involve these four countries as well as Canada, Indonesia, New Zealand, the Philippines, and South Korea.
The United States remains committed to existing regional organizations as well. Washington has recently doubled its financial commitment to APEC, the premier institution in the region devoted to trade liberalization, sustainable development, the environment, and security. Critics, such as the new secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Surin Pitsuwan, contend that the United States’ focus on counterterrorism has led to alienation between the United States and ASEAN members, but they are about three years behind the curve. U.S. policy immediately after 9/11 did indeed focus on counterterrorism—and succeeded in disrupting planned terrorist attacks and the operations of Jemaah Islamiyah, Abu Sayyaf, and other organizations sympathetic to al Qaeda in Southeast Asia and in saving an untold number of American, Filipino, and Indonesian lives. But any serious analyst will notice that more recently the United States has avoided an exclusive focus on counterterrorism and has bolstered its engagement with ASEAN. President Bush inaugurated an annual meeting of ASEAN leaders and met with them for the third time at this year’s APEC conference. He has also created a U.S.-ASEAN enhanced partnership to address issues ranging from drug trafficking to good governance. To expand trade with the region, Washington has created a network of bilateral FTAs and trade and investment agreements with Singapore and other ASEAN nations. Last year, Washington surprised critics and supporters alike by announcing a U.S. commitment to building a free-trade area of the Asia-Pacific region. The United States also signed a strategic framework agreement on security cooperation with Singapore in 2004 and utterly transformed its ties with Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami by resuming comprehensive military-to-military ties and launching a $156 million education initiative. Washington led a multilateral effort in 2005 to contain avian influenza throughout East Asia (including in Myanmar, also called Burma) and to cope with HIV/AIDS in Vietnam. U.S.-Vietnam relations were bolstered by President Bush’s visit to Hanoi in November 2006 and the recent visit of President Nguyen Minh Triet to Washington. The Bush administration has declared Thailand and the Philippines major non-NATO allies and continues to provide top-quality military training to several Southeast Asian countries. In a quiet and unassuming way, the Bush administration has left Asia in good shape. So much for those academics, such as Paul Bracken, Kent Calder, and Aaron Friedberg, who once predicted that Asia would be a cauldron of conflict after the Cold War. Those predicting regional rivalry in Asia never anticipated Washington’s adaptability and the centrality of U.S. alliances in Asia’s new architecture. In addition to strong U.S. engagement with ASEAN and APEC, the new regional architecture is a patchwork of overlapping and interconnecting bilateral, trilateral, and quadrilateral relationships and five- and six-party networks. Bush bashers do not give the administration enough credit, nor even acknowledge that it has followed a consistent strategy. But few would be willing to trade the current situation in Asia for that of any other period in recent history.
Campaigning Against Asia
Unfortunately, there is a real risk that the situation could deteriorate. The presidential primary season in the United States threatens to disrupt the delicate balance that Washington has created in Asia. The candidates’ views are already gravitating to two extremes. Republicans are focusing on China’s alleged attempt to displace the United States in Asia and the threat China poses to Taiwan. On the Republican side of the aisle, discussions of cooperation with Beijing will likely be overtaken by discussions of China’s defense budget, missile buildup, growing submarine fleet, and antisatellite capabilities. At the other extreme are the trade protectionists. They focus on China’s $233 billion trade surplus with the United States, its $1 trillion-plus reserves of foreign exchange, its undervalued currency, the inadequate quality of its exports, and the perceived threat China poses to U.S. workers. Pending legislation proposes to designate China as a currency manipulator and slap a uniform tariff on all Chinese goods sold in the United States unless it dramatically revalues its currency. Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and John Edwards have already opposed the FTA with South Korea in an effort to play to campaign crowds in the Midwest, where people fear the loss of more manufacturing jobs. This electoral posturing could have unintended consequences: in Asia, a polarized debate in the United States could be viewed as the new reality. Beijing’s impression that President Bush is a lame duck, coupled with the harsh tone on the campaign trail, may prompt Chinese leaders to ignore the Bush White House and focus on laying down some markers with the next U.S. administration. They may, for example, abandon their restrained position on Taiwan and revert to the aggressive behavior of the past. Faced with an environment of disintegrating U.S.-Chinese relations, Beijing might also feel the need to openly oppose any attempt by a future Japanese government to expand Japan’s military. Before any lasting damage is done, debates on Asia need to move back to a pragmatic political center instead of being driven by alarmists on the left and the right. It will be incumbent on the new administration, Democratic or Republican, to keep Asia on an even keel by building on the accomplishments of the Bush White House. Its guiding principle should be that U.S. and Asian interests are best advanced when the parties invest in their bilateral alliances based on common values, pursue free and fair trade, and enlist regional partners for multilateral solutions to difficult security problems. For example, the United States must maintain the balance between its pragmatic working relationship with China and its deepening cooperation with Japan. With China, it will need to forge a broad-based relationship in which it can have a tough dialogue with Beijing on military issues but at the same time push China to contribute to resolving global problems such as nuclear proliferation, climate change, and ballooning energy needs. Meanwhile, the United States should continue to encourage Japan to step up its international involvement, as Japan has done in Afghanistan and Iraq, while quietly pressing for more deregulation and economic reform, which has helped spur Japan’s economic recovery. A key component of U.S. leadership in Asia is Washington’s support of free trade. The next administration will need to continue supporting current FTAs in the region and seek the renewal of fast-track trade promotion authority in order to negotiate new ones, including multilateral FTAs that could pave the way toward a region wide free-trade zone. FTAs with Australia, Singapore, and, most recently, South Korea have increased U.S. exports—from dog food to airplanes—to Asia. Yet Congress is opposing ratification of the South Korean FTA, and presidential candidates are pandering to campaign crowds in opposing it too. The fact is that breaking down trade barriers in Asia (particularly in the service sector, which accounts for some 80 percent of U.S. GDP) will help the U.S. service and industrial sectors expand their global market share; while this will lead to new jobs in Asia, many will be created in the United States as well. Without these FTAs, the United States will operate at a comparative disadvantage as the European Union and China negotiate their own agreements in Asia. The next administration should also turn the six-party forum into an embryonic Northeast Asian peace and security regime. The first critical step in this regard would be the creation of a Northeast Asian security charter—a statement of core security principles, norms, and understandings about the promotion of peace and prosperity. These principles should include mutual respect for sovereignty, support for a nonnuclear region (with the exception of China and Russia), and a commitment to strive for pragmatic cooperation despite historical animosities. The next U.S. president can contribute to Asia’s new architecture by continuing to support both U.S. bilateral alliances and regional multilateral organizations in order to reduce tension and build confidence. Three initiatives would be especially useful: a U.S.-Japanese-South Korean discussion regarding the transfer of operational control over U.S. and South Korean forces to Seoul, base realignments, and a possible Seoul-Tokyo security declaration; a U.S.-Chinese-Japanese forum to discuss Japan’s national security agenda and China’s military budget; and a U.S.-Chinese-South Korean forum to discuss the future of the Korean Peninsula. Furthermore, the next administration needs to allot the appropriate time to meet with Southeast Asian leaders. As both Bill Clinton and Bush showed during their trips to Asia, the payoff of face-to-face diplomacy is huge in terms of goodwill and support for the U.S. agenda. Finally, the United States should not be bashful about discussing the values it shares with Asia and promoting Bush’s proposed Asia-Pacific democracy partnership (with China as an observer). Although such topics have been declared too controversial in the past, times have changed. Some of the world’s most successful democratic transitions have taken place in Asia, including in South Korea and Indonesia, and even China acknowledges the relevance of democratic ideas to its own rise in the world. The United States should encourage the view that the trend toward democracy is inexorable.
Bush bashers have made good sport of criticizing every aspect of the current administration’s policies. Yet Asia has now discovered a long-sought formula for stability that includes engaged U.S. leadership, constructive U.S.-Chinese-Japanese cooperation, and a commitment to free trade. These detractors should abandon their universal condemnation of the White House and admit that the Bush administration’s record in Asia is far better than its record elsewhere.