Asian Security

Dr. Kurt Campbell

November 1, 2000

It is very interesting to note the role that Asia has NOT played in the presidential campaign this year. Many analysts predicted that China would be a potential dividing issue between Al Gore and George W. Bush. There are three possible explanations for this lack of discussion, in descending order of pessimism. First, the American public just may not be interested in foreign policy. In fact, public opinion polls show exactly the opposite to be true: the American public is very interested in foreign policy today. Second, both campaigns have major reasons for not mentioning Asia. Gore has had some bad experiences with Asia recently, including the fundraising scandal and his "reformasi" speech in Indonesia. Meanwhile, Bush's advisors differ widely on foreign policy towards China. Finally, there may be a greater strategic consensus emerging amongst the political parties. Although it may be too early to make this case, it appears that both parties agree on engaging China, strengthening alliances, and increasing trade and investment in Asia.

Unlike the Cold War, every major challenge to peace and stability today exists in Asia. First, the divided Korean peninsula remains a "hot spot," potentially destabilizing the entire region when the North Koreans realize that unification necessarily implies a loss of power. Second, in the Taiwan Straits, the fundamentals of the policy of ambiguity are being challenged. Third, the tensions between India and Pakistan have permeated the entire Asian political culture. A three-way dynamic has emerged between China, India, and Pakistan, and tensions between China and India are affecting regional security.

There are three primary observations about Asian security today. First, the major concerns of the 1990s were European challenges. In fact, about 80% of the intellectual energy of the last few administrations focused upon continental concerns, namely Russia, NATO, and Yugoslavia. Now, there is a serious need to prepare for a potential situation on the Korean peninsula. Second, the rise of China has been seriously overestimated for a number of reasons, including American psychology. The United States has frequently behaved in a manner consistent with "hegemonic prophecy," with Japan and China being the two most recent examples. Finally, there are a number of areas that have been entirely ignored over the past decade. For example, Indonesia is literally on the verge of collapse, an event that would serious repercussions, while the U.S. has sat idly by watching.

In the last ten years, China has made an astounding re-arrival on the scene with regards to diplomatic activity. China and the U.S. are destined to be enemies, and there has been a serious hardening of positions over the past few years from the Chinese perspective. Since 1995, China has been brushing off the war plans, and Taiwan is not the only issue. There are significant problems with Chinese political and military culture; for instance, no Chinese military strategist accepts the security paradigm. Meanwhile, the U.S. is in pursuit of its next great enemy, practically guaranteeing that China and the U.S. will become enemies.

Fundamental changes are occurring in Japan today, most of which have been ignored on the world scene. Japan wants the U.S. to hedge quietly in Asia, which will invariably make it harder and harder to sustain a forward military presence. The U.S. has too few eggs in too few places, and will have to disperse troops throughout Asia in order to maintain a forward presence. Finally, the rise of China is extremely threatening to Japan, and better relations between China and Japan are the only means to Asian security. In South Korea, President Kim has proven an extraordinary leader, displaying completely different personas at home and abroad. Meanwhile, President Kim has stated that "U.S. forces and security presence are necessary" for regional security. This statement should make the U.S. feel uncomfortable because of the incredible tensions on the divided Korean peninsula. As a matter of fact, anti-U.S. sentiment in South Korea is rising. On a more positive note, one accomplishment of the Clinton administration has been improved bilateral relations between Japan and South Korea.

In Southeast Asia, Singapore and Indonesia were the traditional leaders. However, the complete and utter absence of Indonesia in regional politics over the past ten years has been labeled the "Lost Decade." Thailand and the Philippines are now leading the way in Southeast Asia. A number of countries are uncomfortable with the Philippines taking on this new role because of its westward orientation.

Russia has re-entered the fray both on the Korean peninsula and in negotiations over disputed territories with Japan from World War II. The relationship between China and Russia is extremely important for regional security.

Lastly, attitudes toward the United States throughout Asia are ambiguous: there are mixed feelings of hegemonic benevolence along with deep-seated resentment. In the past, there was a fear that the U.S. would not understand the importance of Asia to international security. Now, there is a fear of the direction that U.S. involvement will take in Asia.

In conclusion, there has been a fundamental shift of attention to Asia today. There has been a dramatic increase in Chinese military development, and Taiwan will not just lie down in the face of this threat. There is a huge potential for miscalculation because China and Taiwan do not know each other. The forward U.S. security presence may prove to be a serious problem in future U.S.-Asian security issues. Japan, China, and the U.S. need to come to a rapprochement if there is to be stability in Asia. First, Japan must satisfactorily deal with its checkered history regarding China. Second, Japan must prove to be a committed U.S. partner. Third, the U.S. needs to convince China that it does not seek to contain it. Fourth, the U.S. must prove to Japan that it is a reliable partner. Fifth, China must make it clear to the U.S. that Asia is big enough for both of them. Finally, China must admit that Japan has legitimate security stakes in Asia. Asian security challenges will be the most important aspect of foreign policy for the next U.S. administration.

Kurt Campbell is the Senior Vice President and Director of the International Security Programs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Rapporteur: Adam M. Horst

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