Tue, Jan 23, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Bush must deal with regional fears

By Ralph A. Cossa

As George W. Bush takes office as the US president, anxiety levels about future US policy in Asia remain high. In Tokyo, there are apprehensions that Japan will be liked too much; that Washington will expect more from its steadfast ally than Japan is prepared to deliver. In Beijing there are concerns that the PRC won't be liked enough, given Bush's references to China as a "strategic competitor."

On the Korean Peninsula, there are fears that North Korea won't be liked at all; that a more hardline Republican administration will refuse to bargain with Pyongyang or adequately support South Korea's Sunshine Policy. Elsewhere, there are questions about a continued US commitment to the multilateral process and about how the new team will pursue traditional issues such as the promotion of democracy and human rights.

While trying to forecast US behavior is always risky, I would argue that continuity is likely to be the order of the day -- US national interests do not change when administrations do. In most instances, policy adjustments will be tactical ones or represent shifts in emphasis. No early major surprises are anticipated, given that the Bush national security team contains many well-known Asia hands. Nonetheless, a certain amount of nervousness is to be expected whenever an administration changes -- remember the anxiety levels eight years ago when a relatively unknown Arkansas governor was about to take the helm in Washington? What follows are some modest suggestions to the Bush administration on how best to address these regional concerns.

Japan: The Bush team has made it clear that top priority will be given to the maintenance of US bilateral security relationships in general and to the US-Japan alliance in particular. This is nothing new. Every major Asia policy statement issued by the Clinton administration highlighted the importance of bilateral alliances and the role of Japan as the "linchpin" or "foundation" of American security strategy in Asia. But over the past eight years, the Japanese have periodically been victims of Japan "bashing" or "passing." No more.

The Bush administration will likely be calling on Japan to be a more equal security partner. It will be important for Washington to send clear signals as to just what this means, and for Tokyo to send equally clear signals about how much more equal it wants and is prepared to be.

Bush also needs to perpetuate one of the Clinton administra-tion's most successful Northeast Asia initiatives, the establishment of close three-way cooperation on North Korea brought about by the US-Japan-South Korea Trilateral Coordination and Oversight Group. This effort should be expanded to enhance coordination on a broader range of security issues.

Korea: Bush should send an early signal to both Koreas that he is committed to the process of engagement and fully supports South Korean President Kim Dae-jung's Sunshine Policy and the US-North Korea Agreed Framework. Ongoing US-North Korea missile negotiations should also continue but should not be allowed to detract from the broader peninsula peace process. Bush must reaffirm President Clinton's firm assertion that there will be no separate US-North Korea peace agreement. Enhanced North-South dialogue on substantive security issues should precede any new major US-North Korea initiative.

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