Mon, Jun 07, 2004 - Page 9 News List

Kerry's Asia policies promise to fill in the blanks left by Bush

Political observers say that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is unlikely to change the US' relationship with China, but the rest of Asia could suffer

By Martin Nesirky  /  REUTERS , SEOUL

US Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has been carefully mapping out his foreign policy vision, but the response in Asia so far has been blurred.

Foreign policy analysts, commentators and media do not provide a uniform picture, but unlike government officials they are at least at liberty to speculate on what a Kerry win in November might mean for Asian trade and politics.

Those experts say some fundamental relationships, such as with China, would be unlikely to change. But other areas, such as South Asia, could find they receive less attention if Kerry's focus switched.

Others took a broader if less analytical approach.

"I don't know much about Mr. Kerry," said Din Syamsuddin, a prominent Indonesian Muslim leader. "But it seems he's more in tune with the reality of foreign affairs."

Kerry's 20 years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee indeed contrast with George W. Bush's lack of foreign policy experience before entering the White House. Yet Bush has forged ties with Asian leaders, notably Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, and balanced relations with China and Taiwan.

"If Kerry takes office, it will be quite a challenge for Taiwan," said Lin Cheng-yi of the Institute of European and American Studies at the Academia Sinica. "Compared with Bush, Kerry and his team are less friendly toward Taiwan."

In the past week Kerry has painted the broad strokes of his foreign policy priorities, including mending US alliances that he said Bush had shredded.

Kerry also said he would open direct talks with North Korea on its nuclear weapons program, rather than relying on multilateral talks that Bush considers the best way to solve the problem.

Asia presents the US with Bush's "war on terror" in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a new government in India and a boom in "offshoring" US service jobs there, concerns that China's economy could slow (and concerns that it won't), Islamic militants in Indonesia, tensions over Taiwan and questions about Japan's foreign exchange policy as well as Pyongyang's plans.

Small wonder the response to Kerry is varied. Take Pakistan.

"The marginalized political forces in Pakistan may get encouragement with the victory of Kerry and the US might raise issues relating to human rights," said Mutahir Ahmed, professor of international relations at Karachi University.

"But overall relations would remain as warm as they are, because the US needs Pakistan in its war on terror and it cannot afford to destabilize the country's armed forces, which are in control of a nuclear arsenal."

Riffat Hussain, head of Defense and Strategic Studies at Islamabad's Quaid-e-Azam University, took a different view.

"I think there is much greater understanding of Pakistan's security needs and concerns in the Bush White House than would be the case if Kerry moves in," he said. "I don't think South Asia will command that kind of attention in the Kerry White House."

A Kerry administration could bring changes in relations with South Korea, said Kim Sung-han of the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security in Seoul.

"There is no doubt a Kerry presidency would be a good opportunity to bring new momentum," said Kim. "It just does not feel the same as vowing to start all over again with the same Bush administration."

But he said Washington views ties with Seoul as part of a bigger picture that includes China and Japan, adding: "Bush, for example, tended to be casual about South Korea because his administration got along so well with China."

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