Mon, Dec 05, 2005 - Page 8 News List

US policy shift a chance for Taiwan

By Lai I-chung 賴怡忠

US foreign policy in Asia is changing. This has to do with China's rise, Japan's normalization, the change in South Korea's strategic direction, India's rise and the inability of the US to maintain a unilateral policy. The US' overall Asia-Pacific policy has changed from "containment" or "engagement" with China toward an adaptive policy focused on adjusting its role in the region. The extent of this shift can be compared to the adjustments to the US' Cold War strategy contained in the Nixon Doctrine in 1969.

First, the US' China policy has already strayed from the past bipolar "containment/engagement" approach. The speech given by the US deputy secretary of state at an Asia Society meeting in late September shows that the US hopes China will become a stakeholder in regional security and prosperity, sharing common interests with the US.

The US now realizes that China is already quite strong and that the two countries are interdependent. Containment that is primarily focused on preventing China's rise and exchanges aimed at changing China are therefore not feasible. This is also why the US is trying to persuade Beijing that certain developments are compatible with the two countries' joint interests, and that it has no specific intention of "peacefully transforming" China.

At the same time, the US also wants to realign its cooperative relationships in Asia to hedge against a possible future war between the US and China, and to reassert its dominance in Asia.

That's why US President George W. Bush praises democracy in his speeches and encourages China to move toward democracy, while at the same time the US strengthens its security cooperation with its major Asian allies and countries on China's periphery.

In the second half of this year, the US actively strengthened its ties with India, Vietnam and Mongolia. The US president met with the leaders of these three countries and made substantive suggestions in the areas of trade and security cooperation. In October and last month, the US held meetings with Japan and Australia, thereby transforming its bilateral defense alliances with these two nations into a regional mechanism for strategic cooperation. In addition, to improve its relations with Southeast Asia and its image in that region, Washington in late October sent Under-Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes to visit Indonesia and Malaysia.

Commentators have called the US change in its China policy an adaptation, suggesting that it is currently changing its position in response to China's rise. But according to Bush's comments during his Asian tour, the reasons the US is adapting are not due to China alone, but also include other areas in the Asia-Pacific region.

This explains why Bush during his visit to South Korea agreed to deal with the issue of negotiations with North Korea, despite the fact that the US knows that as soon as they agree to talks, the US-South Korean alliance could fall apart.

The US' apparent abandonment of the alliance between it and South Korea is directly related to the ongoing changes in Seoul's strategic direction. Maybe the South Korean president to be elected in 2007 will return to a pro-US line, but the change in the South's strategy seems to depend on generational factors that will not be deeply affected by a change in ruling party.

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