You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘ASEAN’ category.

The latest article is now up at Brooks Foreign Policy Review, here.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), founded 42 years ago, was created to provide a framework to advance regional stability in Southeast Asia at a time when the withdrawal of colonial powers had created a vacuum. This placed the newly independent states of the region in danger of succumbing to ethnic strife and communist insurgencies. Since the conclusion of the Cold War, ASEAN has embarked on a series of free trade initiatives, linking it to some of the Asian-Pacific regions most dynamic economies.

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Rice Rebukes Bush Envoy Who Criticized Policy on North Korea – Jay Lefkowitz, President Bush’s special envoy on North Korean human rights said the current Bush Admin policy will not solve the nuclear issue in North Korea before Bush leaves office. Well, he is right, that is obvious to someone of the meanest intelligences.

Roadblocks on the Great Asian Highway – Interesting article about overcoming infrastructural barriers between Thailand, Laos, and China to create more efficient trade; and some immediate negative externalities for the local Laotian people.

Corruption-fighting Vietnamese granny gets award – Transparency International awards Vietnamese grandma for fighting the good fight for 25 years against death threats from local government officials. This woman is 150 cm (4’11” inch) tall and 40 kilograms (88 lbs) and has more “balls” than 99% of the politicians in Washington D.C., unfortunately for us Americans.

China closes 44,000 pornographic websites in 2007 – The Chinese government is not fond of “adult entertainment”. This is part of the increasingly common crackdown on various facets of the sex industry in China. I’m sure shutting down 44,000 websites has kept the thought police quite busy.

Science with Africa: Accelerating Science and Technology in Africa – Information on a conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 3 to 7 March. The themes of the conference will be science and innovation policy, science themes and innovation and will consist of plenary sessions and workshops.

Africa: ‘U.S. Recession a Threat to Third World Exports’ – There has been a recession fear going through North America, Europe, and East Asia lately but any economic downturn for the United States will also significantly effect some of the world’s poorest nations, which are already on the margin. This will not just hurt trade but also aid revenues.

This article makes some very valid points concerning issues that ASEAN needs to address if they intend to be more competitive as a trading bloc. More on this a little later…


Will ASEAN integration take place as expected?
By Tetsuya Tsuruhara

A diplomat of a country belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations came up with an interesting metaphor about ASEAN’s landmark charter, signed at the organization’s summit meeting last month.

“We, too, are wearing suits like European gentlemen,” the diplomat said, adding the difference lay in the tailoring.

With the establishment of the charter, the ASEAN, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in August, finally has a set of written regulations. The charter is a specific step on a path to create an ASEAN Community by 2015. The charter adopted a format similar to that of the Treaty on European Union, better known as the Maastricht Treaty. Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stressed that the ASEAN countries will unite as an independent entity in the future.

However, the concept of the community differs fundamentally from that of the European Union.
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I often remark on ASEAN+3 because of its awesome potential, despite the fact that ASEAN has fell short, I’m hoping S.Korea, China, and Japan can not only expand the organization, but provide enough centrifugal force to create greater unity among the nation-state members. Chinese and Japanese leadership is key (with Singapore behind the scenes) to cementing this thing. The U.S. and Australia have a lot to do with the hollow nature of the organization as they were both against a trade bloc they could not join and dominate.

The People’s Daily has an entire section of their site dedicated to everything you wanted to not know about Wen Jiabao’s trip to ASEAN+3 and Singapore. The link is quite informative, I have not gone through every link yet though.

The People’s Daily has a nice editorial of the meetings from China’s perspective. I will highlight the good stuff. Some of the main things China is concerned about, border disputes (S.China Sea Islands), instability in some member-states (Myanmar), environmental degradation caused by economic development, piracy and separatism are all issues that China has or have a heavy say in.

I am sure though that the “interference by external forces in member-states is focused on America and maybe Japan interfering in Tibet and Taiwan. I’m also certain that the only issue China sees with the S.China Sea borders is that everyone else in bordering the sea does not realize everything in it belongs to China. 🙂 Although piracy in China has been amazingly overstated; it is still a major problem, especially in relation to Chinese trade with the West and Japan. Well, at least China is joining a group that provides a platform to discuss these issues.

UPDATE: I found a conspiracy theory over at Midnight Sun, that China has conspired to bloc any possible entry of Australia and New Zealand from ASEAN. I can believe that, but I do not think China is the only nation that feels that way. I am willing to bet that Malaysia and Singapore do as well. They have long supported an “Asian Values” stance as a unifier for the region, the Anglosphere nations on the periphery do not fit.   They would just be a proxy for the U.S. anyway.


East Asia faces eight challenges

Recently, the 11th ASEAN-China Summit, the 11th ASEAN 10+3 Summit (ASEAN plus China, Japan and South Korea) and the 8th meeting of Chinese, Japanese and South Korean leaders, were held in Singapore. For East Asian countries, these meetings are crucial for deepening mutual understanding, strengthening mutual trust, and promoting cooperation in various fields including the economy, trade, science and technology, energy, environment, finance, culture, education, and tourism.

Despite problems and conflicts in East Asia, all countries share the common interest of building a “harmonious East Asia” and promoting peace and development. In fact, this emerged as a new trend in East Asia in the early 21st Century. This “harmonious East Asia” refers to a region existing in harmony, cooperation between countries, and coordination of the ecological environment and economic development. Through bilateral and multilateral dialogues and cooperation, a “harmonious East Asia” can sustain regional development and security.

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The U.S. and the EU can keep crying. As the article states, and as I know, China will not be easily budged on this issue as their primary concern is Chinese uplift. Their immediate concern is the societal stability and international clout that continued economic development can bring.

Their primary trading partners in the region also do not want China to reevaluate as they have become more integrated economically with China, a reevaluation of the Yuan (Renminbi) would cause inflation. China is currently the largest (or close to) import trading partner of Japan, S.Korea, and Singapore. On the other hand, China does not import nearly as much stuff from these countries as they export, often because these countries finish goods in China and then import to their home market. I do wonder about the countries in ASEAN that direct compete with China though, there opinion might be different.

For China, floating the Yuan or manually increasing the value (monetary policy) will only serve as a catalyst already rising inflation . China has also been trying to generate demand in their home market, by expanding economic opportunity to the inland regions. Since China has 1.3 billion people, unlike smaller nations in the region (i.e. Singapore) or in Europe and much like the United States they have enough potential people to generate a massive economic growth on their own without the intense reliance on exporting. High inflation is an anathema to that goal.

America will also experience some inflation behind this, being that 16% of our imports now come from China (second only to Canada). How much, I’m not certain. This is all political, the American economy is on the verge of stalling and politicians want to point a “nationalist finger”. Reality is, as long as Americans consume above and beyond their means, often from foreign sources, and the U.S. dollar is used as a foreign reserve around the world we will have a trade deficit, especially with China.

As long as it is politically un-sexy to speak in nuance about our trade and monetary policies as compared to our overall foreign policy in the Pacific Rim and how one of those goals is a stable China, America will always be chasing its tail, just as we did with the Japanese in the1980’s. I often wonder how much of this “outrage” over China would not exist if China was in Western Europe. Shinaro Ishihara asked that question about Japan’s trade problems with the West 15 years ago.



Realigning the yuan: Resistance from G-20

Friday, November 16, 2007


FRANKFURT: At a Group of 7 meeting this autumn in Washington, the United States persuaded Europe to join its strategy of leaning on China to revalue the yuan upward, a step that would help ease the pressure on the beleaguered dollar.

But on the eve of a similar meeting of officials from a much bigger group of countries, that achievement may be a tough feat to repeat.

Instead, turbulent currency markets are likely to dominate the meeting of the Group of 20, which comprises central bankers and finance ministers, this weekend near Cape Town.

The forum was created in 1999 to coordinate policy between the major developed economies and the major developing ones.

Heading into the meeting, the United States and top European countries are walking in greater lockstep than ever before, having agreed that the heart of their common problem is China. Beijing suppresses the value of its currency, keeping its exports cheap.
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The article below reminded me of some of the comments that David Scott Lewis made in regard to India’s schizo relationship with China, despite the fact they have agreed to come together based on mutual economic benefit. THe article touches on the macro relationships India is forming with China and the rest of East and Southeast Asia. Lewis’ comments more reflect the reality of those connections on the ground inside of China.

South Asia

India’s ‘Look East’ policy pays off
By Sultan ShahinNEW DELHI – Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Southeast Asian tour this week to participate in the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) summit in Bali, Indonesia marks the success of a decade-long shift in Indian foreign policy – known as the “Look East” strategy – initiated by former prime minister Narasimha Rao in the early 1990s.The political consensus that had then emerged, partly as a response to the end of Cold War, to liberalize the economy and participate in the new trend of globalization, is apparently continuing to win India new business partners and friends in its continuing war against militancy in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.Two broad agreements, for comprehensive economic cooperation and combating terrorism, have been signed. India has also consented to the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. Vajpayee went a step further to offer a unilateral “open skies” policy to specified Southeast Asian airlines, which will be free to operate daily flights to the Indian metropolitan centers, outside any bilateral aviation pact.Laying stress on better connectivity between India and ASEAN, Vajpayee said, “We could see how close we can get with an open skies arrangement.” In this context he announced India’s unilateral decision to connect all 10 ASEAN capitals with four metropolises in India through daily flights without further bilateral discussions.Apart from laying emphasis on the need for road links between the geographically contiguous India and ASEAN countries, Vajpayee also suggested the holding of an India-ASEAN motor rally. The framework agreement spells out a program for free trade agreements in goods, services, investment, areas of economic cooperation and an early harvest program. Negotiations on free trade agreements in goods will take due account of the economic sensitivities of the less developed economies of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and the Philippines.

And on Thursday, India and Thailand signed five agreements covering a wide range of issues, including a landmark free trade agreement following a one-to-one meeting between Vajpayee and Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra in Bangkok. The agreement will allow for free trade on all goods by 2010.

The two countries will also slash tariffs by 50 percent on 84 products under an early harvest scheme to go into effect March 1 of next year. In addition, ways to combat terrorism and intelligence sharing were also discussed, with India offering to sell defense equipment to Thailand.

Taken together, these steps promise considerable improvement in economic and political cooperation between India and its Southeast Asian neighbors – extending from Myanmar to the Philippines.

India is glad to have been present, thanks to its ASEAN associate membership, when the members agreed to create the eastern equivalent of the European Union in two decades. The Bali Concord II envisions a single Southeast Asian market, covering 500 million people and with annual trade that already touches US$720 billion. The concord calls for the creation of an ASEAN Economic Community modeled on the EU by 2020. If ASEAN evolves a free trade arrangement with China on similar terms – the abolition of all tariffs and trade barriers – the result will be the world’s largest free trade zone.

India has already been able to take a small step towards taking advantage of this historic development. The early harvest program New Delhi has signed with ASEAN lays out a timetable for mutual trade concessions up to 2007. Skeptical Indian observers are hoping that it will lead to an across-the-board lowering of trade barriers, despite India’s traditional reluctance in giving such concessions, and that the story of so-called free trade agreements with Sri Lanka and Singapore will not be repeated.
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I mentioned the EU earlier. I believe that is the largest free trade zone, among other things. NAFTA is second. Well East/SEAsia will not be left behind. Despite the optimism of Singapore and Malaysia (oh and a former Filiopino president) I seriously doubt the new Asian trade zone will become EU-like any time soon. The region is over 4X as large as Europe in land mass and has about 500-700 million more people. Religiously very diverse, including Muslims, Christians, Buddhist, Confucianists, Hindus and the list goes on. Fortunately East/SE Asians have not been very fundamentalist in their approach to religion. Still, Europe, 2,000 years ago their was no France, no Italy, no Spain, no Germany, no UK, etc. There was however, a China, a Japan, a Korea, a Thailand. These nationalities run deep, and ethnic animus between them goes back centuries, however they can all agree that money is good. J The grand uniter is not “love” unless you mean love of money. Despite this I can’t see S.Korea, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, or China giving up sovereignty to a regional body in the way that the EU member states have to Brussels. That won’t happen in my life time or my children’s, maybe my great grand children’s or so depending on the push factors from outside the free trade zone. I’m wonder how America will react. It seems Bush’s response is to try to make a Pan-American trade zone, which doesn’t look to promising now that Venezuela is doing everything in its power to turn Latin America more against us then it already is. Haha Australia and New Zealand are somewhat outsiders as well, as ASEAN has been pretty firm that they are not “Asian nations” but time will tell. Fact is Australia and New Zealand need the trade and can not afford to be outside of a “block”.

Anyway more on this:

In the past five years, this Asian integration has gathered pace. From the limited economic integration of the mid-1990s, Asia has developed deep in­traregional trade and investment ties. In 2000, East Asian financial ministers created a new network of currency swaps. Since then, Asian countries have been aggressively signing bilateral free-trade agreements. ASEAN-China trade grew rapidly from $35 billion in 2000 to more than $110 billion in 2005.5 Most importantly, China and ASEAN inked an agreement in 2004 that will create the largest free-trade zone in the world when it comes into force by 2012.6 In August 2006, ASEAN ministers agreed to speed up the creation of their own trade zone, which will encompass the 10 Southeast Asian nations. That same month, ASEAN’s secretary general announced that an East Asia–wide free-trade agreement, the ultimate statement of regional economic integration, could be developed within 10 years.7 Even Japan, which once prioritized its trade links to the United States, has become an active supporter of intra-Asia trade deals.

East Asian companies have increasingly focused on markets in Asia both for production and for sales. These deals have created a booming intraregional trade, which now comprises roughly 60 percent of all trade in East Asia, up from 30 percent 15 years ago.8 As one Asian Development Bank study noted, the region seemed to be developing an economic model of “bamboo capitalism,” in which Asian companies build production networks within Asia designed to serve markets in the region, not just the United States and Europe.9 Some leaders, such as former Philippine president Fidel Ramos, suggest that East Asia eventually could become like the European Union, which has a common cur­rency, market, and institutions to facilitate trade and even security policies.10 “A shift from ‘Pax Americana’ to ‘Pax Asia-Pacifica’ could well be the answer,”

Who They Are:


ASEAN faces competition from China – Vietnam Overseas

ASEAN, China agree to strengthen product safety amid global recall … ..

ChinaRealNews: Chinese ports feature great potential to become world-class ..

China Finance Centre » Blog Archive » TODAY’S CBW FOCUS ST..

World Business » China-ASEAN FTA expected to be new engine to drive w..

My musing…

N.Korea and S.Korea: North Korea will collapses within 10 years due to covert regime change by the US and Japan or the murder of Kim Jong Il by his own military after he fails to be able to bribe them effectively.

This will result in refugees flooding into a South Korea economically unable to provide for all of them and into China.  The new united but poor Korea will have nuclear weapons and become increasingly nationalist and xenophobic, which will drastically destabilize its relationship with the United States and especially with Japan.  Korean refugees in China will become a small, despite its redcurrant nationalism, Korea will slowly and continually slip under the Chinese sphere of influence as its economy becomes even more dependent on

Japan:  Under American pressure and public pressure over instability on the Korea Peninsula and fear of a powerful China, Japan will remilitarize which will aggravate its relations with both Koreas and China to a lesser extent.  Part of  this remilitarization will be a slow move to Japan going “nuclear” which will take place within 10 years of Japan changing its “peace constitution.”  Nationalism at this time and anti-Asia neighbor sentiment will rise as a reaction to perceived unfairness by its Asian neighbors over WWII and rallying of the public by the right wing.  This nationalism will create an unexpected strain between America and Japan who will remain close allies against China, but also have both having strong economic interest in China, as well as similar security interest in the region.  The American military presence will be decrease in Japan as Japanese forces take a lead role.  Despite the increase in nationalism, there will be a strong pro-China lobby forming, because historically Japan always seeks to make alliances and mimic the nations that it views as the strongest, many, at least from a regional perspective, begin to see China as a revived power in the region to seriously rival China.

China and Taiwan:  Taiwan will not declare formal independence, instead it will form a type of federation (similar to that with between Hong Kong SAR and Mainland China, but with even more leeway given to Taiwan) for an indefinite period.  This will avoid a war between Japan, America, and China over Taiwanese independence, where America and Japan will attempt to defend Taiwan militarily.  China being capable of bombing Taiwan but not holding the island will be willing to avoid war unless Taiwan declares formal independence because a loss of Taiwan after a military conflict will cause the government to lose face, but also allowing Taiwan to formally succeed with no military response will be a worse loss of face, both likely resulting in internal pressure from home leading to serious uprisings that could topple the CCP, especially considering any military action will likely severely hurt China’s economy already aggravating the gap between rich and poor, rural and urban.  This will be seen as victory for China by many right wing hawks in Japan and America.

Vietnam: Vietnam is included because it is culturally more an East Asian nation than a Southeast Asian due to its extensive historical contact with China.  Vietnam will seek to balance China’s political and economic power in the region by establishing closer bilateral relations with the United States and becoming a more active promoter of ASEAN, as a negotiating device giving it more power in its relationship with China and the other East Asian nations.  China will put more pressure on a United Korea to get military distance from America and even help promote Korean nationalism. 

United States: Will lose all of its bases in the new united Korea and most of them in Japan although there will be a lose military alliance with the new militarized Japan, but over time Japan will slowly move back into China’s political orbit, but due to issues with Korea will remain some counterbalance with America out of fear.  America will increasingly try to balance its economic issues with China and its fear of Chinese political power, not just in Asia, but increasingly its global political power, that often conflicts with U.S. interests.

ASEAN: China and Korea will join a new East Asian trade group born out of ASEAN, eventually, within 20 years time Japan will have no choice but to also join although hesitantly fearing Chinese domination.  ASEAN itself will morph into an East-South East Asian trade group, much more diversified and less powerful than the EU, and dominated largely by China and Japan…which will form two balancing rival poles in the organization with small nations choosing sides. America will be excluded from this group causing some animosity and fear of Chinese power.  Japan will (secretly) serve to help promote US economic interests.

Re-Envisioning Asia

January 6, 2005

From the January/February 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs.

Francis Fukuyama is a Professor of International Political
Economy at the Nitze School of Advanced International
Studies at Johns Hopkins University and the author of
State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st


A key task facing the second Bush administration is
devising the proper security architecture for eastern Asia.
The United States is confronting several immediate
problems, including the North Korean nuclear standoff,
tension between China and Taiwan, and Islamist terrorism in
Southeast Asia. But a forward-looking foreign policy does
not simply manage crises; it shapes the context for future
policy choices through the creation of international
institutions. Eastern Asia has inherited a series of
alliances from the early days of the Cold War. These
partnerships remain important as a means of providing
predictability and deterrence. But a decade and a half
after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is increasingly
evident that they do not fit the configuration of politics
now taking shape.

The White House has an opportunity to create a visionary
institutional framework for the region. In the short term,
it can do so by turning the six-party talks on North Korea
into a permanent five-power organization that would meet
regularly to discuss various security issues in the region,
beyond the North Korean nuclear threat. In the long term,
Washington will need to consider ways of linking this
security dialogue to the various multilateral economic
forums now in existence or under consideration, such as the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); the
ASEAN-plus-three group, which was formed in the wake of the
Asian economic crisis and includes China, Japan, and South
Korea; and the developing free-trade areas. Asian
multilateralism will be critical not just for coordinating
the region’s booming economies, but also for damping down
the nationalist passions lurking beneath the surface of
every Asian country.


Unlike Europe, Asia lacks strong multilateral political
institutions. Europe has the EU and NATO, as well as groups
such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe (osce) and the Council of Europe. Asia’s only
counterparts are ASEAN, the ASEAN Regional Forum on
security matters, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
forum (APEC)–all of which are far weaker organizations.
ASEAN does not include China or the other major players in
Northeast Asia, and APEC is no more than a consultative
body. Asian security is ensured not by multilateral
treaties, but by a series of bilateral relationships
centering on Washington, in particular the U.S.-Japan
Security Treaty and the U.S.-South Korean relationship.

The reasons for this difference between Europe and Asia lie
in history: European countries are linked by similar
cultural origins and their shared experience in the
twentieth century, to the point that they have been
relinquishing important elements of national sovereignty to
the EU. By contrast, there is a much higher degree of
distrust among the major players in Asia. This suspicion is
driven partly by a changing power balance, as Japan is
eclipsed by China, but primarily by memories of the Pacific
war. After 1945, both Germany and Japan needed to convince
their neighbors that they were no longer threats. The new
West Germany did so by ceding sovereignty to a series of
multilateral organizations; Japan did so by ceding
sovereignty in security affairs to the United States.
Security ties thus took on a hub-and-spoke structure in
Asia, with Washington playing a central mediating and
balancing role.

These bilateral ties remain crucial, particularly the
U.S.-Japanese relationship. The U.S. nuclear guarantee and
U.S. forces stationed in Japan reassure the rest of Asia
that Japan will not rearm in a major way. But this Cold War
system of security checks and balances is eroding as new
generations take power and face changing environments.

The first problem concerns the United States’ relationship
with South Korea. With the ascendancy of left-wing
Presidents Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun over the past
decade, a new generation of Koreans has grown up seeking
reconciliation rather than confrontation with North Korea.
Many young South Koreans today regard the United States as
a greater threat to their security than the regime of Kim
Jong Il. This bizarre perception is based on extraordinary
illusions. The North Korean dictatorship is one of the most
inhumane and dangerous that has ever existed, but the Bush
administration misplayed its hand at the beginning of its
first term by undercutting President Kim Dae Jung’s
“sunshine” policy of Korean reconciliation–triggering a
generational revolt among younger South Koreans against
Cold War verities. The reflexive gratitude that South
Koreans who lived through the war against the North feel
toward the United States is simply absent among the younger
generation, which, like its German counterpart, grew up in
peace and prosperity.

On the surface, the U.S.-South Korean alliance still looks
strong: the current Roh Moo Hyun government has sought to
demonstrate its commitment to the relationship by sending
military forces to Iraq. But misunderstanding could easily
emerge and then spiral as Koreans blame the United States
for excessive belligerence toward Pyongyang and the United
States reacts to what it perceives as South Korean
ingratitude. Preoccupied with terrorism and the Middle
East, Washington has already repositioned its forces away
from the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas and is
planning to draw down its forces in the region.

The United States’ relationship with Japan is also changing
in ways that are extremely unsettling to the rest of Asia.
Prompted by the nuclear threat from Pyongyang, Tokyo is
reconsidering the need for more robust defensive forces.
Japan’s dispatch of peacekeepers to Iraq and its recent
confrontations with the North Korean navy demonstrate a
willingness to behave like what opposition leader Ichiro
Ozawa has called a “normal country.” There is a growing
consensus in Japan that Article 9 of its postwar
constitution–which dictates that it cannot wage war and
cannot maintain armed forces–should be revised, even if
the process stretches out over a number of years. Although
political ties between Washington and Tokyo are stronger
today than they have been in many years, the Cold War
father-child dependency will inevitably be replaced by
something resembling an alliance of equals.

Japan’s new posture is to be welcomed. In fact, the United
States has been pushing Tokyo to embrace such a new role
since the last decade of the Cold War. It is perverse that
a country with the world’s third-largest economy remains
militarily and psychologically dependent on Washington. But
the rest of Asia–particularly China and the two Koreas,
which were heavily victimized by Japan throughout the first
half of the twentieth century–prefers that Japan stay
militarily weak. These countries will not welcome the
emergence of a stronger and more independent neighbor.
Although a Japan with a revised Article 9 should not
threaten the rest of Asia, its former victims may not trust
in that fact. Japanese rearmament must therefore progress
slowly and be managed delicately, with plenty of open
communication between Tokyo and other Asian governments.

And then there is China. The world’s fastest-growing
economy (and one of its largest) has thus far remained
largely outside any security pact or alliance, excepting
its membership in global institutions such as the UN and
the World Trade Organization (WTO). But this relative
isolation also is likely to change. In recent years, the
Chinese have proposed a blizzard of new Asian multilateral
economic arrangements, which could ultimately serve
security purposes as well. Beijing’s plans have included
two agreements with ASEAN (ASEAN plus one and ASEAN plus
three, with Japan and North Korea), as well as China-ASEAN
and East Asian free-trade areas. Clearly, the Chinese are
exerting leadership to ensure that their status in the
international political arena matches their growing
economic power. Sensing a geoeconomic threat, the Japanese
have responded with their own trade pacts, such as the
Japan-Singapore free-trade area negotiated by Prime
Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

China has always presented a great conundrum for the United
States. It is the kind of power Washington deals with the
least well: a nation that is neither clearly friend nor
clearly foe, simultaneously a strategic threat and a
critical trade and investment partner. The result has been
an inconsistent relationship of pragmatic cooperation
punctuated by periodic crises, such as the U.S. bombing of
the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 and the Chinese
downing of a U.S. spy plane in 2001. The future of this
relationship depends on how Chinese politics evolve:
whether China provokes a showdown with Taiwan and uses its
economic might to achieve Asian hegemony, or develops into
an increasingly pluralistic society in which economic
interests dictate continuing good relations with its

In the meantime, the United States can adopt one of two
approaches: either it can seek to isolate China and
mobilize the rest of Asia into a coalition to contain
growing Chinese power, or it can try to incorporate China
into a series of international institutions designed to
channel Chinese ambitions and elicit cooperation.

Despite its appeal among U.S. conservatives, isolating
Beijing is a nonstarter. Even if the United States somehow
knew that China were a long-term strategic threat on a par
with the former Soviet Union, no U.S. ally would enlist in
an anti-Chinese coalition any time in the near future.
Japan, South Korea, Australia, and ASEAN members all have
complex relationships with China that involve varying
degrees of cooperation and conflict; absent overt Chinese
aggression, none is going to be willing to jeopardize those

Incorporating China into existing global institutions has
already proved very effective. In 2001, when the question
of Chinese membership in the WTO came up, some argued that
China would only subvert the WTO by breaking its rules. As
it is, being a part of the WTO has promoted the rule of law
by giving Chinese reformers an excuse to make systemic
domestic changes. These modifications–which were in
China’s self-interest anyway–include replacing the
traditional system of corrupt, nepotistic business dealings
with more transparent and open rules. As Evan Medeiros and
Taylor Fravel have pointed out, over the past decade China
has shifted its posture from that of an aggrieved victim of
Western imperialism to that of an increasingly responsible
member of the international community.


Asia needs to develop a new
set of multilateral organizations in parallel with the
existing bilateral organizations. Over time, a new set of
institutions can take over many of the functions performed
by bilateral agreements. But this new multilateralism
cannot come into being without the strong support of the
United States, which is why a creative re-evaluation of
Asia must be a top priority for George W. Bush in his
second term.

Washington clearly derives some benefits from the present
system of U.S.-centric bilateral alliances. The United
States gains unique sanction for its military and political
presence in the region and is in a strong position to
prevent the emergence of hostile coalitions. Washington
also often serves as the conduit for messages and security
plans sent from one Asian capital to another, giving it

Balanced against these considerations is a simple but
strong reason for promoting a multilateral system. With the
end of the Cold War and the continuing economic development
of eastern Asia, power relationships are changing in ways
that have unlocked nationalist passions and rivalries. The
potential for misunderstanding and conflict among South
Korea, Japan, and China will be significant in the coming
years–but it can be mitigated if multiple avenues of
discussion exist between the states.

Several recent incidents have brought latent tensions to
the surface. Despite burgeoning trade between China and
South Korea, relations recently became strained when
government-sponsored Chinese researchers asserted that the
ancient kingdom of Koguryo, which 2,000 years ago stretched
along the current China-North Korea border, was once under
Chinese control. The ensuing fight had to be papered over
with a five-point accord negotiated by the countries’
foreign ministries. Beijing’s motives for allowing
publication of the article are unclear, but they may have
been related to rising nationalism in China and loose talk
in Seoul about founding a “greater Korea” that would
include not just the North and the South but also the more
than 2 million ethnic Koreans currently living in

Meanwhile, the growing economic interdependence of China
and Japan has not mitigated nationalist passions, but
exacerbated them. At an Asian Cup soccer game in August
2004 in Beijing, Chinese fans screamed, “Kill! Kill! Kill!”
at the winning Japanese team, forcing it to flee China.
This event followed on the heels of several other ugly and
apparently spontaneous displays of anti-Japanese feeling
and outrage over the use of hired female “companions” in
southern China by 300 Japanese businessmen.

Heightening security concerns threaten the Japanese-South
Korean relationship and could spark an arms race. Ten years
ago, while doing research in Tokyo, I was told by a number
of officers in the Japanese Self-Defense Forces that in the
event of Korean unification, the combined military of North
and South Korea would be close to ten times the size of
Japan’s. If Korean troop strength did not fall dramatically
at that point, they said, Japan would have to take
appropriate defensive measures. Not only does this risk
remain, but today there is the added factor of North
Korea’s nuclear weapons–and what a potentially united
Korea would do with them. In a recent Tokyo Shimbun poll,
83 of 724 members of the Japanese Diet said publicly that
Japan should consider becoming a nuclear power in light of
the North Korean threat, an assertion that would have been
unthinkable just a few years ago.

Asia is not about to descend into a downward spiral of
nationalist fervor, but the potential for dangerous
miscommunication clearly exists. Establishing a
multilateral structure would help greatly by giving
Northeast Asia’s major powers a forum for talking directly
to one another. Nato, with its regular schedule of
ministerial meetings, has performed this service in Europe
for several decades. Defense ministers lay out their
spending plans and force structures, and foreign ministers
explain their respective nation’s political actions. If the
Chinese and Korean governments are worried about the
meaning of Japanese rearmament, or if the Japanese and
Chinese leaderships are concerned about Korea’s
postunification intentions, a multilateral forum would give
them an opportunity to defuse anxieties and articulate


The U.S. stance on multilateralism in Asia has been erratic
and contradictory. The United States sponsored
organizations such as the Southeast Asian Treaty
Organization and APEC. But when Malaysian Prime Minister
Mahathir bin Mohamad sought to counter APEC in 1989 with a
proposal for an East Asian Economic Caucus that would
exclude the United States, it was firmly rejected by
Washington as a scheme to keep “white” powers out of the
Asian club. During the early 1990s, the Clinton
administration promoted an informal Northeast Asia
Cooperation Dialogue between the countries that are now
participating in the six-party talks. This process
continues today, but it has never been elevated to a formal

Many of the more recent proposals for eastern Asian
multilateral institutions have focused on economic issues
stemming from the 1997-98 financial crisis. In the view of
many eastern Asian countries, the United States and
U.S.-influenced international institutions such as the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank
exploited the crisis to push a pro-market agenda on Asia.
When Japan proposed an Asian IMF in 1999, Washington
summarily rejected the idea but offered nothing in its
place to act as an institutional coordinating mechanism
capable of mitigating a future crisis. As a result, nations
in the region have been building new multilateral
organizations on their own. These include the Chiang Mai
Initiative, which allows the central banks from 13
countries to swap reserves in the event of a speculative
attack, and the ASEAN-plus-three forum. So far, the United
States has either ignored or been indifferent to these

In an ironic twist, however, Washington has stumbled into a
new Asian multilateral framework: the ongoing six-party
talks on Korean security and nuclear weapons involving the
United States, North and South Korea, Japan, China, and
Russia. Washington embraced this arrangement after
Pyongyang, in the wake of the collapse of the 1994 Agreed
Framework, insisted on talking directly to the Americans
about the future of its nuclear programs. U.S. policymakers
correctly saw this as an effort to divide the United States
from its South Korean ally and insisted on multilateral
talks instead. Over time, another important motive emerged:
only China had the economic leverage to bring North Korea
to the bargaining table. Indeed, Beijing strong-armed
Pyongyang into accepting the six-party format by briefly
cutting off its energy supplies.

The multilateral security framework that has unexpectedly
emerged in Northeast Asia provides an excellent opportunity
for institutional innovation. If and when the immediate
crisis over North Korea’s nuclear program passes, a
permanent five-power organization could serve as a direct
channel for communication between China, Japan, South
Korea, Russia, and the United States. The new group would
not be a NATO-like military alliance, but would instead
resemble the OSCE–with 55 member states, the world’s
largest regional security organization–and deal with
second-order security issues.


A five-power forum would be particularly useful in dealing
with several foreseeable problems. The first is a sudden
collapse of the North Korean regime. In the short run, such
an implosion would cause huge difficulties: coordinating
relief efforts, dealing with refugees, paying for
reconstruction, and containing any violence that might
ensue. Over the long run, the political deck in Northeast
Asia would be reshuffled: the rationale for the U.S.-South
Korean alliance would disappear, and tensions between a
unified Korea and Japan and China could rise for reasons
already indicated–all of which would be easier to tackle
in a pre-existing multilateral setting.

Another issue is Japanese rearmament. Japan will not revise
Article 9 this year or the next, but the handwriting is on
the wall. Although rearmament should not threaten China and
Korea, they will have many incentives to hype a new
Japanese threat; China, in particular, has used
anti-Japanese sentiment to bolster the communist regime’s
nationalist credentials. Germany, which rearmed and has
been moving down a similar path toward “normalcy,”
moderated the threat by encasing its sovereignty in several
international institutions, including NATO, the EU, and the
UN. A Japanese return to normality will seem much less
threatening if done within a regional security organization
as well as a continuing bilateral relationship with the
United States. But the new group’s relevance wouldn’t stop
there. A fully nuclear North Korea, a possible Asian arms
race, the implications of Chinese military
modernization–these are just a few of the potential
problems a five-power body could tackle.

At the same time, such a permanent forum would not be an
appropriate venue for other important matters. It would not
help deter a Chinese threat to Taiwan, though it could
conceivably provide a forum for resolving a crisis in the
Taiwan Strait. Nor would the five-power organization be
able to directly influence security problems in Southeast
Asia. Whether it may one day do so by admitting more
members is a question for the future.

There will be substantial practical obstacles to
transforming the current six-party talks into a permanent
organization. To start, hard-liners in the United States
will immediately object that the six-party format has
already proved ineffective: after three rounds of meetings
in August 2003, February 2004, and June 2004, the
negotiations seem to be going nowhere. In fact, the North
Koreans used the first meeting to announce their intention
to test a nuclear weapon, and they have generally thumbed
their noses at U.S. efforts to constrain their nuclear
program. Washington hoped to use the multilateral approach
to isolate Pyongyang; instead, the North Koreans have
turned the tables on the Americans and lined up support
from China and South Korea for a more accommodating line.
Given this track record, and Chinese ambivalence toward the
North Korean threat, why make this particular format

The answer is that the United States needs allies–the same
reason the six-party talks came into existence in the first
place. Those who are hawkish on North Korea seem to think
that once the diplomatic track has played itself out,
Washington can use the threat of force to pressure
Pyongyang to back down. Although military options at this
point seem off the table even for the hawks, hope remains
that the United States can somehow bring about North Korean
regime change by means other than war; unilaterally impose
a tough embargo that will keep nuclear materials bottled up
and increase pressure on the North; or frighten the Chinese
and the South Koreans into cooperating on a more
confrontational policy.

By itself, however, the United States does not have
sufficient leverage to implement any of these strategies.
Alone, Washington cannot force the North to back away from
its nuclear program or cajole Beijing and Seoul into an
anti-North Korea alliance, given their domestic policy
preferences. The current multilateral negotiations, for all
their limitations, remain the best U.S. option. The Bush
administration hard-liners began talks with the assumption
that no negotiated solution could work, given the failure
of the 1994 Agreed Framework, and therefore have never
sought to define a realistic new deal. Perhaps if the White
House does this during Bush’s second term, Pyongyang,
rather than Washington, will become the isolated power.

The second major obstacle to creating a permanent
five-power organization is North Korea itself, which does
not belong in any responsible community of nations, given
its human rights and security record. Pressing ahead too
rapidly to convert narrowly focused six-party negotiations
into a permanent five-power organization could undermine
the current talks and lead to North Korean obstructionism
on all fronts. The trick will be to isolate Pyongyang
within the six-party format while making the other five
powers comfortable with the prospect of working together
over the long term. North Korea’s current refusal to return
to the talks may even present an occasion for a five-power
meeting without Pyongyang. The larger goal aside, this
strategy is something Washington should work toward to
increase the pressure on Pyongyang. Eventually, the United
States may be able to put new issues on the table for the
five powers to discuss.

If the transition to a permanent five-power structure can
somehow be made, other issues will have to be addressed as
well. Should other countries in the region, such as India,
New Zealand, Australia, or any of the ASEAN members, be
added? Should there be an official link between the new
group and the ASEAN Regional Forum, or should individual
ASEAN states be considered for membership?

Finally, there is the question of how a security forum of
five powers or more would relate to the Asian multilateral
economic groups already taking shape or being proposed,
such as the Chiang Mai Initiative or ASEAN plus three.
Should the United States support regional economic
integration even if it does not have a seat at the table,
as it has supported the EU? Or should Washington regard
economic multilateralism as a threat and weaken these
initiatives in favor of global organizations such as the
Bretton Woods institutions or the WTO?

Whether the United States likes it or not, the countries of
eastern Asia have a strong incentive to increase their
formal multilateral economic cooperation: global
institutions such as the IMF are distrusted as overly
dominated by the United States and unresponsive to Asian
concerns. Washington would better serve its interests by
supporting and shaping the evolution of these institutions
from the outside, rather than by playing an obstructionist
role. The United States can cement its formal role in
eastern Asia by maintaining its network of bilateral
alliances and by working toward a new multilateral security
organization. Ultimately, Washington’s relationship with
Asian multilateral organizations would mirror the
relationships it has with the EU and NATO–dealing with one
from the outside and the other from the inside. Whatever
multilateral institutions take shape in Asia will never
achieve the strength and cohesion of their European
counterparts, but the United States should regard them as
hedges against the possible unraveling of the existing
bilateral security system.


The final and perhaps most urgent reason for the Bush
administration to re-envision its approach to Asian
diplomacy has as much to do with the United States’ status
in the world as with its standing in eastern Asia. The Iraq
war has isolated Washington in unprecedented ways and
convinced a large part of the world that the United
States–not Islamist terrorism–is the biggest threat to
global security.

To climb out of this hole, the White House needs to start
thinking creatively about legitimacy and international
organizations. Considering that it has already snubbed the
UN and refused to participate in the International Criminal
Court or the Kyoto Protocol, Washington must now consider
alternatives to international cooperation that better suit
its interests. The United States will be better served by
endorsing a series of overlapping and occasionally
competitive multilateral organizations than by putting all
its eggs in a single basket such as the UN. A permanent
five-power organization in eastern Asia would help provide
the foundation for the new order in that region–a small
building block in a larger multi-multilateral edifice.

The idea of permanently institutionalizing the six-party
talks has been discussed with increasing frequency in
Washington policy circles in recent months. Such an
organization will not come about, however, unless President
George W. Bush decides to take the initiative to make it
happen. The advent of a new term for Bush and his
administration provides a fortuitous opportunity to
reconceive the United States’ long-term political
architectures. Being the sole superpower bestows a certain
responsibility for the global public good. It means not
just exercising hard military power against rogue states,
but also shaping the international environment in
anticipation of new political demands. The United States
stepped up to this challenge after 1945; it should do so
again in the post-September 11 world.