INTERNATIONAL ISSUES, THE U.S ASIAN PIVOT, JAPAN AND ASIA

INTERNATIONAL ISSUES AND ASIA

It can be argued that mutual distrust and suspicion---especially towards China and Japan---and the forming of alliances to counteract distrust and suspicion is the bond that holds Asia together. China and Korea have a history of antipathy towards Japan while India is wary of China, which invaded India in the 1960s. Thus it is only natural that India and Japan forge a strong relation. Distrust towards China has also brought Japan and the nations of Southeast Asia closer togther.

In September 1997, Ronnie Chan, the billionaire chairman of the Asian Society of Hong Kong, told an audience at a World Bank meeting: "What does the East need from West. We need its technology, its military umbrella, its capital and its markets. What does the West need from us? Not much."

There is some discussion of created a Asian organization along the lines of the European Union.

In April 2005, Jarkarta hosted the Asian-African Summit. About 100 countries in Asia and Africa took part. Its aim was to strengthen a comprehensive and cooperative relationship between Asia and Africa in the political, economic, socio-cultural spheres. The theme of the Conference was "Invigorating the Bandung Spirit: Working towards a New Asian-African Strategic Partnership." This is a reference to Asian-African Conference 1955, a historic meeting held in Bandung in 1955 in which leaders and foreign ministers of 29 Asian and African countries gathered on the initiative of the leaders of the Third World at that time, including Premier Chou En-lai (China), President Achmed Sukarno (Indonesia) and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru (India). The Conference is recognized therefore as a symbol of unity among the Asian and African countries. [Source: Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs]

Asia’s Divisions, Troubles and Animosities

Joshua Kurlantzick wrote in the Washington Post in 2008: “So much for the Asian century. The Thais are bickering with themselves, and when they're done doing that, they'll bicker with the Cambodians -- again. China may be Japan's biggest trading partner, but they hate each other anyway. Malaysia and Indonesia? Two countries divided by the same language. From where I stand, the place is a geopolitical mess. Hogtied by nationalism and narrow self-interest, the countries of the East won't be banding together to replace the West as the seat of global power -- at least not anytime soon. [Source: Joshua Kurlantzick, Washington Post, September 7, 2008]

“Of course, an Asian version of the European Union isn't out of reach, as many Asian leaders know. But today, the continent battles a kind of split personality. On the one hand, many cultural, economic and political trends suggest that Asian nations are becoming more integrated than ever before. But on the other, a virulent nationalism is spreading in the region, one that feeds on reinterpreted -- or even imaginary -- history to gin up hatred and push small-minded agendas. [Ibid]

“Elites in Asia clearly understand the benefits of integration, and businesses and officials together are promoting the trend. In 2004, China replaced the United States as Japan's biggest trading partner. Chinese yearly trade with the ten Southeast Asian nations surpasses $200 billion in 2010.With the expansion of satellite television, Asian airlines and regional hiring by Asian conglomerates, businesspeople watch the same news, cool their heels together in a slew of space-age international airports and mingle at cocktail parties and pan-Asian business summits. Fads that start in Tokyo or Seoul, such as drinking red wine or dying hair blond, sweep through the region. At summits of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), I've seen packs of diplomats gathered at bars swapping stories in fluent English about their hijinks during graduate school at Johns Hopkins University. [Ibid]

“Despite all that love, most of the region's multilateral institutions do little more than meet for the sake of meeting. In Cambodia and Laos, local officials and fishermen despair that dams built by China on the upper portion of the Mekong River are blocking water flow -- and ravaging fishing in the southern stretch of that river that snakes through their countries. "But when we . . . try to bring this up at ASEAN meetings," Sokhem Pech, a leading Cambodian Mekong expert, told me, "no one even wants to talk about it." The committee officially monitoring the Mekong, which doesn't include China, is so feeble that it rarely speaks out on the issue. [Ibid]

“The problem: Calls to nationalism and an obsession with sovereignty are drowning out calls for cooperation. The passage of time since World War II, when nationalism led to catastrophe, has allowed politicians to wield it more freely for short-term gain. "The Chinese are ignorant, so they are overjoyed," Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara quipped after China launched a manned spaceship in 2003. "That [spacecraft] was an outdated one. If Japan wanted to do it, we could do it in one year." [Ibid]

“This sort of nationalism isn't the stuff of a few firebrands. Across the continent, populist politicians have scrubbed school textbooks, whether to minimize Japan's atrocities in South Korea and China during World War II or to erase the memory of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia -- perhaps because Prime Minister Hun Sen was an officer in the genocidal regime before he turned against it. Traveling to Cambodia, I meet teenagers who know practically nothing about what happened in their country in the 1970s. China, too, has whitewashed the memory of the Tiananmen Square crackdown of June 4, 1989. When a "Frontline" documentary crew went to Beijing University a few years ago and showed students the iconic 1989 photograph of the man who stopped a tank in its tracks, no one recognized it. [Ibid]

“Politicians aren't the only ones embracing nationalism. In 2002, when Thailand was still recovering from its financial meltdown, government-backed filmmakers produced "The Legend of Suriyothai" to restore their country's wounded pride. One of the most expensive pictures in Thai history, it told the story of an ancient Thai queen who died fighting Burmese invaders -- and compounded Thais' hostility toward Burma, their neighbor to the west. [Ibid]

“The Internet has further empowered Asian nationalists, allowing them to air their vitriol unchecked. On Chinese online bulletin boards such as the "Strong Nation Forum," which is run by the People's Daily, respondents compete for the most aggressive stance and ridicule Chinese leaders for compromising on issues such as relations with neighboring countries or Tibet or Taiwan. In Japan, the blogosphere helped spark sales of the manga comic book "Hating the Korean Wave." And in Indonesia, online writers helped fuel anger at neighboring Malaysia for the use of a supposedly Indonesian jingle in a tourism campaign and for the mistreatment of an Indonesian karate referee. These are petty grievances, but the Internet amplifies even the smallest outbursts, and reactions can be fierce. Just last week, Vietnam's foreign ministry called in China's ambassador to protest the appearance on Chinese Web sites of "invasion plans" that purported to detail the occupation of Vietnam by the People's Liberation Army. [Ibid]

Whenever I visit Asia, I meet young people who detest neighbors they barely know. "The Thais, all they care about is money. Nothing else," one Burmese acquaintance told me in Rangoon, despite the fact that he'd never actually been to Thailand. In one study taken last year by a leading Japanese nongovernmental organization, two-thirds of the Chinese polled said they had either a "very bad" or "relatively bad" impression of Japan. [Ibid]

“As any politician can tell you, public opinion counts. In an open society such as the Philippines, rising anti-Chinese sentiment helped force the government in September 2007 to suspend China-funded projects valued at $4 billion. Even countries that have little history of animosity toward each other can be swept into a rage by the new nationalists. In 2006, after Singaporean state investment fund Temasek Holdings purchased Thai telecommunications giant Shin Corporation, Thai bloggers and online columnists condemned the deal, arguing that a Singaporean company would have control over sensitive Thai communications infrastructure. Thousands of Thais marched to Singapore's embassy in Bangkok -- a move that left urbane Singaporean diplomats, more accustomed to managing business deals than bullhorns, a bit flat-footed. [Ibid]

United States and Asia

Most analysts agree that the United States has been a stabilizing force in Asia. All the counties in East Asia, except China and North Korea, say they want a U.S. presence in the region. The presence of the U.S. military deters China from acting too aggressively towards Taiwan or any other of its neighbors.

"Although the countries along the east Asian rim differ dramatically in language, religion, historical experience and government structure," wrote James Fallows in the U.S. News and World Report, "they operate more and more as a single economic system---over which the United States has less and less control. Year by year, each Asian country does a larger fraction of its business with other Asian nations and a smaller fraction with the United States.”

"The United States, however, remains a crucial linchpin in this system. Its Seventh Fleet keeps China, Korea and Japan from arming as rapidly against one as they otherwise would. American universities and research centers still generate much of the technology put to commercial use in Asia. With a $100 billion annual trade deficit with Asia, America is the Asians best customer."

Certification is a process in which the United States decides whether or not 31 countries in Latin American and Asia or doing enough to combat drug trade. Decertification results in economic sanctions and the cut of aid from American and international institutions. Myanmar and Columbia have been decertified in the past.

See Military

United States and Asia Under Obama

In October 2011 U.S. President Barack Obama greeted South Korean President Lee Myung-bak at the White House by saying: "The United States is a Pacific nation, and America is leading once more in the Asia Pacific." In September 2010 he welcomed leaders from ASEAN countries. He said then: “As a Pacific nation, the United States has an enormous stake in the people and the future of Asia. We need partnerships with Asian nations to meet the challenges of growing our economy, preventing proliferation and addressing climate change. The United States plans to play a leadership role in Asia.

Either Obama or top cabinet members such Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have made an effort to show up at ASEAN, APEC and East Asian Summit meetings, something that didn’t happen during the Bush administration.

In 2009, Hillary Rodham Clinton made her first overseas trip as secretary of state to several Asian countries. In November 2011, Foreign Policy magazine published an article by Clinton entitled “America's Pacific Century." "Harnessing Asia's growth and dynamism is central to American economic and strategic interests and a key priority for President Obama," she wrote "Open markets in Asia provide the United States with unprecedented opportunities for investment, trade and access to cutting-edge technology. Our economic recovery at home will depend on exports and the ability of American firms to tap into the vast and growing consumer base of Asia." [Source: David Nakamura, November 10, 2011]

The U.S. “post-World War II commitment to building a comprehensive and lasting trans-Atlantic network of institutions and relationships has paid off many times over---and continues to do so,” Clinton wrote in her Foreign Policy essay. “The time has come for the United States to make similar investments as a Pacific power.”

Obama Administration’s “Pivot to East Asia”

In 2011, after Hillary Clinton authored the article “America's Pacific Century” in Foreign Policy magazine, the Obama administration focused attention on the region with its "Pivot to East Asia" regional strategy, whose key features are: 1) strengthening bilateral security alliances; 2) deepening our working relationships with emerging powers, including with China; 3) engaging with regional multilateral institutions; 4) expanding trade and investment; 5) forging a broad-based military presence; and 6) advancing democracy and human rights. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The American military and diplomatic 'pivot,' or 'rebalance' toward Asia became a popular buzzword after the Clinton article in Foreign Policy. In the article Clinton emphasized the importance of the Asia-Pacific, noting that nearly half of the world's population resides there, making its development vital to American economic and strategic interests. She states that "open markets in Asia provide the United States with unprecedented opportunities for investment, trade, and access to cutting-edge technology. Our economic recovery at home will depend on exports and the ability of American firms to tap into the vast and growing consumer base of Asia. Strategically, maintaining peace and security across the Asia-Pacific is increasingly crucial to global progress, whether through defending freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, countering the proliferation efforts of North Korea, or ensuring transparency in the military activities of the region's key players." +

The 'pivot' strategy, according to Clinton, will proceed along six courses of action: strengthening bilateral security alliances; deepening America's relationships with rising powers, including China; engaging with regional multilateral institutions; expanding trade and investment; forging a broad-based military presence; and advancing democracy and human rights. +

What Exactly Does “Pivot to East Asia” Mean

Matt Schiavenza wrote in The Atlantic: “Simply put, the pivot is meant to be a strategic "re-balancing" of U.S. interests from Europe and the Middle East toward East Asia. But what does that really mean, in practice? Closer relations between Washington and Asia aren't new -- trade between the continent and the United States, and between the U.S. and China in particular, has exploded in the past two decades, so in a way the "Pivot to Asia" is just placing a name on a trend that has been going on for years. [Source: Matt Schiavenza, The Atlantic, April 15, 2013 \=/]

“But there's more to it than that. First, the Obama Administration wanted to signal that the Bush-era obsessions with the Middle East, democratization, and terrorism were over. The September 11th attacks and the subsequent occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan diverted Washington's attention from an East Asia that had become, in the words of the Council on Foreign Relations' Elizabeth Economy, an "economic center of gravity". So, in short, the pivot made sense both in terms of domestic politics and international affairs -- which is probably why it happened...Obama, according to Justin Logan of the Cato Institute, is a firm believer in the pivot: he even prefers the term to the more neutral "re-balancing" introduced as a softer touch by his administration. \=/

“And what does it entail exactly? So far, not much. The United States shifted 2,500 Marines to a base in northern Australia, a move that raised eyebrows in China, but otherwise Washington has taken very few concrete steps to match the pivot. One issue that is worth watching, though, is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This is a free trade agreement that links a number of Asia-Pacific countries (including Japan, Chile, and the United States- South Korea has declined to join for the time being.) and represents one of Washington's most ambitious trade proposals in years. On Friday, the U.S. and Japan concluded preparatory negotiations for the latter's entry into the accord, signaling even closer economic engagement with Washington's strongest traditional ally in the region. \=/

“In general, expect the United States to seek closer ties -- both militarily and economically -- in the years ahead with countries dotting the Pacific Rim. This is a win-win: For Washington, improving relations with established markets like Tokyo and Seoul and emerging ones like Jakarta and Manila presents tremendous opportunity, while for these countries the American presence acts as a check against growing Chinese power. \=/

“So this is about China, then, isn't it? Yes and no. Without question, China's rise is The Big Story in East Asia, and Beijing has been throwing its weight around the neighborhood more in the past handful of years, from clashing with Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands to laying an expansive claim elsewhere in disputed maritime territory. The United States is the only country with enough muscle to check China's rise, and many of the smaller countries in East Asia have sought reassurance from Washington that it remains invested in the region. It isn't a coincidence, as Economy notes, that The Philippines allowed the U.S. to resume hosting military forces at the Subic Bay base for the first time in almost 20 years. \=/

“But it's important to remember that Asia is a very large place, and that American interests there go beyond the desire to manage China's rise. Asia serves as the backdrop to many of the world's most pressing issues, from nuclear proliferation to climate change, and remains indispensable to the functioning of the world economy. So while the rise of China is the single biggest causal explanation for the pivot, it's far from the only one. \=/

Reaction to the Obama Administration’s “Pivot to East Asia”

Kevin Rudd, the former Prime Minister of Australia, believes that Obama's 'pivot' or rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific region is appropriate. "Without such a move, there was a danger that China, with its hard-line, realist view of international relations, would conclude that an economically exhausted United States was losing its staying power in the Pacific." With the United States now fully invested in Asia, Rudd says Washington and Beijing must create long-term cooperative strategies that accommodate each other's interests. Doing this would significantly reduce miscalculation and the likelihood of conflict. Rudd maintains that the United States’ rebalancing is not purely a military one but rather "part of a broader regional diplomatic and economic strategy that also includes the decision to become a member of the East Asia Summit and plans to develop the Trans-Pacific Partnership, deepen the United States' strategic partnership with India, and open the door to Myanmar." Beijing may not welcome the pivot, but Rudd believes China, whose military academies read Clausewitz and Morgenthau and respect strategic strength, understands it. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Robert S. Ross, an Associate at the John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University, argues that the ‘pivot’ toward China is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby U.S. policy “unnecessarily compounds Beijing’s insecurities and will only feed China’s aggressiveness, undermine regional stability, and decrease the possibility of cooperation between Beijing and Washington.” The United States is minimizing long-term diplomatic engagement and inflating the threat posed by Chinese power when it should really be recognizing China’s inherent weaknesses and its own strengths. “The right China policies would assuage, not exploit, Beijing’s anxieties, while protecting U.S. interests in the region.” +

Prem Mahadevan, senior researcher at the Center for Security Studies (CSS) at ETH Zurich, argues that two complementing circumstances in the Asia-Pacific have precipitated the pivot: "The security dynamic in East Asia is two layered; one layer consists of regional actors pursuing their own agendas, while the second consists of global influences which are propelling China into a geopolitical contest against the United States. On a grand strategic level, both sets of dynamics feed into one another." Consequently, newly commissioned ships and fifth generation aircraft are being prioritized for the Pacific theater of U.S. military operations to maintain the balance of power. "It is expected that when the 'rebalancing' or 'pivot' of forces from the Atlantic to the Pacific is complete, 60 percent of the U.S. Navy will be based in the Pacific – a 10 percent increase from current levels. In effect, the theater would gain one additional U.S. aircraft carrier, seven destroyers, ten littoral combat ships and two submarines, plus reconnaissance assets such as EP3 spy planes." In contrast the permanent bases and other infrastructure of the Cold War, the pivot will use rotational deployments to host nation facilities. James F. Amos has said that by avoiding a few large bases, the American forces will be a harder target for ballistic missiles. The power of the pivot will be boosted by American arms sales to the region. +

The pivot took a hit from the United States federal government shutdown of 2013 as Obama was forced to remain in Washington and so could not attend APEC Indonesia 2013. Commander of Pacific Air Forces Herbert J. Carlisle has acknowledged that resources have not been committed to the pivot due to other American commitments and Budget sequestration in 2013. Katrina McFarland, assistant secretary of defense for acquisition, has said that the pivot was being reconsidered in light of the budget pressures. +

Bantaro Bandoro, a professor at the Indonesian Defence University told AFP Obama's postponement of visits to the Philippines and Malaysia due to the US government shutdown and failure to attend an APEC summit in Bali and the East Asia summit in Brunei were "very bad decisions". "It's not only a blow to the US's strategic objectives, but it might damage the image of the US in the Southeast Asian region," he said. US analysts also questioned the cancellations. Brookings Institution scholar Joshua Meltzer said that while US allies would understand Obama's decision, it sends a negative signal. "I don't think they question the sincerity of the policy of rebalancing towards Asia," he said, but warned there were questions about the administration's capacity to "execute" the pivot in its entirety. [Source: AFP, October 3, 2013]

New Push for the Military Side of the Asian Pivot?

In August 2013, Chua Chin Hon wrote in the Strait Times, “US officials have been emphasising their intention to rebalance within Asia, going beyond merely shifting resources and attention from Iraq and Afghanistan towards the Pacific region in general, as outlined in the original policy. This new push will specifically see Washington increase its security, economic and diplomatic collaboration with South-east Asia, a region where the US is “especially underweighted”, according to former US national security adviser Tom Donilon. [Source: Chua Chin Hon, Strait Times, August 28, 2013 *^*]

“US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel gave the most detailed outline yet of this move, particularly on the security front. Addressing a gathering of top defence officials at Malaysia’s Institute of Defence and Security in Kuala Lumpur, he announced that the Pentagon is seeking a 50 per cent increase in its funding to support foreign militaries and training in Southeast Asia. He also spoke at length about the US roping in more regional countries, including Malaysia, in its military exercises. And in remarks sure to get Beijing’s attention, Hagel noted that Washington could sell more weapons and further share military expertise with Asean countries, with the eventual goal of “moving towards co-production and co-development of new platforms with our closest partners”. “This will allow us to share American technology and expertise which will further deepen our security partnerships,” he added. “We are currently working with Japan and Singapore on these kinds of initiatives, and we are looking to expand this important engagement with other countries in the region.” *^*

“From Kuala Lumpur, Hagel travelled to Jakarta where he demonstrated that his remarks about closer security cooperation with Asean weren’t throwaway lines in a long speech. With his Indonesian counterpart Purnomo Yusgiantoro by his side, Mr Hagel announced that the US will, for the first time, sell a fleet of eight Apache attack helicopters to Indonesia. The US$500 million deal comes about two years after the US agreed to provide Indonesia with 24 refurbished F-16 jets. “Providing Indonesia these world-class helicopters is an example of our commitment to help build Indonesia’s military capability,” said Hagel. *^*

“Prior to his visit to South-east Asia this week, Washington and Manila have also been talking up the prospects of expanding the US military presence in the Philippines, citing the need to help maintain freedom of navigation in the region. This rebalancing within Asia, or a “pivot within the Asia pivot policy” as some have called it, will be welcome by most Asean countries, even if many of the same doubts surrounding the original policy will remain. For one thing, can Washington sustain its focus in South-east Asia while Egypt and Syria descend further into chaos? Second, can the Pentagon maintain its ambitious engagement programmes given the deep cuts to its budget over the next decade? *^*

“This purported new phase of the US rebalancing strategy raises interesting new questions as well. The obvious one is whether the increased emphasis on Southeast Asia would entail a strategic scale-back in military assets based in Japan and South Korea, where the bulk of US forces in the region are located. Hagel and Donilon have given assurances on separate occasions that America’s alliances with South Korea and Japan remain the “cornerstones” of its regional security policy. But it’s no secret either that US military bases in both East Asian countries have become political headaches with no easy relief in sight. *^*

“If more Southeast Asian countries can be persuaded to host US troops and military assets on a rotational basis, it might yet provide Washington with a compromise solution via the well-known “places, not bases” strategy. Under this strategy, the US merely seeks access to the host country’s naval facilities, for example, instead of running a full-fledged base. The Philippines, which hosted major US military facilities until the early 1990s, is an obvious option. Washington’s warming relations with Myanmar and Vietnam make for interesting possibilities in the future. *^*

“A bigger question is whether the growing militarisation of South-east Asia is necessarily a good thing. While a legitimate argument can be made for the upgrading of the region’s less advanced militaries, such as the Philippine and Indonesian armed forces, a sharp influx of new weaponry will only heighten concerns about the already tense territorial disputes in the South China Sea involving China and several Southeast Asian claimant states. Others, however, will argue that this is the inevitable response to an increasingly powerful and assertive Chinese military. *^*

Relations Between United States and Southeast Asia

ASEAN traditionally has had very close ties with the United States. It was founded with the encouragement of the U.S. at a time when it was embroiled in the Vietnam War. The U.S. Secretary of States sometimes attends ASEAN meetings.

Many in Southeast Asia felt that U.S. President George W. Bush neglected the region to focus on Iraq and Afghanistan when he was president from 2001 to 2009. Fareed Zakaria wrote in Newsweek: The Bush administration's basic policies in Asia have been intelligent. Washington has maintained good and productive relations with China while also strengthening ties to Japan, India, Australia, Singapore and Vietnam. But the relationship is plagued by two problems. First, the administration has been obsessed with Iraq, and so everything else, including Asia, gets too little sustained and strategic attention. Second, America is still beleaguered by the total collapse of its image abroad, which makes it difficult for countries like Indonesia and Thailand to take measures that are seen as pro-American. [Source: Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, April 30, 2007]

Kavi Chongkittavorn wrote in The Nation: “Throughout the Bush administration's time in office, terrorism has been the one issue that dictated every move in US diplomacy. After the tragic events of September 11, Southeast Asia became a second front in the war on terror and the US grew eager to forge closer ties with the region. However, when the US invaded Iraq in 2003, the entire counter-terrorism effort in the region backfired. Anti-American sentiment grew, and regional friends to take part in the US-led "coalition of the willing" were hard to come by with the exception of Singapore.” After that “the US has judged the value of its friendship by the level of cooperation countries provide on terrorism, and other stringent measures demanded by Washington. This absolutist approach enabled other major powers, such as China and even Russia, to establish closer political ties in the region. [Source: Kavi Chongkittavorn, The Nation (Thailand), February 25, 2008]

“The second Bush administration had a dismal record of attendance at meetings with ASEAN. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice missed two ASEAN ministerial meetings. Worse, President George W Bush postponed a summit with his ASEAN counterparts at the last minute, reinforcing the negative impression that the region is not and never will be on the list of US priorities.” [Ibid]

Relations Between United States and Southeast Asia Under Obama

Hopes were high when U.S. President Barrak Obama was elected in 2008 that Southeast Asia would once again receive more attention and respect from the United States in part because of the years Obama spent in Indonesia when he was growing up. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended several ASEAN meetings and said the U.S. Is “committed to being an active partner. U.S. Defense Secretaries also visited the region.

Either Obama or top cabinet members such Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have made an effort to show up at ASEAN, APEC and East Asian Summit meetings, something that didn’t happen during the Bush administration. In September 2010 Obama welcomed leaders from ASEAN countries to the White House. He said: “As a Pacific nation, the United States has an enormous stake in the people and the future of Asia. We need partnerships with Asian nations to meet the challenges of growing our economy, preventing proliferation and addressing climate change. The United States plans t play a leadership role in Asia.”

Singapore's prime minister Lee Hsien Loong pointed out to Zakaria that nearly half of Southeast Asia's population is Muslim and said, "The single most important thing that the U.S. could do to shift its image in the region would be to take a more active role on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and in a balanced way. The issue is more important for Southeast Asia's Muslims than even Iraq." [Source: Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, April 30, 2007]

Obama Visits Southeast Asia in 2012

In November 2012, U.S. President Barack Obama toured Southeast Asia as part of an effort to refocus US foreign policy towards Asia. In his first foreign trip after his re-election as president, he made a historic visit to Myanmar (Burma), stopped for several hours in Thailand and joined am ASEAN meeting in Cambodia.

The BBC reported, “He became the first US president to visit Burma, which has been praised in the West for freeing hundreds of political prisoners and holding its first contested election. Analysts say the US is trying to counter the dominating influence of China in the region. During his Thailand visit Mr Obama met Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and King Bhumibol, the world's longest-serving monarch. [Source: BBC, November 18, 2012]

In Burma Obama held talks with President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Over the past year the US and other Western nations have relaxed the slew of sanctions they had imposed on Burma, which was ruled by a brutal military regime for five decades. But Mr Obama's aides told reporters aboard the president's plane that the US still had concerns about the extent of recent reforms.

China, the United States and Southeast Asia

When Donald Rumsfeld visited Vietnam as Secretary of defense in 2007 he said that nation of Asia share with the United States a desire to have good ties with China but are wary at the same time. “They have have China next door to them and they’re careful to keep goo relatios with China, and they want a balance in relations with is and relations with China.”

Sheng Lijun wrote on YaleGlobal online: While there is less public talk of a “China threat,” Washington can take some comfort from the fact that distrust of China remains deep-rooted in the region and may grow if a rising China enters too deep. ASEAN countries have not joined the China bandwagon but “hedge,” engaging China while developing robust ties with the US and other extra-regional powers to balance China. Asian countries generally do not have much trust for one another and the US is perceived as the least distrusted of all major powers. Asian nations need the US as a balancer and double insurance when they develop their relations with China. ASEAN is aware that without a strong relationship with the US, China may take ASEAN for granted. [Source: Sheng Lijun, YaleGlobal, January 11, 2007, Lijun is a senior fellow and founder/convener of ASEAN-China Study Program at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore. His books include “Big Powers and China’s ASEAN Policy” and “The Rise of China and Its ASEAN/East Asia Policy”]

“A vigorous but balanced relationship with the US is seen as not only security insurance but also an incentive for China to offer more economic sweeteners. Barring a sudden and major change in the international strategic landscape and a disaster in US Southeast Asia policy that would unexpectedly boost China’s influence by default, the more China pushes in deepening its relations with ASEAN, the more ASEAN may feel that it needs a strong relationship with the US and other extra-regional power to keep the balance. [Ibid]

“The US is, thus, still favourably poised to keep and enhance its position in this region. However, as illustrated by recent history, success depends less on “muscles” and more on “brain” that can quickly exploit any changes in the strategic environment, less on how many resources a country has but on how much it is willing to spend. Washington does not lack the resources, but the willingness to use them profusely for the region, at least for now.” [Ibid]

Disputes in Asia Involving China Increase U.S. Influence

Rising frictions between China and its neighbors in 2010 over disputes about islands amd maritime territory in the South China Sea and the East China Sea have given the United States an opportunity to strengthen its position in east Asia that has been diminished in recent years by China’s rise, the U.S. Being bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and China’s efforts to draw it neighbors into its orbit. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, September 22, 2010]

Washington has thrown itself into the middle of heated territorial disputes between China and Southeast Asian nations despite stern Chinese warnings that it mind its own business. The United States is carrying out naval exercises with South Korea in order to help Seoul rebuff threats from North Korea. The tense standoff between Japan and China over a Chinese fishing trawler captured by Japanese ships in disputed waters is pushing Japan back under the American security umbrella. [Ibid]

The U.S. has been smart, Carlyle A. Thayer, a professor at the Australian Defense Force Academy who studies security issues in Asia, told the New York Times. It has done well by coming to the assistance of countries in the region. At an ASEAN meeting in September 2010 the U.S. said it would support other Southeast Asian countries said free navigation in the area was a U.S. “national interest” and called for a “code of conduct” be established for “legitimate claims in the South China Sea.” [Ibid]

Some Chinese military leaders and analysts see an American effort to contain China. Feng Zhaokui, a Japan scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said in an article on Tuesday in The Global Times, a populist newspaper, that the United States was trying to nurture a coalition against China. In August 2010, Rear Adm. Yang Yi wrote an editorial for The PLA Daily, published by the Chinese Army, in which he said that on one hand, Washington wants China to play a role in regional security issues. On the other hand, he continued, it is engaging in an increasingly tight encirclement of China and is constantly challenging China’s core interests. [Ibid]

Asian countries suspicious of Chinese intentions see Washington as a natural ally. In Japan, insecurity about China’s presence has served as a wake-up call on the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance, said Fumiaki Kubo, a professor of public policy at the University of Tokyo. [Ibid]

United States as a “Referee” Between Japan, China and South Korea

On visits by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul at a time when Japan, China and South Korea were bickering with each other over a variety of territorial and World War II-era disputes, Josh Lederman of Associated Press wrote: “From one capital to the next, Biden found himself at the center of the dispute, playing referee for China and its neighbors. He also acted as emissary between Japan and South Korea in a separate feud between the U.S. allies. The intense diplomacy on issues far removed from Washington made clear the degree to which leaders in Asia still look to America to try to solve problems when it seems like no one else can. [Source: Josh Lederman, Associated Press, December 8, 2013 ////]

“Each country wanted something specific from Biden. Japan and South Korea wanted the U.S. to stand firm against China's unilateral declaration of an air defense zone over disputed islands in the East China Sea. Japan, in particular, wanted assurances the U.S. wouldn't acquiesce by advising U.S. commercial pilots to comply with the zone. China wanted the vice president to mimic specific phrasing about pursuing a "new model of major-country relations" that's become an officially sanctioned mantra for Chinese officials. He did, often. South Korea wanted Biden to help choreograph an exchange of public gestures between Seoul and Tokyo to alleviate resentments over Japanese colonialism that have reached a fever pitch. ////

“Biden just wanted everyone to cool it. He quietly urged Beijing to refrain from enforcing the airspace zone, hoping to give the government a way out, rather than insisting that it formally rescind the zone. He wanted Tokyo to drop its objections to a major trade deal. He wanted Seoul to avoid sudden movements and consult with its neighbors before expanding its own air defense zone to send a stern message to China. South Korea on Sunday said it was expanding its zone, which overlaps with China's, and the State Department said it supported the step. ////

“It's an open question whether Biden achieved the desired results, and all the issues he raised will require significant follow-up with the leaders he saw in Asia. In more than one instance, Biden's outreach seemed to brush up against the reality that some American diplomatic pursuits in Asia are working at cross purposes. Biden said the U.S. commitment to its allies is unwavering. But the U.S. is pursuing closer economic ties with China, whose growth and increasing assertiveness have the region on edge. ////

“Michael Green, a White House adviser on Asia in the George W. Bush administration, said by embracing Chinese diplomatic language about a new model of major-country relations, Biden sent an implicit message that America's bonds with allies like Japan and South Korea are becoming less important. "That was not the intended message, I am sure, but that is how it is being read by worried allied capitals," Green said. ////

“U.S. officials have said they don't want to be the mediator for regional disputes in Asia. In fact, the U.S. has tried to avoid taking sides on the question of sovereignty of the islands in the East China Sea — a major point of contention for China and its neighbors. But it's difficult to be "all in," as the White House has described its Asia policy, and also stay out. Asian nations looking to the U.S. for leadership and conflict resolution may be less inclined to welcome America's presence in the region if they perceive the U.S. only wants to engage when it has something to gain. ////

Japan and Asia

The Japanese are currently the biggest aid provider, trade partner and technological innovators in East Asia. Motorist drive Japanese cars; homeowners fill their houses with Japanese products. Many of peasants farmers using Japanese machines to help them cultivate rice. Many factory workers are employed by Japanese companies.

During the 1980s and 90s the Japanese played an increasingly bigger and bigger role in the economies of their Asian neighbors. Some of these countries said that what Japan unsuccessfully tried to achieve militarily in World War II it had achieved through technological imperialism and trade. East Asia countries benefitted from the trade, through the creation of more jobs; created huge markets for Japanese products as they became wealthier; while Japan and ate up resources such as timber at an alarming rate and

These days Japan is increasingly being eclipsed by China.

Japan and Southeast Asia Nations

Japan is a member of ASEAN Regional Forum. Japan, China and South Korea participate in ASEAN meetings although they are not members. ASEAN Plus Three refers to meetings involving the ASEAN countries plus South Korea, China and Japan. It is the closest thing there is to an Asia-wide organization. The ASEAN Regional Forum brings in Russia and the United States.

For a long time Japan’s policy towards it Asian neighbors was defined by the “Fukuda Doctrine” and Saburo Okita’s “Flying Geese formation” which to have good relations with China, be a leader to other countries in the region and provide aid and development money in return for good will. Japan’s embrace of capitalism and democracy has been an inspiration for all the countries of Asia. One World Bank economist wrote: "The Japanese like to compare Asia's economic development to a formation of flying geese, with Japan, whose economic miracle started in the 1950s at its head."

The Japanese have traditionally been the biggest aid provider and technological innovators in East Asia. They used to be the largest trade partner for most Asian countries but now battle with China for that title. Many of peasants farmers in East Asia are now using Japanese machines to help them cultivate rice.

Japan has failed to emerge as a major power in Asia in part because it has failed to deal with the history issue. Still it is very active in regional affairs. Many in Asia still don’t trust the Japanese. Singapore's Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew told Newsweek, “Whatever they do, they carry it to the apex, whether its making samurai swords or computer chips. They keep at it, improving, improving, improving...I think its in their culture... In any endeavor they set out to be No. 1. If they go back to the military, they will set out to be No. 1, in quality, in fighting spirit. Whatever their reason, they have built total dedication into the system, into the mind." Lee said a Japanese friend told me, "I don't trust us, the Japanese people. We get carried away to the extreme. It starts off small. It ends up going the whole hog.”

In November 2009, Japan and the five Mekong nations Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos signed an agreement to cooperate on protecting the environment and tackling global warming over the next ten years. The agreement was signed after a two-day meeting in Tokyo hosted by Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

The Japanese government initiated the Japan-Mekong Region Partnership Program in 2007, aiming to boost development in the Mekong region and help accelerate ASEAN’s integration as well as enhance the existing healthy relationship between Japan and the Mekong region countries. Since the inaugural Mekong- Japan Summit in November 2009 in Tokyo, the high-level summit has been convened annually where the leaders have underlined and expressed satisfaction at the progress of the implementation of the Tokyo Declaration and Plan of Action 63 as guidelines for a successful establishment of the New Partnership for Common Flourishing Future between Japan and the Mekong region countries. Cambodia will be honored to host the Fifth Mekong-Japan Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Cambodia in 2012.

Japan Pledges $24 Billion in Aid to Southeast Asia

November 2011, Kyodo reported, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced at an Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit that Tokyo will provide 2 trillion yen ($24 billion) worth of aid for development projects within ASEAN to strengthen regional integration, Japanese officials said. At the one-hour summit with leaders of 10-member ASEAN on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, Noda also expressed his commitment to boosting cooperation with the region over maritime security and safety amid China's increasing assertiveness at sea. [Source: Kyodo, November 18, 2011]

In a joint declaration issued afterward, Japan and ASEAN mapped out five strategies to promote peace, stability and prosperity in the region which include deepening political and security ties, cooperation in ASEAN community building and improving links between ASEAN and Japan. Thirty-three infrastructure projects are expected to be funded by Japan's official development assistance, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation and private sector funds, the officials said, adding that the country will also work with the Asian Development Bank. [Ibid]

Japan's aid for ASEAN is aimed at boosting ASEAN ''connectivity'' via better infrastructure in such fields as transport across borders and simplifying customs procedures. These efforts to improve links within the region are part of the ASEAN vision to create an economic community by 2015. The declaration mentioned maritime security in the wake of recent tension in the South China Sea, where China is involved in territorial disputes with four ASEAN members -- Brunei, Malaysia, and most recently and notably, Vietnam and the Philippines. [Ibid]

Japanese and ASEAN leaders in their 2003 Tokyo Declaration touched on the peaceful settlement of disputes in the region but did not specifically mention maritime security issues. Noda and his ASEAN counterparts said they will deepen their cooperation in accordance with universally agreed principles of international law including freedom and safety of navigation and peaceful settlement of disputes under relevant maritime laws such as the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. [Ibid]

Although Japan is not directly involved in the South China Sea, it is keen to help ASEAN resolve disputes peacefully, given tension over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are administered by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan. Among other issues, Japan and the ASEAN members also vowed to work together on disaster management and preparedness, especially since several ASEAN nations are vulnerable to natural disasters such as typhoons and floods, most recently exemplified by Thailand's massive flooding. [Ibid]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2014

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