Clinton's Good Start on Relations in Asia

Article excerpt

PRESIDENT Clinton's visit to the Pacific-Asian region is a strong beginning in a part of the world that offers more hope than any other for constructive change during his administration.

While Europe is constrained by old traditions and rivalries, and such areas as the Middle East are full of political quicksand for foreign policymakers, it is Asia that is in a ferment of economic and political change.

It is here that Mr. Clinton can make his mark, and with his visit to Japan and South Korea last week, he is off to a good start.

He accomplished at least six significant achievements for US-Asian relations:

1. By visiting Asia, his first foreign trip since his Vancouver summit with President Boris Yeltsin of Russia, he sent a strong, positive signal of US interest in, and attention to, that part of the world.

2. The signal included a convincing declaration of American commitment to keep military forces in the Asia-Pacific region.

To South Koreans, he said: "Our troops will stay here as long as the Korean people want and need us." To other Asian countries he said:"Peace depends upon deterrence ... our commitment to an active military presence remains."

Citing measures the American military has taken in Asia to offset the closing of its big bases in the Philippines, Clinton reassured: "These are not signs of disengagement. These are signs that America intends to stay." These were also signs many Asians were anxious to receive, beset as they are by unhappy memories of Japanese expansionism in the past and uncertainties about Chinese expansionism in the future.

3. Particularly striking was the resolve the president displayed to prevent North Korea from building nuclear weapons. "It is pointless," he said, "for them to try to develop nuclear weapons." Then he delivered a chilling warning: "If they ever use them, it would be the end of their country."

This resolve is particularly reassuring to such countries as South Korea and Japan, which are in the first line of fire from North Korea. …