Clinton in Asia: Can He Recapture His Vision?

Article excerpt

As President Clinton travels to the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, it is worth asking what has happened to his "new Pacific community." In July 1993, Mr. Clinton proclaimed his vision of a new Pacific community built on "shared strength, shared prosperity and a shared commitment to democratic values." Since then, some progress has been made toward a greater sense of community, but sustained American leadership is needed.

Community can grow out of shared interests, common values, and cooperative endeavors that benefit all. A sense of community can't be mandated, even by presidential rhetoric. It can be nurtured by wise leadership, by patiently building relationships, and by taking advantage of underlying trends.

Underlying trends are favorable to greater cooperation and cohesion in the Asia-Pacific region. A key driving force is economic integration, which is bringing people together across political boundaries and giving countries a mutual stake in peace. The technological change that is sweeping through Asia contributes to this. Even the Asia-Pacific's vast distances have been shrunk by modern transportation and instant communications. Urbanization and the emergence of educated and internationally mobile middle classes are another part of the process. So is the gradual spread of democracy and political pluralism. The past decade has seen the emergence of fledgling organizations, APEC and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum (ARF), that both reflect and contribute to the region's growing sense of common interests. These are hopeful developments that can be guided and shaped through effective American leadership. But there are also countercurrents - historical suspicions, a rising nationalism that could warp Asia's self-confidence toward xenophobia, territorial disputes, and uncertain political transitions. In addition, there is the dichotomy between "Asian" and "Pacific" visions of the region's future - the former would exclude and the latter would include the United States. America's stakes in Asia are clear - economically, politically, and militarily. Our ties to the region grow as a result of immigration, trade, and the shrinking of the globe. The private sector understands this. Everywhere in Asia the expatriate American presence is increasing, US Chambers of Commerce are growing, and US-system schools are expanding. At home, universities are developing Asian programs, and Asian language study is rising. But America's interests in Asia have not received sustained attention from the administration. The president's hosting of the first APEC leaders meeting was important, but otherwise his attention to Asia has been sporadic. …