Asia Forces New US Game Plan Crises in India and Indonesia May Force Clinton to Rethink His China-First Policy

By Peter Grier, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 18, 1998 | Go to article overview

Asia Forces New US Game Plan Crises in India and Indonesia May Force Clinton to Rethink His China-First Policy


Peter Grier, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


An Asia suddenly aflame with problems is presenting Bill Clinton with among the most complex and challenging tests of American power he has yet faced during his presidency.

In the past, his interest in Asia has focused mainly on one nation: China. But today hot spots all across the region threaten core US interests. India's belligerent nuclear nationalism calls into question the very structure of atomic age arms control. Indonesia's descent into chaos is rocking Southeast Asian stability, and, by extension, perhaps hitting US economic growth.

Asia dominated the the summit of world economic leaders over the weekend in Great Britain, where President Clinton also raised the specter of cold war-like regional tensions arising on the continent. Increasingly, say some experts, Asia now looks like an interlocking puzzle. Its crises need to be addressed by a larger plan. No longer can a single - albeit huge - issue such as China be seen as a problem to be dealt with in isolation. "If we had paid as much attention to engaging India as we have paid to engaging China, it's just possible they wouldn't have felt as urgently that they had to unilaterally explode a nuclear test," says Gideon Rose, deputy director of national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Mr. Clinton and his fellow G-8 summiteers urged Pakistan not to follow India down the nuclear testing path. At time of writing, reports that Islamabad had already carried out such a test were being denied by a Pakistani government spokesman. "The answer is not for India to become a nuclear power, and then for Pakistan to match it stride for stride, and then for China to be brought in to support the Pakistanis and move troops to the Indian border, and for Russia to come in and to re-create in a different context the conflicts of the cold war," Clinton said. "It is a nutty way to go. It is not the way to chart the future." On Indonesia, the summit leaders agreed that continued domestic turmoil underscored the need for greater financial stability in the region. Clinton said that Indonesian President Suharto, in power for 32 years, must find a way to "deal with all elements of society on some sort of democratic basis." The promise of a new era When he took office, Clinton promised to pay more attention to Asia than his Europe-centric predecessors had. In 1993, he stood with Asian leaders in Seattle and movingly promised a "New Pacific Community" of trade and friendship. But since then US attention has in fact been episodic, some Asian leaders complain. Mostly, US officials have spent time and effort trying to engage Beijing in a dialogue about democracy and human rights, while defending US-Chinese economic ties from domestic critics. Indeed, with the exceptions of normalization of US-Vietnamese relations and the attempt to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear program, China has dominated the agenda. …

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