Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

The Bush Administration and Changing Geopolitics in the Asia-Pacific Region

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

The Bush Administration and Changing Geopolitics in the Asia-Pacific Region

Article excerpt

The new U.S. Administration, under President George W. Bush, will face opportunities and challenges in re-orienting U.S. diplomacy according to some new concepts its officials espouse. The East Asia-Pacific region is still in transition from a Cold War bipolar structure to a regional system whose structures and parameters are not yet fully defined. In the main, as globalization replaces the Cold War, economic relations have supplanted strategic dimensions as the main priority in relations between states. Appropriate diplomacy now could enable a regional security architecture and institutional structure to emerge and secure greater stability for some time. Whether this will occur is far from clear.


In a realist analysis, the states of East Asia have emerged from the period of colonialism and Cold War to form a more classic regional inter-state system in which each pursues its own interests within the confines established by the advantages of membership of the system itself. The partial exceptions to this are North Korea, [1] which has recently shown quite strong indications of wanting to emerge from its isolationism, and Myanmar, which has tried to do the same thing. There are also residues of the Cold War in the form of several remaining communist regimes in North Korea, China, Vietnam, and Laos, and other governments with officials whose careers were first forged during that contest, including the United States, South Korea and, arguably, Australia, and New Zealand. What marks out the Asian regional system from other geographical systems is that there is little by way of a generalized regional security architecture. The exceptions to this generalization are limited in either geographic or functional s cope.

One notable institution is ASEAN, which was formed in 1967 and, until recently, was depicted as one of the world's most successful regional political associations. It perhaps ranked only behind the European Union in its historical record of producing co-operation and integration among its member states where previously there had been conflict and discord. During the last four years, that record has come to look less impressive as some of the old long-term leaders and regime structures of the member countries have changed, largely as a result of the Asian economic crisis and its knock-on effects. The "ASEAN way" has given way to a more determined pursuit of individual interest and, in some instances, ready criticism. In many respects, this new openness may not be a bad thing. However, ASEAN is geographically limited.

Nonetheless, in the 1990s, ASEAN did spawn the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which expanded out of the Dialogue Partners' meetings to produce regular, annual contacts with the major powers of the region. Coupled with other relationships, this has led to a growth in commitments to confidence-building measures, such as publishing national annual defence White Papers to reassure other states about military intentions, dialogues about difficult issues like the South China Sea, cultural, educational, and diplomatic exchanges, and even regular summit meetings to provide government-to-government contacts. The ASEAN plus three (China, Japan and South Korea) grouping came to fruition in 2000.

In contrast, the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) forum has proved to be almost entirely an instrument for economics but one that could not act in the face of the real economic/financial crisis encountered by several of its members in 1997-98. APEC's inability to act even in its designated sphere -- economics -- left little confidence in its capacity to intervene in other issues. It was merely an accident of timing that enabled the New Zealand APEC summit of 1999 to be the site of important negotiations, which helped to produce the international intervention in East Timor.

This scant regional security architecture compares unfavourably with what has emerged in Europe since the end of the Cold War. …

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