Academic journal article Policy Review

A "Concert of Asia"?

Academic journal article Policy Review

A "Concert of Asia"?

Article excerpt

Why There Is No Substitute for U.S. Power

AS THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION was brusquely reminded with events surrounding the forced landing of a United States reconnaissance aircraft on Hainan Island after a collision with a Chinese fighter, it will very likely have its hands full dealing with the AsiaPacific. Historic animosities and unresolved Cold War disputes, combined with continuing territorial disputes ranging from the South China Sea to the East China Sea, make for an insecure and unpredictable region. In addition, the issue of how to deal with China, a rising power and traditional hegemon in the region, is particularly problematic. Until the East Asian financial crisis of 1997, the conventional wisdom held that the region was set for an extended period of economic growth and tranquil security relations. To even question the notion of the Asia-Pacific as a place of progress, stability, and prosperity was to invite reproach for being out of touch with the reality of what one commentator described as a region characterized by "increased domestic tr anquility and regional order."

Such sanguine views of regional developments, prevalent in scholarly and diplomatic circles before 1997, clearly failed to appreciate the underlying tectonics of what in fact is a deeply unstable area, at once riven with serious fault lines both between states and within states themselves. As a result of the economic crisis, governments have fallen in Indonesia, Thailand, and South Korea or, as in Malaysia, have come perilously close to the precipice.

It is likely that regional fragility is set to increase. A number of analysts have taken comfort in the region's economic performance in 1999-2000, when the chance of further catastrophic decline appeared to have been arrested. The truth, however, is that many economies in the Asia-Pacific are stagnant. The partial and very patchy recovery since 1999 arose not out of any intrinsic resurgence in the Asia-Pacific economy or any fundamental structural reform and improvement in competitiveness. Instead, it has been the continued openness of a booming U.S. economy that has sustained what is essentially a two-year-long "dead-cat bounce" in the Asia-Pacific. The unexpectedly high demand in the United States provided a market for the heavily export-oriented economies of the Asia-Pacific. This factor singlehandedly revived the flagging export industries of the region. With the U.S. economy slowing down from a decade of unprecedented growth and even threatening to enter a recession, the economic outlook for the region as a whole, especially the weak and vulnerable states of Southeast Asia, is grim. With even leaner times ahead, further political instability will surely ensue.

In Northeast Asia, China muddles along in a bid to preserve social stability even while attempting to reform its economy in an effort to adapt to the terms to which Beijing acceded in negotiating entry into the World Trade Organization. Meanwhile, in Taiwan and South Korea, the ruling parties each face domestic opposition parties that resist current domestic and foreign policies. On the Korean Peninsula, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il pursues a policy of strategic blackmail whereby regional fears of war are exploited to sustain a corroding regime. Notwithstanding South Korean President Kim Dae Jung's sunshine diplomacy, Pyongyang shows no real signs of peacefully relinquishing the regime's only bargaining chip, its nuclear and conventional ballistic missile program. In Southeast Asia, other than Singapore, the core states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are facing various forms of internal dissension that have attended the financial crisis of 1997. Secessionist movements, such as those in Indonesia and the Philippines, or severe domestic political transitions (Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines) have devastated the straight-line projections of unrelenting economic growth that were proffered in the early and mid-1990s. …

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