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
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
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
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. …