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. …