In recent decades, many of the countries of East Asia have transformed themselves from backward, agrarian societies into major economic powers. In fact, the region's economic growth has been astonishing. For example, China now enjoys one of the fastest growing economies in the world and Japan has the world's second-largest economy. Most East Asian nations appear to have recovered from the financial crisis that rocked the region several years ago.
In addition to this remarkable drive toward development, East Asia is experiencing profound political change. Taiwan and South Korea have managed to transform themselves from authoritarian states into full-fledged democracies. In both countries, opposition candidates have been elected to the presidency. Even China now appears to be experimenting with political reforms in the countryside. Perhaps equally surprising, the leaders of South Korea and North Korea held a remarkable summit in June 2000. This meeting has rekindled hopes for a peaceful settlement of the thorny Korean reunification issue.
Today, the Western Pacific is more peaceful, stable, and prosperous than at any time in its history. At the same time, however, defense spending is on the rise. According to some estimates, the region's defense expenditures are poised to overtake those of the Middle East.
This study seeks to shed light on the military buildup in East Asia. Chapter 1 provides readers with a broad discussion of the U. S. ties to the Western Pacific and examines U. S. security policy toward the region. The chapter also provides a general overview of several “flashpoints” that could lead to armed conflict in East Asia. Despite the changes in inter-Korean relations, the most serious threat to peace and stability remains the Korean Peninsula. However, tensions over the socalled Taiwan question have escalated markedly in recent years. Another challenge to regional security may be found in the South China