The Blog

Engaging the East

Halting an erosion of influence.

11:45 PM, Apr 30, 2008 • By MICHAEL AUSLIN
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As AEI's Thomas Donnelly has put it, the United States needs to move
beyond a bilateral-based planning for defending discrete countries,
and instead view the western Pacific as "one continuous battlespace."
Defense of Taiwan, for example, will require flowing forces from Japan
and employing assets based in Australia or possibly South Korea.
Similarly, defending Japan from a North Korean missile attack will be
much harder if U.S. forces in South Korea are not able to participate.
It is thus good news that Seoul is eager to foster a "strategic
alliance" for the 21st century with the United States, one that
upgrades Korea's ability to buy U.S. weapons under the Foreign
Military Sales regulations and maintain a robust U.S. presence on the Korean peninsula.

Much more, however, needs to be done, beyond the dispatch of the
nuclear-powered U.S.S. George Washington to Yokosuka, Japan this
spring, and the upgrade of several Aegis ships in Yokosuka with SM-3
interceptor systems. With the growth in China's naval forces, both the
U.S. and Japan need to upgrade anti-submarine warfare (ASW)
capabilities, and Japan's aging
F-4 fighters have to be replaced soon. In addition, the United States
should deploy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), such as the Global Hawk,
to provide surveillance during crisis situations and general coverage
of key transit lanes. Repositioning of some U.S. forces off Okinawa
continues to bedevil U.S.-Japan relations, and over a decade has
passed without significant movement on this issue. At the same time,
Washington needs to assure Korean concerns that the drawdown in U.S.
forces to 25,000 troops is a floor, and does not presage larger force reductions.

Small Step No. 2: Developing a presence and voice in the development
of Asia's multilateral organizations. President Bush last month named
Burma expert Scott Marciel as America's first ambassador to the
Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). This long-overdue
step should finally begin to elevate the U.S. interaction with ASEAN,
and potentially serve as a model for formal U.S. representation to
other Asian multilateral organizations.

The United States has largely watched from the sidelines over the past
decades as the nations in the region have begun forming multilateral
organizations to discuss economic and political architecture. The
effectiveness of these groups is limited, and they are unable to play
major roles in resolving serious issues, as is clearly shown in the
ongoing inability to end Burma's political crisis. Nonetheless, an
American presence is a political necessity, because our lack of
attention results in these nations turning to China as a more reliable
partner on political and trade issues. Friendly nations, such as
Singapore, complain that Washington is AWOL on regional issues, while
Chinese diplomats visit each year, intent on expanding ties. Marciel's
nomination is a recognition that if we want to influence the
development of these groups, and help spread liberal ideas of
governance, diplomacy, and good economic practices, we have to be supportive in word and deed.

The East Asian Summit (EAS) is a perfect venue for Washington to
reestablish its presence in Asian multilateral fora. Our key ally,
Japan, pushed for the inclusion of Australia, India, and New Zealand
in the formation of the EAS, thereby assuring a democratic
counterweight to China, yet America currently does not even send an
observer delegation. Japanese Foreign Ministry officials urge their
U.S. counterparts to get more involved in the EAS, since it represents
the first time that nearly all Asian nations are coming together to
discuss common issues and explore ways to solve them. If we want Asia
to develop along lines that ensure accountability and involve liberal precepts, then we need to play a role.

Small Step No. 3: Reopening markets and pushing for free trade.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Trade Representative began a study of
whether Washington should participate in the full Trans-Pacific
Strategic Economic Partnership of Singapore, Chile, New Zealand, and
Brunei, known as the "P-4" group of countries. This small step only
amplifies America's lag in pushing for free trade agreements in Asia.
Whereas both China and Japan have concluded FTAs or economic
partnership agreements with ASEAN, and continue to look at a variety
of other pacts, the Democratic-controlled U.S. Congress is suffocating the free trade movement here in the United States.