|Map of Asia|
CIAO DATE: 03/02
Volume 2, Number 3, October 2000
Full Issue (Download the complete issue in PDF format)
Multilateral gatherings during the past quarter--the ASEAN Regional Forum, the G-8 Okinawa Summit, and the UN Millennium Summit--served more to showcase key bilateral relationships and North Korea's continuing coming out than to promote multilateralism. In fact, North Korea managed to grab a portion of the spotlight at the two summits without even attending. Meanwhile, preoccupation with Mid-East events limited U.S. participation in the two Asian meetings and raised continued doubts about U.S. interest in multilateralism. Within the region, North-South Korea rapprochement continues, with the emphasis still more on show than substance. Outside the spotlight, ASEAN Plus Three (Japan, China, and South Korea) took on a new dimension; its first foreign ministers meeting may portend a shift in emphasis from economics to a broader agenda.
U.S. - Japan
After a frustrating inability to resolve even minor irritants in the U.S.-Japan alliance last quarter, Tokyo and Washington made some small but important breakthroughs on issues related to defense planning, financial support for U.S. bases, and Okinawa. President Clinton's decision to step out of intense Middle East peace negotiations to attend the Okinawa G-8 Summit certainly helped, as did the first bilateral defense and foreign ministers' meeting in two years. The success on the security side was somewhat offset by confrontations over whaling, telecommunications, and steel. Absent a larger strategic framework for the relationship, these smaller issues continue to tug the alliance back and forth. In anticipation of a new administration, a growing number of U.S. policy makers and analysts are beginning to focus on strategic goals for the alliance. The question remains whether Tokyo can do the same.
U.S. - China
The 20-year old practice of annually reviewing China's trade status ended with the U.S. Senate's passage of Permanent Normal Trade Relations for China, paving the way for China's entry into the World Trade Organization and boosting Sino-U.S. economic ties. Presidents Clinton and Jiang met at the UN Millennium Summit and reviewed the course of their bilateral relationship. As usual, they were at odds on many issues, including human rights and religious freedom in China, Taiwan, and U.S. missile defense programs. U.S.-Chinese defense ties advanced with Defense Secretary Cohen's visit to China, where he concentrated on engaging in strategic dialogue with military and civilian leaders. Sino-U.S. talks on arms control and non-proliferation resumed after a 14 month hiatus, but the two sides failed to narrow their differences on missile proliferation. Beijing closely followed the U.S. presidential campaign and began to get jittery.
U.S. - Korea
Following the historic June summit between South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, both Seoul and Pyongyang sought to further advance and solidify international support for gradual integration. The United States offered early and frequent support for ongoing inter-Korean rapprochement, but the rapid progress in talks between the two Koreas left some U.S. strategists seeking to catch up to Seoul's advances. The quarter had bookends of U.S. Defense Secretary Cohen underscoring the importance of a continued U.S. troop presence and calling for added vigilance against North Korean military activity. Both U.S. and ROK strategists called for a renewed and improved alliance that takes into account the thaw on the Korean Peninsula.
U.S. - Russia
Diplomatically and on the negotiating front, the U.S.-Russia relationship is essentially in limbo. Russia is waiting for the clock to run out on the Clinton administration and is positioning itself for whateveRussiadministration follows. U.S. policymakers, burned by the failure of reforms and reluctant to make any moves during an election, are busy deflecting domestic criticism in the partisan Cox Commission Report of Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore's handling of the Russia portfolio. At the same time, Russia is pursuing an active foreign policy strategy of its own, reinvigorating old relationships with former clients such as Iraq and North Korea, and reaffirming "strategic partnerships" with nations such as China and India to counter the U.S-dominated one superpower world.
U.S. - ASEAN
Violence continued to wrack Indonesia this quarter. West Timor exploded in rage when angry mobs led by pro-Indonesian militias exiled from East Timor burned down the offices of the UN High Commissioner of Refugees and brutally murdered three staff workers. Defense Secretary Cohen visited the region, shoring up U.S. partnerships and alliances while reiterating that Indonesia must bring the UN murderers to justice and disarm the remaining militias or risk international sanction. U.S. Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training military exercises were held in the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and Singapore. A U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement, concluded after five years in negotiations, will (if passed by the U.S. Congress) liberalize the Vietnamese market, increase transparency, and provide legal protections to U.S. businesses.
China - ASEAN
China's Vice President Hu Jintao made state visits to Myanmar, Thailand, and Indonesia this quarter. In Jakarta, he enunciated a "new concept of security." China also hosted visits from the President of Laos and Prime Minster of Vietnam. China's Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan attended the 33rd ASEAN Post-Ministerial Conference, 7th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), and other associated meetings before visiting Singapore. There was also increased activity regarding China's military relations with several regional states. In September China hosted an ARF meeting of heads of defense colleges, where its Defense Minister also advocated China's "new concept of security." Talks with ASEAN on a South China Sea Code of Conduct continued but made little progress.
China - Taiwan
The good news in cross-Strait developments is that tensions have eased, the situation has stabilized, and both sides want to resume dialogue. The bad news is that there has been no breakthrough on a formula for resuming dialogue and the prospects for resumption in the coming months are not bright. While PRC Vice Premier Qian has expounded some new ideas, Beijing remains focused on exploiting differences within Taiwan to pressure President Chen to accept its one-China principle. Under criticism, Chen has said he can go no further in accommodating Beijing. Meanwhile, problems at home are demanding more of Chen's attention. While there has been no diplomatic breakthrough, cross-Strait economic ties continue to expand, with both governments preparing for eventual World Trade Organization membership.
China - Korea
Seoul is getting a nasty taste of Beijing's inflexibility on several political issues that may become even more serious if not handled effectively. Although the garlic dumping dispute was settled, a potentially even more damaging dispute over lead fragments found in seafood imports from China has sparked indignation in the Korean public. Complaints are balanced by continued Korean interest in developing China's information technology sector, the possibility of China's inclusion in a future Northeast Asian free trade area, and the initiation of practical trilateral financial consultation with China and Japan. Chinese pressure to block the long-awaited visit of the Dalai Lama, renewal of direct economic links between the ROK and Taiwan, and China's continued detention of ethnic Korean Chinese citizens are among the prickly issues that are being suppressed or postponed in anticipation of Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji's upcoming visit to Seoul.
Japan - China
Tokyo and Beijing worked to smooth the increasingly sharp political edges of their bilateral relationship in advance of PRC Premier Zhu Rongji's October visit to Japan. Of particular concern were the activities of Chinese maritime research ships within Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone as well as the operations of Chinese navy ships in international waters off Japan. These actions produced a backlash against the government's proposed special yen loan package for China, resulting in postponement of final consideration until after the Foreign Minister's August visit to China. History also remained very much alive. Although Beijing attributed the cancellation of Transport Minister Morita's China visit to scheduling difficulties, voices within Japan attributed it to the Minister's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine to Japan's war dead. Meanwhile, the Japanese government began recovery of chemical weapons left behind at the end of the war.
Japan - Korea
The highlight in Japan-ROK relations was the September summit in Atami, Japan between Japanese Prime Minister Mori and ROK President Kim. President Kim continued as de facto interlocutor between Japan and North Korea, even as Seoul and Tokyo quietly and unassumingly continue building up good will. Meanwhile, the roadblocks to Japan-DPRK normalization remained immovable, although there were some promising signs. As one looks down the road, even best case scenarios appear somewhat unsettling from a Japanese security perspective. For Tokyo, the future greatly hinges on the extent to which DPRK intentions have changed fundamentally from revisionist and aggressive ones to a more cooperative and moderated outlook. Both skeptics and optimists would agree that the recent spate of "smile" diplomacy conducted by Pyongyang reflects a change in tactics largely for the purpose of regime survival.
Japan - Russia
Russian President Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Mori met twice this summer in Japan. The first meeting took place at the G-8 Summit on Okinawa in late July. Not much was expected and results bore out the predictions. The second meeting was an official summit in Tokyo in early September. The atmospherics were perfect. Putin dined with the Emperor, lunched at the Keidanren, and even had time to tumble on the judo mat. Not had a Russian leader been so warmly welcomed in Japan since Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev visited in 1991. Unfortunately, the results of his talks with Mori were mediocre at best and a spy scandal threatened to damage relations even more. Meanwhile, economic relations are as stagnant as ever. Although the Japanese assessed the summit and overall Russo-Japanese relations positively, it is difficult to escape the feeling that relations have only moved backward since early 1998.
China - Russia
In contrast to the lack of contact between Russian and Chinese top leaders for the first half of the year, the newly inaugurated Russian President Vladimir Putin began the third quarter in a whirl of presidential diplomacy which took him to Dushanbe (Tajikistan), Beijing, Pyongyang, Okinawa, and Tokyo. The three summit meetings between top Russian and Chinese leaders in less than two months, on both bilateral and multilateral occasions, were part of Putin's "eastern-phase" diplomacy.
India is in its third incarnation as an Asian player. Whether the expanded India-Asia interaction in 2000 is sustainable or short-lived remains to be seen. One certainty, however, is that post-nuclear test ties between India and the region have nearly normalized. Strong economic growth in India as well as a stable Indian government and focused diplomatic efforts buttressed this trend. And yet, on both India's and Asia's side, it is not clear that the current activism can be maintained. On India's part, a sustainable Asian engagement will depend upon governmental continuity, political stability, enhanced economic attractiveness, and a focused diplomacy. On Asia's part, similar factors as well as a stronger perception of India's usefulness will have to develop.