|Map of Asia|
CIAO DATE: 03/02
Volume 1, Number 2, October 1999
Full Issue (Download the complete issue in PDF format)
U.S. national interests and policy in Asia have rebounded somewhat this quarter. Relations with America's key regional allies remained solid despite the potential for trouble caused by North Korea's unpredictability and the crisis in East Timor. The significant downturn in American relations with both China and Russia evident last quarter ameliorated somewhat, although tensions remain on both fronts. Meanwhile, U.S.-DPRK relations actually improved, although it is too soon to call North Korea's willingness to cooperate on the missile issue a break-through. Storm clouds remain on the horizon however, including how Washington and Canberra handle relations with Jakarta and the rest of ASEAN amid the democratic processes in Dili and Jakarta. Meanwhile, election politics in Taiwan keep alive the possibility of another political surprise from Taipei or more serious saber-rattling from Beijing. Even if the U.S. and China successfully come to terms over WTO and the Belgrade bombing, many other issues remain and will become more difficult to resolve as the U.S. presidential campaign swings into higher gear.
U.S. - Japan
U.S.-Japan relations this quarter were remarkably calm on the trade front, while important progress was made in bilateral security cooperation. Japan and the U.S. stood more-or-less in lock step on North Korea policy and reached important agreements on intelligence satellites and Theater Missile Defense; all could have been irritants in the alliance, but turned out on the positive side of the ledger. Meanwhile, trade disputes on steel and macroeconomic policy fell to a low simmer while none of the leading U.S. presidential campaigns focused on Japan as a trade problem. The only frightening problem looming for the alliance is how to handle next year's G-8 Summit in Okinawa. If there is no progress over the next quarter to resolve the Futenma base relocation issue, Obuchi and Clinton could face a disastrous reception when they meet in Nago, Okinawa in July. But Obuchi might even get lucky on that one.
U.S. - China
Sino-American relations have begun to thaw after a freeze of several months following the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. The mid-September meeting between Presidents Clinton and Jiang signaled Beijing's readiness to resume high-level contacts, but it remained uncertain whether the Chinese are prepared to restore normalcy to other facets of the bilateral relationship, such as military exchanges or official dialogues on human rights, arms control, and non-proliferation. Chinese and American negotiators have proceeded with discussions on China's entry into the World Trade Organization, although completing a deal this year may prove politically difficult in both countries.
U.S. - South Korea
Dealing with North Korea remains the central issue in U.S.-Republic of Korea (ROK) relations. Despite quite different policy priorities toward Pyongyang, the Clinton and Kim Dae-jung Administrations were able to maintain mutually supportive policies toward North Korea during the past quarter. This was possible because of consultations and accommodation between the administrations in Seoul and Washington, but also because North Korea generally refrained from specific actions that would have made it even more difficult for Seoul and Washington to reconcile their differences. Meanwhile, South Korea's desire to develop its own 500 km range missile remains a possible sore point, as do potentially differing views on resolving the naval boundary dispute between the North and South.
U.S. - Russia
From the nadir in U.S.-Russian relations since the Cold War occasioned by the NATO air campaign against Serbia, a slow improvement in ties could be detected during this period, even if Russia played the aggrieved party for all it was worth. Then the money-laundering scandal broke. The alleged involvement of Russia in the transfer of billions of dollars through U.S. banks, and claims of kickbacks to members of the Yeltsin family cast further shadows over Russia's image in the U.S. and in the West. The quarter ended amid signs of partial disengagement, further prompted by continued disagreement over a variety of arms control issues.
U.S. - ASEAN
The major event this quarter has been the carnage attendant upon East Timor's referendum on independence from Indonesia. Attempting to tread a thin line between supporting Indonesia during its own political transition while deploring the depredations of pro-integration Indonesian army-backed militias in East Timor, Washington joined a unanimous UN Security Council resolution for international peacekeepers--while limiting itself to a supporting (rather than leading) role. Mixed relations with Vietnam also featured prominently this quarter, with a new trade accord on the positive side despite the persistence of frictions over human rights.
China - ASEAN
Chinese diplomacy toward ASEAN and selected Southeast Asian states took a decidedly new turn during the third quarter of 1999. Beijing is now demonstrating with words and deeds that it can be a positive and constructive player in regional security. China moved to diffuse tensions in its relations with the Philippines over disputed territory in the South China Sea and dispatched police to serve in East Timor with the UN Security Council-sanctioned INTERFET (International Force East Timor). China has continued to give priority to four regional states with which it earlier signed long-term agreements: Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.
China - Taiwan
Taiwan President Lee Tung-hui's July 9 announcement that cross-Strait relations should be handled on a "special state-to-state" basis has strained already shaky relations between Beijing and Taipei and has the U.S. once again caught in the middle. This is especially true since Chinese President Jiang Zemin continues to identify "peaceful reunification under the 'one country, two systems' model with Taiwan" as one of the Mainland's "cardinal principles." Meanwhile, Beijing's insistence on a full retraction makes it extremely unlikely that the planned fall 1999 visit by the head of the PRC's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, Wang Daohan, will take place. One positive if unintended consequence of the Taiwan-generated crisis was the incentive it provided to Chinese President Jiang Zemin and President Clinton to put Sino-U.S. relations back on a positive track following the latter's unequivocal re-endorsement of America's "one China" policy.
China - South Korea
China and South Korea marked significant advances in official economic, political, and security cooperation in the third quarter of 1999; however, the effects of increased people-to-people exchange between China and South Korea have created a mixed bag of emerging challenges which may signal future difficulties in the relationship. Most significantly, China and South Korea established security consultations between Defense Ministers, and President Kim Dae-jung gave credit to counterpart Jiang Zemin for playing a significant role in convincing North Korea to defer plans to pursue further long-range missile testing. However, problems with illegal immigration to South Korea by ethnic Koreans from Northeastern China and with illegal activities in China by South Koreans who have sought to respond to needs of North Korean refugees both emerged as flash points for controversy.
Japan - China
In contrast to Jiang Zemin's heavy emphasis on the lessons of history during the November 1998 China-Japan Summit, Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi's July 8-9 visit to China focused on the present state of the relationship. During the summit, Chinese and Japanese negotiators reached agreement on China's bilateral WTO accession. Shortly after the summit, on July 30, Japan and China signed a Memorandum of Understanding with regard to destruction of the chemical weapons left behind in China by the Imperial Army. Yet, during this quarter, issues related to security (missile testing and missile defense), sovereignty (the Senkaku Islands), political culture (the Diet's passage of legislation on Japan's flag and national anthem), and history (the surfacing of a debate over the future of Japan's Yasukuni Shrine), pointed to continuing trouble in Japan's relations with China.
Japan - South Korea
Three themes emerge from the interaction and events of the past quarter in Japan-Republic of Korea (ROK) relations. First, cooperation on issues of security and history continued between these two American allies, achieving certain milestones. Second, from a U.S. perspective, this cooperation paid dividends in terms of averting a Taepodong II crisis with North Korea. Third, the success in coordinating policy, both bilaterally and in a trilateral context with the United States, will again be tested as the focus of activity in the "post-Berlin" phase of the North Korea problem is likely to shift to the Japan-DPRK dyad.
Japan - Russia
Japan and Russia posted marked progress in the development of military ties in recent months, but the thorny question of concluding a peace treaty to officially end World War II hostilities remained on the back burner. Unprecedented naval cooperation developed this quarter, including a port visit to Japan by a Russian cruiser and an observation visit to the Russian naval facilities at Vladivostok by Japanese Defense Minister Hosei Norota. Meanwhile, the clock ticks toward the two sides' self-imposed deadline of 2000 to complete the peace treaty.
China - Russia
Although domestic social instability, separatism, and terrorism started to increasingly preoccupy leaders of both countries, Moscow and Beijing continued to feel the chilly impact of the post-war (Balkan/Kosovo) world and responded by deepening their strategic partnership in various areas. However, the worse seems to be over, at least for the time being, for Russia and China in their respective relations with Western powers, as compared with the second quarter of 1999, when both Moscow and Beijing were sidelined and aggravated by U.S.-led NATO actions during the Kosovo crisis. Indeed, after Moscow was invited back to the Kosovo settlement and China's anti-American sentiments following the bombing of the Chinese embassy in May subsided, both started to mend fences with Washington.
The state of Indonesia-Australia relations has deteriorated--from strained to nearly shattered--in recent months as a result of the ongoing crisis in East Timor. As the quarter ended the prospects for an early recovery in the relationship were very uncertain. The Australian-led international force in East Timor faced a long and dangerous process of taking control of the territory from Indonesian-backed militias, and the possibility of sustained guerrilla-terrorist opposition supported by the Indonesian armed forces could not be ruled out. An additional complication was the potential impact of heightened nationalistic and anti-Australian sentiment on the election of a new Indonesian president in late October, and therefore on the composition and attitude toward Australia of the new Indonesian administration due to take office by January 1, 2000.