When President George Bush travels to Tokyo, Seoul, and Beijing from February 16-22, his key priority will be security, followed closely by economic issues and the peaceful resolution of conflicts. North Korea's relentless efforts to produce and proliferate weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threaten all of these objectives, and the President will likely raise this issue in each capital. By identifying North Korea as part of an "axis of evil," sacrificing millions of its citizens to starvation while feeding its military programs, he has issued a bold challenge to Asian leaders to confront North Korea's growing threat to regional and international security and declared that its behavior can no longer be tolerated.
The South Koreans and the Japanese are gravely concerned, but Seoul blames U.S. rhetoric for the stalled North-South dialogue. China's leadership is uneasy but loath to alienate one of its last ideological soul mates by bowing to international pressure.
President Bush needs to build consensus in Tokyo and Seoul on getting Pyongyang to abide by its United Nations nuclear inspection commitments and to reciprocate South Korea's attempts at goodwill dialogue. In Beijing, he must confront China's destabilizing proliferation activities while reassuring Beijing that America and China can work together, "in ways we have never before, to achieve peace and prosperity." He must make the case that "in every region, free markets and free trade" and, most important, "free societies" lift people's lives. The President is aware that China still proliferates WMD and technology, which makes it part of the problem. A measure of his success will be whether he can make China part of the solution as well.
The visits will be counted as successes if President Bush promotes constructive economic reforms by Japan, firmness in South Korea's management of relations with the North, and moderation in China's foreign policies and reforms of its human rights and trade behavior.
Japan is key to the success of the war on terrorism. Its new Anti-Terrorism Special Measure Law enables it to participate globally as a U.S. military partner, and its role in funding Afghan reconstruction proves its importance as a political partner. A 1998 North Korean ballistic missile test over the Sea of Japan underscores the security threat to Japan and is ample cause for cooperation on a ballistic missile defense infrastructure.
The Administration counsels Seoul to demand reciprocity in dealing with North Korea (its leader has yet to visit Seoul or expand family reunions), but some still blame Washington's hard line on the North for the stalled North-South dialogue. The President should emphasize U.S. willingness to engage the North while maintaining caution in its own approach.
North Korea sponsors terrorism by proliferating weapons and technology to rogue states such as Libya, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, and Taliban Afghanistan. It harbors Japanese Red Army terrorists and the Rangoon assassins of 1983. Recently, an unmarked North Korean vessel fired upon a Japanese naval vessel near Japan.
The 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea are proof of America's commitment to stability on the Korean Peninsula, but managing that presence causes friction in the relationship. The President should show sensitivity to South Koreans for their sacrifices in accommodating U.S. troops by moving U.S. headquarters now at Yongsan Base to another site. He should stress the importance of the Trilateral Coordination and Oversight Committee in managing North Korea policy among Washington, the ROK, and Japan.
The CIA says China is the second major ballistic missile threat to the United States behind Russia and that its "missile force will increase several-fold by 2015" and is "deployed primarily against the United States." China also has violated virtually every non-proliferation commitment in the past decade, selling nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan, advanced missile components to Pakistan and Iran, and chemical weapons components and precursors to Iran. In this context, the President should explain that a national ballistic missile defense system is needed in large part because China has proliferated missile components and technology to rogue states.
Although Taiwan is at the heart of Beijing's unhappiness with Washington, the President should emphasize America's long-standing friendship with the people of Taiwan and explain that the China-Taiwan friction can be resolved only if Beijing engages in an unconditional, direct dialogue with Taipei. He should repeat the statements he made in Shanghai encouraging Beijing to treat Taiwan with respect.
Unless the President places such uncomfortable but necessary issues on the agenda, China's leaders will assume that he is not serious. U.S. policymakers must step back from efforts simply "to get the words right" and understand that the ultimate goal is to help China get its "system" right.
China has been somewhat supportive of the war on terrorism but is suspicious about America's strategic presence in Central Asia. President Bush must be sensitive to these concerns but need not apologize either for a protracted U.S. military presence in Central Asia or for Japan's increased participation in Asian security. He should welcome China's efforts to ease tensions between India and Pakistan.
If China follows through on its World Trade Organization commitments, the reforms will open its vast market to American exports and strengthen the world economy. But only strict adherence to those commitments will help China reap the benefits of WTO membership. The United States cannot be sympathetic if China's entry into the WTO spawns more disputes as Chinese firms, government agencies, and localities ignore even the clearest of Beijing's promises to open markets.