Entering the Pacific Century

Report Asia

Entering the Pacific Century

March 26, 1996 22 min read Download Report
Senator Jesse Helms
Visiting Fellow

The Second Annual B.C. Lee Lecture, given March 26, 1996

There are many great self-declared institutions in Washington. Some profess to have decided impacts on America's foreign policy. Then there are others truly making significant contributions; these are substantially fewer. Ed Feulner and Richard Allen are among the most significant players behind these few institutions -- but more about them in a moment.

The Heritage Foundation was in its infancy in the early 1970s during my first years in the Senate. But it had by then already become "self-evident," as one of our greatest documents puts it, that Heritage was moving rapidly in its remarkable leadership with its advocacy of, and its support for, great principles that deserve to survive.

History will appropriately record the enormously important role that Ed Feulner has played in restoring and preserving the meaning and the miracle of America. And Richard V. Allen, who is so highly respected in this city and far beyond, has made the difference on countless occasions and in countless matters when America's future was hanging in the balance. Richard Allen and Ed Feulner together founded the Asian Studies Center in 1983, and Mr. Allen has served as its chairman ever since.

I mention all of this in paying my respects to these two patriots, and to thank them, and you, for the honor of having been chosen to offer my remarks at this second annual B.C. Lee lecture for the Heritage Foundation. And let me also take just a moment to recognize in this distinguished company my good friend and colleague, Representative Benjamin Gilman, the Chairman of the House International Relations Committee.

The year 1983 didn't appear to have the rosy glow foretelling the dawn of the Pacific Century. Leonid Brezhnev had just died, the Soviet Union was in turmoil, and the United States was fighting the final battles of the Cold War. The Heritage Foundation was preoccupied with those and other pressing issues of the day, but it was also looking forward.

In 1983, as I have indicated, Heritage founded its Asian Studies Center, a reflection of its understanding of the vital role Asia was to play in the post-Cold War future. That forward-looking vision is the reason Heritage is today one of America's preeminent think tanks, a policy center on which I and many other Members of Congress rely.

In identifying the 21st century as the Pacific Century, I am merely stating the obvious: During the past decade, the world's center of gravity has shifted. And it will continue to move eastward away from Europe, toward Asia, because as the nations of Eastern Europe and the states of the former Soviet Union were struggling to break free of communism, Pacific Rim nations were busily taking care of business at home.

Their hard work has paid off. The Asia-Pacific region currently accounts for more than 40 percent of the world's trade and U.S.-Pacific Rim trade has out paced trade across the Atlantic. Thankfully for the United States -- though the political and economic center of gravity may have shifted West to East, Europe to Asia -- we remain uniquely positioned, not only geographically, but strategically, politically, and economically at the center. The United States thus remains the world's anchor.

And that is where we must stay.

The fall of the Berlin Wall forced the United States to reexamine its role in the world. There were some who believed that the end of the Cold War was the time to turn inward, to spend a little time with our own problems. Others argued that the U.S. is the only country in the world with the moral, economic, and strategic strength to bring the rest of the world along.

I am convinced that we cannot be the best nation in the world unless we are willing to lead the world. We cannot lead by being the world's policeman, nor the world's babysitter, but by being what we have been for most of the 20th century -- the standard-bearer of moral, political, and military might and right, an example towards which all others aspire.

In Congress, U.S. alliances in the Pacific enjoy bipartisan support. Some of us focus on political alliances, others on economic, others on strategic, and still others on moral alliances. But all of us recognize that those alliances need strengthening. The question is how to prioritize our objectives.

But, first, what are our priorities? Clearly, one reason the United States has seemed to be flailing around in the world, rushing from disaster to disaster, is because the Clinton Administration has failed to set priorities. Everything, from Burundi to Bosnia, is equally important -- and, therefore, equally unimportant. Our old allies in Europe are watching us and wondering with amazement where the United States is headed. And you can bet that our new allies in Asia are scratching their heads, too.

In just a few short years, the Clinton Administration has managed to warp U.S.-Asia policy so badly that, at any one time, the United States is at odds with China, Japan, and the Korean peninsula. Right now, many Asian nations fear that we are propelling ourselves down the road to irrelevance. And we're not just strolling either.

In China, the United States has neither a strategy, nor resolve, for dealing with areas of key interests to the United States On the Korean peninsula, this Administration has given lip service to our allies in South Korea while dealing directly with the North Koreans on issues ranging from their nuclear program to the delivery of humanitarian food aid. Food aid, for heaven's sakes, that North Korea demanded, while South Korea -- our friend and ally -- was insisting the North did not need.

If this State Department, this National Security Council, and this White House, are determined to continue their experiments in foreign policy, let us pray that they will not make the devastating mistake of delegating decision-making to our enemies of forty years, the North Koreans.

The United States simply cannot afford to abdicate its role in the dominant region of the 21st century. We must have priorities, and we must stand up for them. And, yes, if and when necessary, fight for them.

Setting our priorities is no easy business. Asia presents daunting challenges. Consider the following:

Communist China considers itself prepared to step into the role of a dominant world power, yet demonstrates time and again that it has neither the maturity nor the decency to handle the role;

North Korea maintains its million-man army and its militant, anti-Western propaganda machine while the United States props up North Korea's failing economy through a faulty agreement;

Meanwhile Taiwan's dedication to democracy and capitalism deserves our continued support -- politically and militarily -- even in the face of severe opposition from Mainland China;

The Southeast Asians, proud of their continued economic miracles, are nervous about the Chinese military modernization and territorial claims in the South China Sea and are therefore pushing the ASEAN alliance into a strategic alliance, as well as an economic one; and

India and Pakistan, like two caged tigers, compete for nuclear weaponry and missile technology, all the while scratching at their wounds in Kashmir.

But China is the greatest challenge. China is still trying to figure out how to play its own role on the world stage. In the meantime, the United States cannot be hamstrung by China's confusion. The United States must not sit still in the thrall of an awakening dragon. We must define U.S. interests in Asia now, as the dragon awakes, and hope that the dragon will awaken on the right side of the bed.

Just three days ago, in Taiwan, the world watched as the free Taiwanese people cast their ballots in the first democratic presidential election ever in a Chinese-speaking country. President Lee Teng-hui scored a decisive victory in a hotly contested election. All of us, of course, congratulate President Lee and applaud his vision for Taiwan.

Think about it for a moment: In 1979, when the Carter Administration callously cut formal ties with our long-time ally, Taiwan, it was the Congress of the United States that compelled Mr. Carter to sign the Taiwan Relations Act -- the only law of the United States governing our relations with Taiwan. In passing the Taiwan Relations Act, Congress expressed its bipartisan support for Taiwan.

The election of President Ronald Reagan guaranteed that the Taiwan Relations Act would be properly enforced to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself against any external threat. At that time, most countries in the world ignored Taiwan. And, like some in the United States, these same people assumed it was only a matter of time before the Communists on the mainland consumed tiny Taiwan. That hasn't happened, and it will not happen as long as I am in the U.S. Senate.

During the 1980s, the Reagan and Bush Administrations followed a consistent, principled policy toward Taiwan. It was not the least bit ambiguous. During this period, the people of Taiwan persisted. They accelerated the rate of growth in their free market economy, attracted high technology manufacturers, raised their own living standards, and encouraged the establishment of democracy. Even the most vigorous supporters of the Taiwanese -- myself included -- would never have thought that kind of progress possible in such a short period, especially given the fact that the Communists in Red China fought them the whole way.

So where does Taiwan go from here? Will the Communists continue to threaten and bluster, wielding their own military machine time and again against Taiwan? Not if the United States plays the role it should.

First of all, Taiwan deserves to participate in international organizations. Taiwan trades with the world, freely and fairly. Taiwan has a thriving, free market economy and a sound currency. Taiwan meets the fundamental criteria for membership in the World Trade Organization and should be admitted now, regardless of Mainland China's admission timetable.

Second, the United States must continue a vigorous and faithful implementation of the Taiwan Relations Act and all of its provisions. The United States has promised, and is obligated by law, to provide Taiwan with enough military equipment to defend itself against any external threat. The recent military exercises in the Taiwan Strait orchestrated by the Chinese Communists prove this to be more important than ever. We can and should -- we must -- remove any supposed barriers to providing Taiwan with state-of-the-art defensive systems and equipment. Taiwan threatens no one; the same cannot be said of Mainland China.

Third, we must actively engage other countries in the region to encourage and assist Taiwan's peaceful democratic growth. It will be Taiwan's economic growth upon which other economies in the region will come to rely. It is those countries that should be encouraged to support Taiwan on the political front as well.

Fourth, to ensure that we do not contradict our goal of encouraging Taiwan's economic growth in conditions of democracy, the United States must be exceptionally cautious concerning the technologies we sell to Communist China. The United States does not serve its own long-term interests well by augmenting Communist China's military capability.

As for Mainland China, it has become an appalling habit in various U.S. administrations to speak to China as if to a child. We outline our expectations, and when they are not met -- and they are never met -- we make excuses. But the Chinese are not children, and we are not their parents. Respect for human life, willingness to obey international agreements -- these are U.S. priorities, not homework assignments.

Refusing to punish China when China does not live up to its commitments in the world only further encourages China's intransigence. Too often we don't follow through on sanctions because we worry that we will lose a share of the elusive Chinese market. But we are forgetting at least two things when we do that.

First, the Chinese need us as much as, if not more than, we need them. Chinese growth and continued prosperity are dependent on a continued stream of foreign investment and trade.

Second, we forget the beloved Asian tradition of bargaining. If we explain our bottom line and then don't follow through to defend it, they'll push us to an even lower bottom line the next time around.

Twice recently, the United States has backed away from sanctioning China for its bad behavior. The United States, under the steady direction of Mickey Kantor, vowed to sanction China if it did not implement the agreement that China signed more than a year ago regarding intellectual property rights protection. Shockingly to nobody, except perhaps Mr. Kantor, the Chinese didn't live up to the terms of the agreement. But, you see, the Chinese know us too well. They dangled a $4 billion bid for Boeing planes in return for our not imposing the sanctions on intellectual property.

More serious still than thieving brand-name sneakers are China's nefarious proliferation activities. In the face of China's transfer of strategically crucial missiles to one of the world's most destabilizing, terrorist nations, Iran, the Clinton Administration has sat on its hands. The Chinese play us well: They sign an agreement, violate it, and in return are awarded lucrative contracts with U.S. firms in which the U.S. firm is required to transfer important proprietary technology. What a deal.

U.S. laws regarding sanctions for international trafficking in missiles and in weapons of mass destruction are clear. We disregard them at our own choosing -- and at our own peril.

The size of the Chinese market has blinded far too many to the Chinese threat. Military cadres in the Chinese leadership maintain a dominant role in the policymaking process. It is the generals, and not the apparatchiks, who enjoy a stranglehold over policy. It is they who have pushed China's drive to modernize its armed forces from a defensive, brown-water type to a blue-water force capable of forward deployment throughout Asia.

By the end of the next decade, China will be capable of locking up the world's most strategic waterways. By reasserting its claims to atolls in the South China Sea and by selling billions of dollars in military hardware to the regime in Burma, while building shipping ports off the Burmese coast in the Indian Ocean, the Chinese are in a position to cut off the international right of free passage in those waters. One call from Beijing could very well cut off over 50 percent of the world's trade.

The Japanese, the Koreans, the Southeast Asians, and the South Asians all see the trend and, in response, are begging the United States to maintain the 7th Fleet in the region. U.S. military presence in the region is vital. If we're willing to use U.S. armed forces to build toilets and sewers for Haitians, there is no question we should bolster U.S. forces to defend and maintain right of passage through these crucial international maritime routes. We not only would insure our own economic well-being, but also would maintain stability in markets throughout the world.

Clearly, the United States cannot shoulder the financial and logistical burden of defending Asia's waterways alone. In return for our services, the countries of the region are going to have to offer far more access and hospitality to our military.We will have to depend on our allies far more than we do now. Which brings me to the crucial role of the U.S.-Japan military alliance.

The United States and Japan, like it or not, share common goals and objectives for the Asia-Pacific. Our economies will come to depend upon the enormous economic growth in Asia -- a peaceful Asia, that is. The economic forces of an increasingly interdependent global economy and the strategic rise of China are hurtling the United States and Japan down the same path.

If the United States is to attain its security objectives in Asia, the U.S.-Japan alliance must remain strong. However, our alliance with Japan has come under sharp scrutiny in recent months, and I am persuaded that the relationship must be reexamined -- not to determine whether it should continue, but how best it should continue.

However, we must not fool ourselves. If the United States were to leave the Japanese to fend for themselves, I am convinced that Japan would go nuclear within ten years. It is entirely possible that within the course of the next century, the world may very well witness the development of a nuclear-armed Japan, a nuclear-armed and reunified Korean peninsula, a China with modern, forward-deployed armed forces, a still-divided and nuclear-armed South Asia and an arms race on a scale never seen before in Southeast Asia. That scenario is in nobody's best interest.

Japan must, however, do more. Japan must take responsibility in the world, not as a commercial buccaneer, but as a mature, responsible nation. We should be encouraging the Japanese to take a leadership role commensurate with Japan's economic standing. That means far more, for example, than affording Japan a seat on the U.N. Security Council to demonstrate its position in the world.

It means that Japan will have to start making hard choices -- choices that may mean forgoing a market opportunity in a country in return for improvement in the standard of living for a nation's people. As yet, they have shied away from putting themselves on the line on some of the toughest policy issues like human rights and proliferation. It means that Japan maintains a strong enough economy that it should begin to use its influence not just toopen markets, but to leverage its power to affect change for the better in other countries.

As Japan takes more responsibilities onto itself, I hope our trading relationship can flourish fairly. And on that note, I must tip my hat to Mickey Kantor. He has shown real gumption in pushing Japan with the threat of sanctions and retaliation in U.S. markets, all of which goes to show that not every fight needs to end in a war if the United States is willing to stand up to defend its national interests.

The South Koreans should be mindful in this regard, as well. A solid friendship underlies the U.S.-South Korean relationship. But if South Korea is to play a more significant role on the world stage, it, too, must become more considerate of, and receptive to, American goods and services. While the process of liberalization is underway, it should be accelerated.

The economic front is not the only front on which Asia will challenge U.S. policymakers. All sorts of strategic alignments and realignments are occurring throughout Asia. The United States has to keep abreast of these changes.

One of the best prospects for a flashpoint in the region is the Korean peninsula. Along with 650,000 South Korean troops, 37,000 Americans face a million-man North Korean army poised along the border of North and South Korea, a little more than a marathon distance from Seoul. The results of the much-vaunted U.S.-North Korea Agreed Framework on the nuclear issue have yet to be seen, but one thing is clear: The Clinton Administration handled the North Korean regime with the same kid gloves it has heretofore used to handle all dictators from Castro to Aristide.

The United States has now agreed to supply hundreds of millions of dollars of oil to North Korea, enough oil to prop up the failing North Korean economy and thereby ensure that the Stalinist regime stays in power. That makes no sense. North Korea signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It violated it. It should not get paid for that violation

Saddest, perhaps, is that the world has learned only one valuable lesson from the vile activities of the North Koreans. The world has sadly learned that the United States can be blackmailed. When the going got tough, the United States has been willing to offer up the checkbooks of the American taxpayer.

Our great bargain with North Korea gives the North modern nuclear reactor technology that still allows them to produce plutonium for a nuclear weapon. The saving grace for the Clinton Administration? The North Koreans won't be able to produce as much plutonium for nuclear weapons. And we are supposed to be relieved? Give me a break.

Indeed, the Agreed Framework is so discredited with our allies that the tripartite international organization established to implement it can't beg or borrow enough to carry out its mandate. And why won't our allies ante up? Because they're not sanguine about the deal that was struck.

One of the central tenets of our compact with Pyongyang was that the North would begin a substantive dialogue with our allies, the South Koreans. It has not happened. The Administration has tried to convince the world that by offering the carrot of a nuclear reactor to the North, the rest of the world would benefit by having coaxed the North to talk with the South. It hasn't happened yet, and there doesn't seem to be any real movement in that direction. The real path to peace on the Korean peninsula runs directly from Seoul to Pyongyang -- not from Pyongyang to Washington. Dialogue between North and South Korea is one of the only chances the world has of seeing the Korean peninsula reunified on a peaceful, democratic, and economically solvent basis. That chance is disappearing as I speak.

And now, if I may, let me turn to one of my old hobbyhorses, Russia. I am unaccustomed to regarding Russia as an Asian power, but the time has come to recognize that fully half of Russia's territory lies in Asia.

For nearly a thousand years, Russia has been torn by competing European and Asian influences. I believe they prefer to consider themselves Europeans.But frankly, I don't particularly care how Russia sees itself -- just as long as it does so within its own borders. Which is, historically, the biggest problem with Russia: It finds its borders so confining....

Every so often, our friends in Moscow decide that they have neglected their Asian side. Unfortunately, their interest has tended to manifest itself in the shape of wars of expansion. At the beginning of this century, the Russian and Japanese Empires collided in a great naval battle at Port Arthur. In World War II, the Soviet Union seized a group of islands from Japan that are today held by Russia -- an act which continues to poison relations between the two countries. Under the leadership of Stalin and Mao, the Soviet Union and China experienced decades of friction, including periodic border clashes.

The challenge for Russia today is to overcome the legacy of military competition in the East and to build cooperative relations with its Asian neighbors. The question for us, however, is to what extent Russia chooses this course as an alternative to closer relations with the West.

Russia has indicated its interest in engaging Asia more closely -- witness President Yeltsin's widely touted trip to Beijing scheduled for early April. It is much repeated in Moscow that the "West" has not proven to be a gracious partner for Russia, and Russia therefore should look east. I will not dwell on the merit of Russia's criticism of the "West"; however, it is important that we all better understand what Russia seeks in engaging the East.

Closer ties between Russia and China are not automatically bad for U.S. interests. Those two nations share one of the longest land borders in the world. They certainly must, at a minimum, learn to coexist. However, if Russia seeks a closer relationship with the current regime in China as an alternative to the West, then Russia would defy its own interests.

Some in Russia today advocate following the "Chinese model" of market economics without political freedom. This is pure folly. I see no chance that the people of Russia would allow themselves to be led by a government such as China's, which so callously disregards the rights of its own citizens. If Russia seeks partners in Asia, it should instead look to those nations which have found the path to economic success and political freedom. That's the best mix of East and West.

For real cooperation between Russia and China to succeed, it must be based on deeper interests than a momentary desire to unite against the West. I trust that responsible leaders in Russia know this to be true. I would not disregard the potential for the worst elements in the Russian and Chinese governments to try their very best to build such a relationship, but I doubt that they will succeed where Stalin and Mao failed.

Frankly, I have less fear of a Sino-Russian partnership than I do of Russia's and China's meddling in Asia. Which brings me to a trouble spot that doesn't usually come up in discussions of the so-called Pacific Century -- that is, South Asia.

Throughout the Cold War, India's own insularity allowed the United States the luxury of virtually ignoring the world's second largest nation. We no longer have that luxury for two reasons -- neither of them surprising to those of us who spend our time wrestling with the post-Cold War world.

In the past decade, India has become an economic power with which we all must reckon. Slowly, in its typical one step forward, ten steps backwards fashion, India is becoming an important player in the world economy. American companies are investing millions in India, and eyeing that nation's 200-plus-million middle class hungrily.

Unfortunately, as India becomes part of the world of fair-trading nations, India is also fighting to become a nuclear power. India exploded a nuclear device in 1974 and, until just a month or two ago, was on the verge of testing another. In addition, India has developed ballistic missiles and is moving quickly to produce them.

India's leaders would have us believe that their drive for nuclear weapons and long-range missiles has to do with the odious Chinese threat to India's north, which is only partly true. Certainly, China has been no friend to India, and a good -- perhaps too good -- friend to Pakistan. But India's real problem is to its west, in Kashmir and in Pakistan. The vast majority of India's troops are concentrated on its Pakistani border and in Kashmir, and not on the Indo-Chinese border.

Pakistan, long a good and a true ally of the United States, is persuaded that India is bent on Pakistan's destruction. It's remedy has been to turn to the Safeway of proliferating nations -- China. Nuclear technology, missiles, arms of every kind are to be had for the asking over in Beijing. China, uniquely positioned to moderate the policies of its neighbors in South Asia, has instead used tensions in that region to profit on the deadly proliferation market.

So how, ideally, does the United States respond? Ideally, we look to one of the sources of the problem: Kashmir. We work with a portion of the vigor we have dedicated to Middle East peacemaking to forcefully persuade India and Pakistan to move to a settlement. Ideally, we slam China for fueling the South Asia arms race and demonstrate our own seriousness in fighting proliferation.

But then there is the real world. The Clinton Administration makes excuses for China. Mind bogglingly, we are told -- again -- that China did not fully comprehend its commitments under the Nonproliferation Treaty and, therefore, probably was not in the "wrong" in transferring missile technology to Pakistan. Pakistan is threatened with sanctions for buying missiles and nuclear technology, and rightly so. But when Prime Minister Bhutto begs for help in dealing with India, the Clinton Administration is not interested.

India, happy to absorb $100-plus-million in U.S. foreign aid every year, laughs in our faces when we demand that they work with us against proliferation. And at any hint that the United States might get serious, legions of companies are brought in to describe to us the importance of continuing to do business with India. After all, the Indians may not like China, but they sure have learned a thing or two from Beijing about how to manipulate Washington, D.C.

Well, now, I have spent much of my time talking about the 800-pound gorillas of Asia. Now let's talk a bit about the tigers.

The economies of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are booming. Over the past five years, they have averaged 7 percent growth, a trend that promises to continue for at least the next few decades. The ASEAN story is a genuine success story. Consider that a group of nations with disparate histories, languages, and economies joined together to ensure stability in the region. They recognized early on that they could provide commensurate counterweight to the economic and strategic forces of China, Japan, and the Korean peninsula only if they were united.

Developing strong ties with each of the members of ASEAN will be another linchpin in the U.S. approach to Asia. We must work -- and work harder -- with our close friends in ASEAN to encourage them to bring pressure for reform to bear on countries like Vietnam, Laos, and Burma -- - countries where repressive governments have still not adopted the rule of law or accepted the international norms for the treatment of human rights.

For Burma and Laos, the lure of ASEAN membership is a significant enough draw to encourage these countries actually to consider liberalization. The question will be whether the current ASEAN countries make that issue a priority. Without encouragement and even pressure from the United States, they will not do so. That would be a serious mistake -- though only one more in a series of mistakes in Asia for this administration. The United States cannot afford to let this ball drop.

Somehow the Clinton Administration approach to U.S.-Asia policy reminds me of Alice in Wonderland -- if you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there. The United States today is in the position, economically and militarily, to be the dominant friendly power in the Asia-Pacific. We can't afford to squander that position in the run-up to the Pacific Century.

There's no crystal ball telling us how the world will unfold, but I am confident of Asia's central part in that world. There is a famous Chinese proverb that says something along the lines of: "If the water is murky, just wait and let it settle. Then it will all be clear to you." The future of the region and the U.S. position there is murky now, but we cannot sit and wait for the waters to clear before we define our policies.

U.S. policy must directly address U.S. interests in Asia. There are at least five points for us to stress:

(1) Maintain open and peaceful shipping waters for trade;

(2) Maintain a strategic balance between China, Japan, the Korean peninsula, and Southeast Asia, all the while preventing a cataclysmic arms race;

(3) Push for more open, less regulated markets for U.S. goods and services;

(4) Show the nations in the region that we are serious about their adherence to bilateral and multilateral agreements by punishing those who transgress; and

(5) Strengthen the friendships we maintain with our true allies in the region -- Taiwan and South Korea, to name just two -- rather than coddle dictators because we fear that we might lose market share.

You have been patient with me, and I thank you most sincerely for the opportunity to share some views with you this evening. I am genuinely honored to be in the company of the high caliber of Asia and foreign policy specialists in this room tonight, and I hope I will have the benefit of your views later in the evening.


Senator Jesse Helms

Visiting Fellow