March 9, 2001

March 9, 2001 | Lecture on Asia

Perspectives on US National Interests in Asia

I am very honored to be invited to deliver this year's B.C. Lee Lecture on U.S. relations with the Asia-Pacific region, and I would like to thank Ed Feulner and the Heritage Foundation staff for the gracious invitation. The Heritage Foundation has a long and well-deserved reputation as the nation's premier center for common-sense conservative thought. With the advent of a new Republican Administration, it is an exciting time to be speaking to such a distinguished and influential audience.

It would seem, given those who have spoken before this group in the past, that delivering the B. C. Lee lecture is a prerequisite for high political office in the Bush Administration. Indeed, it is a daunting task to follow in the footsteps of Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and the other previous B.C. Lee lecturers.

Tonight, I propose:

  • To review a few of the fundamental flaws in the Clinton Administration's Asia policy;

  • To reiterate very briefly the set of principles that I believe should properly guide U.S. policy toward the Asia-Pacific region;

  • To highlight some specific challenges for the new Bush Administration when viewing the Asian landscape through the larger prism of U.S. "grand strategy"; and

  • To offer a few concluding thoughts on the likely congressional reaction to the Bush foreign policy agenda.

Frustration with the Clinton Administration

Departing Clinton Administration officials have boasted about the remarkable policy successes they enjoyed in Asia. Not surprisingly, many Americans who follow Asian-American relations have a different recollection of the past eight years. As the former Vice Chairman of the International Relations Committee, I watched in growing frustration as the Clinton Administration squandered too much of the enormous reservoir of prestige and goodwill that it had inherited. Theirs was an Asia policy marked by some degree of indecision, embarrassing reversals, and an apparent inability to remain committed to its own priorities.

Nowhere was this tendency more evident than with regard to Sino-American relations. From the very outset, as part of his criticism of the first Bush Administration, candidate Bill Clinton rashly promised that human rights would be the primary focus of his policy. Normal trade relations with the People's Republic of China, for example, were to be contingent on improvements in the PRC's human rights record. The inevitable reversal of this campaign rhetoric conveyed to Beijing a weakness which continued to haunt the Clinton Administration thereafter.

Similarly, that Administration's vacillation and incredible failure to understand that Congress would insist on granting President Lee Teng-hui a visa to visit his alma mater was an embarrassing miscalculation. Once again, they were forced to reverse themselves. The Administration should never have made a promise that it could not keep, and as a consequence, Taiwan Strait tensions worsened.

America's relations with the PRC also suffered when it was revealed that, because of incredible laxity in security at our national weapons laboratories and in export controls, the Chinese had acquired some of our most sensitive military technology. But perhaps the most inexplicable reversal-or at least irresponsible reversal if it was for domestic political considerations-came when, after pressing Premier Zhu Rhongji to make significant concessions in order to obtain U.S. support for Chinese membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), the President in effect rejected the very offer that he previously had been seeking.

There also was substantial congressional concern, especially among Republicans, over the Clinton Administration's North Korea policy. North Korea is arguably the most dangerous and erratic nation in Asia, perhaps the world, with a ruling clique that is intent on surviving even at any cost to its people. I believe it remains the place where there is the greatest chance of U.S. troops becoming militarily engaged in a terrible conflict. The DPRK continues to forward-deploy a 1.2 million-man army. While finally agreeing to an indefinitely defined moratorium on missile flight tests, North Korea continues to develop and produce ballistic missiles, some of which are now capable of reaching the United States. In addition, there are certainly indications that the DPRK may be maintaining a covert nuclear program.

Economically and socially, the "Hermit Kingdom" has come to the crossroads and must decide whether it continues on its path toward oblivion. Logically, the United States should be in a position to significantly influence the DPRK's behavior. Instead, however, we find ourselves in a position where, over the past years, North Korea has consistently been rewarded for outrageous behavior or for threatening such conduct. North Korean behavior resembles that of the 18th century Barbary pirates-demanding ever-increasing levels of tribute from America (and some of its neighbors) in return for marginally tolerable behavior.

Overall, the preceding Administration seemed to tolerate North Korean misbehavior and demands for tribute. The United States has provided heavy fuel oil and humanitarian food aid in increasing quantities. Quietly, escaping the notice of the American people, North Korea became the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid in Asia, although it was given through indirect means. Despite that level of assistance, we are prevented now from adequately monitoring the distribution of that assistance, even though there is a very high probability of aid diversions to the North Korean military.

I must also confess that I was disturbed that President Clinton tried to travel to the DPRK during his last days in office. This last-minute quest for a foreign policy success at the end of the Clinton Administration would have damaged the diplomatic leverage of the incoming Bush Administration. And, of course, this sort of high-level visibility would have greatly enhanced the status and prestige of Kim Jong-il. It sent absolutely the wrong signal to the rest of Asia-that brazen behavior will garner respect.

Lastly, I would note the preceding Administration's habit of focusing on a single issue rather than the total picture. Deputy Secretary of State designee Rich Armitage has drawn the analogy to the way six-year-olds play soccer-everyone going for the ball. If it's Taiwan Strait, everyone does Taiwan Strait. If it's China trade, everyone does China trade. Then everyone picks up their equipment and does North Korea until the next issue du jour comes along.

Unfortunately, the world is not a soccer field. The message conveyed by the Clinton Administration was one of vacillation and lack of steady, even-handed attention to priorities. And it is this legacy that the Bush Administration will have to overcome.

The Three Principles

Establishing a credible foreign policy requires, first and foremost, a deep and abiding understanding of what actually is important. Soon after I assumed the chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific in 1995, I established a set of principles to guide the subcommittee's goals and initiatives regarding Asia. I believe these principles remain valid and are worth reiterating, as we often lose sight of them in our day-to-day deliberations. They include:

  • First, maintaining regional stability and security by sustaining and continuously upgrading our regional security commitments. American forces must remain engaged in Asia, and we must do so by bolstering our alliances and friendships. We must be particularly mindful of potential flash points on the Korean peninsula, Taiwan, Indonesia, and South Asia. In that regard, the presence of an appropriate level of forward-based American forces is essential, and builds new bonds of trust and strengthens the joint commitment of U.S. and regional nations to peace and stability.

  • The second principle is to continue to open and expand Asian markets, and lead systemic and structural reforms that contribute to long-term Asian economic health and prosperity. As an aside, I would say that The Heritage Foundation has been a pre-eminently important voice in the cause of advancing economic freedom worldwide. It should come as no surprise that the countries listed as "mostly free" economically on The Heritage Foundation's internationally renowned Index of Economic Freedom are in fact some of the most free politically.

Most of Asia has recovered from the 1997 financial crisis. However, we need look no further than Japan to see signs of continuing economic and structural weakness. Because of the fragility of the Asian recovery, we must continue a dual-track approach to the region. We should engage economically, for example, by applying public and private resources to our financial and commercial relationships in Asia to expand our trade and marketing potential. We need to demonstrate leadership by supporting direct assistance in the form of counsel and targeted, limited aid to nations in crisis.

Displaying leadership means insistence on appropriate support from multilateral organizations, such as the IMF, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank. Leadership also includes an aggressive strategy for further global trade liberalization through APEC and the World Trade Organization. This integrated approach will help Asian nations keep on the path to robust growth. As part of this strategy, I strongly support Congress granting President Bush trade promotion authority based on the fast-track precedent in order to allow the Administration to conclude free trade agreements with our friends in the region.

  • The third principle is promoting democracy and protecting human rights. We cannot neglect our historic commitment to the fundamental principles of democracy, pluralism, and respect for human rights. Any policy based strictly on realpolitik and devoid of moral substance will lose the support of the Congress and the American people.

Challenges

Now the challenges. I see the Asia-Pacific region, which contains over one-half of the world's population, as one in which the United States will continue to face many challenges. Permit me, for the record, to state what should be obvious to most American and Asian observers: The United States plays a very important and positive role in the overall security of Asia and the Pacific. Our presence is welcomed as a stabilizing and relatively benign influence in the region. In fact, perhaps the only country in Asia that does not welcome America's interest and commitment to the region is North Korea.

The post-Cold War period has not ended the threats to a peaceful, stable Asia. Short- and long-term threats to U.S. vital interests abound. I believe that maintaining our 100,000 forward-deployed uniformed personnel is the responsible, prudent course of action now more than ever. That military force is the cornerstone of our security strategy. It has both symbolic and real value to our allies. It represents our tangible commitment to the region-our military and financial commitment for the common good that helps deter aggression and defends U.S. and allied interests-in crisis or conflict. However, for the United States to continue to play an important role in Asia, we must rely upon-and further strengthen-the stable alliances and friendships we have in the region.

Japan

In terms of national security cooperation, I would say that our relationship with Japan is excellent, and I have no doubt our relations will grow even stronger during the Bush Administration. It is impossible to overstate Japan's importance to the U.S. in Asia. Despite Japan's significance, one of the most important matters related to Asian security is something that has almost totally escaped public attention in the United States-the successful renegotiation of the "Defense Cooperation Guidelines." This agreement clarifies and expands Japan's role in helping maintain peace and security in Northeast Asia. For example, it sets forth in sufficient detail what we can expect from Japan if fighting erupts on the Korean peninsula. The guidelines chart a course for Japan, which is much more confident and secure about its own future.

Given this crucial and powerful U.S.-Japan relationship, Japan has not, unfortunately, received the attention it deserved from the Clinton Administration. Consultations have been pro-forma and meetings scripted. Consequently, the Clinton Administration may have had an incomplete understanding of what Japan's leaders were genuinely thinking, thereby making it all the more difficult to interpret security and economic decisions in Tokyo.

On important matters, the Clinton Administration seemed to take Japanese support for granted. This is probably best exemplified by President Clinton's highly publicized June 1998 visit to China, which he made without the customary and expected stop in Japan. This was commonly perceived as a snub in Japan.

Fortunately, I believe the positive, public attention that the Bush campaign and now the Bush Administration have given to Japan will strengthen our bilateral relations on all fronts-defense, political, and economic-even though trade conflicts and unforeseen accidents like the tragic sinking of the Ehime Maru may grab the headlines from time to time. With the Bush Administration, I foresee Japan returning to the center of U.S. strategy in Asia rather than just being taken for granted. Vice President Dick Cheney, in an interview published in yesterday's Washington Times, succinctly captured this change in attitude when he said: "It's a mistake to let the Chinese dictate to the President of the United States how many days he has to stay or that he can't stop and see Japan on the way coming and going."

Australia

Australia is the second pillar of U.S. security interests in Asia. Relatedly, I would mention that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the ANZUS Treaty and the strategic alliance. As we celebrate this important milestone, it is important to remember that Australia is more than just an ally-for America, it is the country in the region with which we have our deepest friendship.

Our "Cousins Down Under" do not have the same constitutional constraints as Japan regarding the deployment abroad of military forces. Small in population, Australia has nonetheless unfailingly joined the U.S. in protecting our mutual national security interests around the globe. Australian forces have served side-by-side with Americans in Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf. Importantly, Australia, in stark contrast to some of our European NATO allies, took the initiative to provide stability and security in its own neighborhood when needed. This is best exemplified by Australia's primary leadership role with the peacekeeping force in East Timor.

I predict and encourage a strengthening of both Australia's regional role and U.S.-Australian relations in the years to come. Australia's new defense white paper directs an expansion and modernization of Australia's military capabilities with an emphasis on improved inter-operability with the U.S. On the economic front, I believe the time is ripe for the negotiation of a U.S.-Australia Free Trade Agreement and urge the Bush Administration to undertake this effort immediately after Congress grants "Trade Promotion Authority."

Our alliance with Australia and our close bond with the Australian people do not always elicit much attention, but it is one of America's crucial strategic partnerships. We should pay more attention to Australia and do more to show our appreciation of this special relationship.

The Koreas

A third strong pillar of support for U.S. national security interests in Asia remains the Republic of Korea. Forged in blood during the Korean War, our special relationship has gradually evolved from that of the U.S. being the ultimate guarantor of South Korea's survival to one that today reflects a more balanced political and defense alliance.

I already have described the fundamental threat to regional peace and stability posed by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). North Korea is, in point of fact, the epitome of a rogue state (although former Secretary of State Albright preferred the term "state of concern" so as not to appear confrontational).

None of us, I think, can accurately forecast how North Korea will behave. However, it is probably safe to predict that future North Korean-precipitated confrontations and crises are nearly inevitable-regardless of how benign Kim Jong-il appeared while being photographed arm-in-arm with former Secretary of State Albright. Indeed, in just the past few days, the DPRK has begun indicating-entirely predictably-that it may resume flight testing of ballistic missiles.

In the face of such a clear and unambiguous threat to ourselves and our allies, we should err on the side of caution by treating North Korea's overtures with appropriate skepticism. The new Bush Administration will need to send Pyongyang frequent and unambiguous messages about our resolve to withstand aggression. Working with South Korea and Japan, the Bush Administration needs to do a much better job than its predecessor of lessening North Korea's threat without succumbing to Pyongyang's brazen foreign aid extortion schemes.

Working with our South Korean friends means that we must be straightforward with regard to South Korea's "sunshine policy." President Kim Dae-jung is clearly committed to this bold outreach to the North. Certainly, we all hope the sunshine policy results in a meaningful improvement in relations-more than a few token visits and symbolic family reunifications-but we should make sure that Pyongyang is not simply manipulating the process in an effort to extract even more from the South. President Kim is in Washington this week, and I have no doubt that serious policy discussions are occurring as we sit here tonight.

China

Ranked right after the very real and dangerous security threat posed by North Korea, I believe that the greatest challenge to the United States and our overall national security interests in Asia may eventually be posed by China. I hope that will not be the case. It is still premature to view China as an enemy or adversary, but we could make it our adversary if we adopt a policy of trying to isolate and ostracize China as some in the U.S. do advocate.

Nor, of course, can China accurately be described as a "strategic partner," a term once mistakenly applied to China by the Clinton Administration. China clearly aspires to be the pre-eminent regional military force, and certainly it will be a powerful economic and political player globally. China is, or soon will be, our competitor for influence in the region. We should respectfully treat China as such.

Still, it is possible to envision the U.S. and China having a complementary or at least largely compatible future relationship, and we can and should work together when our interests overlap. To once again quote my friend Dick Cheney, "the Chinese should expect that there's no reason why they can't have good relations with the U.S., but it's got to be on the basis that they understand that we do have certain fundamental interests, and we expect them to be cognizant of those interests."

Sino-American relations are increasingly problematic, but they are not a zero-sum game, as some would characterize them. Our relations are complex and comprehensive and will only become more so in the future. As a result, our concerns continue to multiply in scope and gravity: espionage, illegal or highly questionable campaign contributions, threateningly asymmetrical military modernization, weapons proliferation, coercive abortion, human rights, labor and environmental protections, differences over Tibet and Taiwan, and unfair trade, among other concerns.

Let me take a moment to discuss a matter of particular concern-the Chinese military threat. China is a nuclear weapons state and is trying to modernize its conventional forces, but we should be careful not to overrate its capabilities. The China of today is by no means the Soviet Union of yesterday. However, in light of the serious and accurate revelations of the Cox Committee (on which I served) and based on other events and information, I have personally concluded that it is now necessary to fundamentally re-examine American foreign policy toward China.

Henceforth, every facet of our relationship needs to be continuously evaluated and re-evaluated. We no longer necessarily have the luxury of the long lead-time (20-25 years) we previously assumed for the democratic evolution and internationalization of China. American policymakers have long assumed that economic progress and deeper integration into the international community would result in a China committed to the existing international order. However, because of China's acquisition of advanced dual-use technology, it will have the capability to threaten and intimidate its neighbors well before this economic integration is completed.

We can no longer afford to be somewhat relaxed-as the Clinton Administration was-about always promptly defending our immediate interests because "time is on our side." We cannot afford to be so careless and trusting that long-term benefits will arrive in time. China's climb up the military power curve will likely be a bit quicker than expected. Therefore, again, for emphasis, a policy of responsible engagement must be centered on protecting and promoting both our short- and long-term national interests on all occasions.

Of course, there will be opportunities for positive change, and we should seize the opportunities that are in our short- and long-term national interest when they arise. The recent enactment of Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) for China in the context of China's accession to the WTO is an example of seizing the opportunity to make great progress on trade problems with China and simultaneously advancing economic reform in China. Admittedly, China's integration into the WTO and implementation of its WTO commitments is likely to be messy and fraught with significant problems. Critics of PNTR will smugly claim, "I told you so." Despite these anticipated problems, which we must address in a direct manner, the short- and long-term benefits of China's participation in the WTO are significant for the United States.

Taiwan-China

Perhaps not fully understood here in the United States-especially, I fear, among some of my colleagues in the Congress-is the overwhelming preoccupation Beijing has with the issue of Taiwan and that this obsession can be manipulated for intense nationalism within China. If there is any one issue that could provoke the U.S. and China into armed confrontation in the future, it is Taiwan. Because of Chinese misinterpretations of the Clinton Administration's views, this almost occurred in March 1996, when, in the guise of military exercises, the communist Chinese fired missiles that landed in the waters off Taiwan, thereby resulting in the deployment of two U.S. aircraft carrier task forces to the Taiwan Strait.

The events of recent years underscore how clear and unambiguous the United States needs to be about our interest in and insistence on peaceful resolution of differences between Taiwan and the mainland. Moreover, we must make it clear that any resolution of differences must be freely entered into and cannot be the result of coercion or intimidation. Beijing must understand that missile deployments across from Taiwan and other acts of intimidation will have consequences.

Members of Congress take very seriously the commitments that the United States made in the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 (TRA), particularly our commitment to provide Taiwan with the capability to defend itself. Fundamentally, the Clinton Administration's failure over eight years to follow the letter and spirit of the TRA, especially the requirement to closely consult and coordinate with Congress, caused much of the momentum that led to the passage of the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act. With the advent of the Bush Administration, the time is ripe for a new spirit of cooperation and consultation between the executive and legislative branches regarding Taiwan policy, and I believe it is important that such consultations should start tomorrow-not next week or next month.

Indonesia

Let me now turn from Northeast Asia to briefly discuss the greatest challenge facing the United States in Southeast Asia: the future of Indonesia. The situation in Indonesia-political instability, terrible ethnic and communal violence, and an ongoing economic crisis-is extremely complicated, and there are no simple, easy solutions.

Of course, for the United States, the easiest path would be to simply avoid the situation. However, we cannot ignore Indonesia's strategic importance in the region. Indonesia's further political and economic collapse, including the very real potential for the violent breakup of the country, would have serious negative consequences far beyond Indonesia's borders.

As difficult as it may be, we cannot let a specific set of human rights concerns-whether in Timor, Aceh, or Borneo-alone halt engagement with Indonesia's military. I strongly believe that previously well-intentioned congressional actions, which were focused on East Timor, have largely been counterproductive and have resulted in America losing access and leverage. The suspension of the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program and the denial to Indonesia of human rights-oriented training (E-IMET) has particularly eroded our influence with the Indonesian military.

I encourage the Bush Administration to pursue engagement with the Indonesian military, giving preference to the more reform-minded Navy, Air Force, and Marines at the expense of the distrusted Indonesian Army. It is appropriate to insist that the armed forces abide by internationally respected human rights, but we also must recognize that the Indonesian military remains a major political force and ultimately has a role to play as a final guarantor of Indonesia's security and stability. At the same time, the United States must also continue to support Indonesia's democratic and economic reform.

India-Pakistan

Lastly, let me make a few comments about South Asia. The Bush Administration must be prepared to address the volatile competition between India and Pakistan that has become increasingly deadly in recent years. This test of wills is particularly depressing because there have been opportunities on both sides to extend an olive branch and move forward in a more constructive manner. Now that India and Pakistan have demonstrated a nuclear capability and have developed ballistic missiles, the world faces the very real risk of nuclear warfare.

Traditional U.S. policy-designed to deter nuclear proliferation and punish would-be proliferators-has failed. This policy almost certainly helped delay proliferation for many years, but with the nuclear tests, the time to reconsider this policy has arrived. Laws that were designed to deter proliferation now limit our ability to engage in very important ways with India and Pakistan. I believe, for example, that the United States should now work closely with India and Pakistan to better assure that the control of their respective nuclear capabilities is as safe as possible. We should be willing to assist in developing fail-safe technologies and redundant command and control systems.

Immediately after India and Pakistan tested their nuclear devices, the United States imposed sweeping mandatory sanctions that affected virtually all trade with the subcontinent. Frankly, a prohibition on commercial loans and a "no" vote in the IMF hurt American exporters and did nothing to resolve our proliferation and security concerns. Congress eventually approved a one-year presidential waiver, but it is now time to eliminate the India-Pakistan sanctions for once and for all.

While I served as chairman of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, I tried very hard not to play favorites. I sought to treat both India and Pakistan as their actions merited. Of the two, of course, Pakistan poses the greater immediate set of challenges. However, I believe the United States should continue to actively engage Pakistan, encouraging a restoration of responsible civilian government and rule of law. If Pakistan goes the way of Afghanistan-adopting a Taliban-style leadership-the U.S. national interest would be severely threatened, as would India's security.

Conclusion

I have reviewed only a small fraction (but a most important fraction) of the issues that will challenge the new Administration. To recap, this agenda should include:

  • Vigorously promoting regional security and fostering alliance relationships;

  • Ensuring that American diplomatic and military personnel overseas have safe and livable working environments-we should tolerate no attacks on U.S. embassies during George Bush's tenure;

  • Working with our allies toward a pragmatic, eyes-wide-open strategy for dealing with North Korea;

  • Seeking to establish relations with the PRC that are neither alarmist nor pandering;

  • Pushing for the opening of markets, the advancement of free and fair trade, and the implementation of structural economic reform; and

  • Promoting the advancement of democracy and freedom throughout the region.

President Bush and his foreign policy team certainly have the talent, the creativity, and the long-term perspective to formulate a successful, coordinated Asia policy. Vice President Cheney, Secretary Powell, and Secretary Rumsfeld bring an enormous wealth of experience in Asia. Similarly, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz has the benefit of years of service as Ambassador to Indonesia, Assistant Secretary of State for Asia, and in other senior posts. And few people are as well-versed in Asian affairs as Deputy Secretary of State designee Rich Armitage. Other senior Bush advisors seem equally well versed in regional affairs. As a result, the Bush Administration comes into office with clear Asia priorities.

The foreign policy agenda I have described tonight is daunting and would cause even the most serious policymaker to pause in reflection. However, President Bush also must grapple with yet-unforeseen long-term effects of globalization. All of Asia-indeed, the whole world-is facing the greater, more rapid, freer flow of information, capital, services, and people. Certainly, this increased globalization presents opportunities, but it also presents risks. There are new non-state actors who are emerging on the international scene and who will challenge traditional governments for power and authority. New threats are emerging for which we have not yet begun to plan. For example, a recent unclassified intelligence study suggests that the next resource competition will not be for oil, but rather for water. Similarly, infectious diseases such as AIDS/HIV, TB, and malaria know no international borders.

The United States need not be frozen into inaction by the magnitude of the social and political change that is occurring. Indeed, I believe that globalization presents the American people with challenges and opportunities to create a more prosperous, more secure, and freer world. The challenge for the Bush Administration will be to seize the new opportunities for freedom while responding to the new security challenges as they emerge.

The Honorable Doug Bereuter, a Republican from Nebraska, is serving his twelfth term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He currently serves on the House Financial Services Committee and chairs the Subcommittee on International Monetary Policy and Trade.

Representative Bereuter is Vice Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and Chairman of the Intelligence Policy and National Security Subcommittee. He serves also on the International Relations Committee and on the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

He was a member of the Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People's Republic of China, known as the Cox Committee, which examined Chinese espionage and technology collection efforts in the United States. At the time he served on that Commission, he was Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Asia Pacific of the Committee on International Relations.

Congressman Bereuter is a graduate of the University of Nebraska and holds master's degrees in City Planning and Public Administration from Harvard University.

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