March 11, 2005 | WebMemo on Asia
Condoleezza Rice will make her first trip to Asia as U.S. Secretary of State next week, visiting India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, South Korea, Japan, and China. In Northeast Asia, North Korea and the resolution of the nuclear issue will dominate the discussions, while in South Asia, the ongoing war on terrorism and Kashmir will be the primary focus. With President Bush's pledge to emphasize diplomacy in his second term, Secretary Rice's visit to Asia will be an important addition to recent her trips to Europe and the Middle East. While the purpose of the visit is for Secretary Rice to introduce herself to the leaders of these six countries, she will also have a full agenda of specific bilateral issues in each country:
Pakistan: President Pervez Musharraf is a tested ally in the war on terrorism, but he is also a military dictator and many intelligence analysts still believe Osama bin Laden is hiding out somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Rice must continue to press for democracy and for the suppression of terrorism in Pakistan while recognizing Islamabad's contributions to the war on terrorism.
The India-Pakistan ceasefire over Kashmir has now held for more than a year, but the talks to move from a ceasefire to a peace agreement seem little closer to resolution than when they began. The obstacle is that neither side has the political will to compromise on Kashmir. Pakistan will not permit the resolution of non-Kashmir-related disputes, such as cross-border trade and communications, until the Kashmir issue is resolved. India refuses to permit outside or third-party negotiators to help the two countries find common ground. Nevertheless, life along the line of control that divides the two countries seems to be improving. Cross-border terrorist attacks from Pakistan into India have been reduced significantly from pre-ceasefire levels, there have been fewer cross-border artillery duels, and perhaps soon there will be a return of cross-border bus service. Although resolution seems disappointingly distant, Rice must resist the temptation to meddle. To establish useful American intervention both India and Pakistan must want American involvement and that is not the case now. Unwelcome stirring of the pot, while the peace is holding, may upset the positive gains made by the current negotiation process.
India: The economic, political, and security ties between the United States and India have advanced by leaps and bounds over the last decade, but President Bush has not yet visited the world's largest democracy. A presidential visit to India would bind the budding friendship, demonstrate the President's sincerity in supporting democracy in a region plagued by repressive governments and provide political capital to Indian politicians that want greater U.S.-India ties. Secretary Rice should lay the groundwork for a presidential visit later this year.
Rice's trip to India also presents an opportunity to make a joint U.S.-India statement on Nepal. Since King Gyanendra abolished the government and established his monarchy as absolute, the human rights situation in the country has substantially dropped from its already low levels. Capitalizing on Nepal's sudden political isolation, China is supporting the king's dictatorial impulses and appears to be constructing another outpost of tyranny on its frontier, similar to Beijing's behavior with North Korea and Burma. A strong statement by India and the United States should warn the Chinese about interfering with Nepal's independence and encourage King Gyanendra to restore democracy this year.
Afghanistan: In Kabul, Rice will focus on continuing the war on terror, especially al-Qaeda remnants; developing Afghan forces for security duty in dealing with Taliban irregulars; integrating Afghan militias in the Afghan armed forces; and eradicating the burgeoning drug trade, which is funding terrorism and radicalism.
Japan: Coming on the heels of a very successful U.S.-Japan Security Consultative session - or "2+2 Ministerial Meetings" - in Washington, Rice's visit to Tokyo will be an excellent opportunity to move beyond the rhetoric of solid cooperation and explore some concrete actions to implement the common strategy articulated at the meetings. For example, in light of North Korea's declaration that it has ended its self-imposed moratorium on missile-testing, Washington and Tokyo should indicate specific actions they will take should Pyongyang launch another missile test.
Korea: In Seoul, the focus of discussions will be on the continuing effort to coordinate policies toward North Korea and the resolution of the nuclear issue. While the two governments are closely cooperating and seem to have reached official consensus on a number of topics, including the policies on the nuclear issue and strengthening the alliance, public discourse - particularly in South Korea - does not reflect this close working relationship. Rice's primary task will be to allay suspicions in South Korea that U.S. policies are counter to Korean interests; on the contrary, she should emphasize that America's priority is the same as South Korea's: to find a peaceful solution to the nuclear issue. As such, Secretary Rice should emphasize the public diplomacy aspect of her visit and encourage the leadership in Seoul to work more closely with Washington to deliver coordinated messages.
China: Though the last stop, Beijing may be the most important stop on Rice's swing through Asia. China's military buildup, its relationship with Iran, and the North Korean nuclear program will prevail in bilateral discussions. China must understand that a peaceful, mutually agreeable resolution to Taiwan's future must be achieved, and that the introduction of a Taiwan anti-secession law is unhelpful to cross-Strait stability Rice must press China, the country with the most influence with North Korea, to pressure Pyongyang back to the negotiating table. China must also use its influence with Iran to encourage Tehran to step back from the nuclear weapons abyss.
On the heels of successful swings through Europe and the Middle East, Rice's first visit to Asia as Secretary of State offers the opportunity to set the tone and tenor for some of the United States' most important relationships.
-Peter T.R. Brookes is Senior Fellow for National Security Affairs and Director, Dana R. Dillon is Senior Policy Analyst for Southeast Asia, and Balbina Y. Hwang is policy analyst for Northeast Asia, in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.