The Rising East


Sunday, July 29, 2001

Bush needs to fashion
a coherent Asia policy
before fall summit

Pundits in the press, political opponents of President Bush and ideological critics have begun a drumbeat of allegations that the Bush administration's policy toward Asia is too harsh or fails to heed the views of allies or seeks to demonize potential adversaries or is isolationist.

They're all wrong. Why? Because there is no Bush policy toward Asia.

Bits and pieces of the administration's thinking on Asia have surfaced but there is no overarching, coherent, comprehensive strategy that would serve as a beacon for the American people, the Congress, or the administration itself, not to say U.S. allies and possible adversaries in Asia. As President Bush the Elder might have said, "there's no vision thing."

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is on his first swing through Asia since taking office. Maybe when he gets back, he and the president and a few advisers should sit down and figure out where they want the United States to go in Asia and forge a plan to get there. A major address to the nation or a white paper or, preferably both, would seem to be in order.

As a candidate last fall, Bush sketched out a few thoughts on Asia. Once in the White House, he has met with President Kim Dae-jung of South Korea, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan, Foreign Minister Qian Qichen of China and President Vladimir Putin of Russia, which should not be overlooked as a nation in Asia. None of those meetings produced memorable guideposts for the president's thinking on Asia.

Secretary Powell, in his Senate confirmation hearings before being sworn in, produced a statement notable for its clarity, unlike much of the jargon of modern diplomacy. On China, for instance, Powell said: "We will treat China as she merits. A strategic partner China is not, but neither is China our inevitable and implacable foe."

On the fate of Taiwan, the island claimed by China but which the vast majority of the island's people wish to remain separate, Powell was especially clear: "Let all who doubt, from whatever perspective, be assured of one solid truth: We expect and demand a peaceful settlement, one acceptable to people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait."

In June, James Kelly, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific who comes from Hawaii, told a House subcommittee after a five-week journey from Singapore to Seoul that Asia's "regional consciousness -- a collective sense of identification and of common cause -- remains relatively undeveloped and far, far, short of what Europe has achieved."

More recently, two senior researchers as the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies here, Ronald Montaperto and Satu limaye, reported in these pages that Asians were anxious about the Bush policy toward Asia because they didn't know what might emerge. Nor were they sure of what they wanted from the United States.

Altogether, President Bush and his advisers have had a chance to learn by now what's on the minds of Asian leaders and to complete a review of U.S. posture in Asia they started even before the inauguration.

After six months in office, they should be at the top of the learning curve. Powell's return to Washington will be the time to fashion a strategy, which should be completed and announced before the president goes to China in October for an Asian economic summit.

The president and his administration should keep several audiences in mind in this endeavor:

>> The American people and the Congress. All foreign policy, most especially in a democracy, is rooted in domestic politics and must have public and legislative support;

>> Administration officials so that they have guidelines against which to make everyday decisions on issues from trade to security to cultural exchanges;

>> Asian allies so that they will know where the United States intends to go and can decide how best to support that or to do the least damage if they disagree;

>> Potential adversaries, most notably China and North Korea, so they will know what the United States stands on vital issues and will not miscalculate on American intentions and political will.

Once having completed this blueprint for the president, the administration will need a fresh name, a catchy slogan, a bumper sticker like the Truman Doctrine or the Marshall Plan to implant it in the public mind.

Just don't call it the Bush League.

Richard Halloran is editorial director of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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