The Rising East
Asia Pacific Center
detractors fail to see its
value as a diplomatic tool
The Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies here has become a target for right-wingers in Washington, D.C., who contend that "its pro-China bias" undercuts U.S. national interests in Asia. Some critics assert that the center, which is funded by Congress as part of the Pacific Command, should be shut down.
To the contrary, leaders of the APCSS at Fort DeRussy in Waikiki, the Pacific Command at Camp Smith in Halawa Heights and the Department of Defense in Washington have been vigorous in asserting the value of the center. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, who was instrumental in establishing the center, also can be expected to defend it.
(In the interest of full and fair disclosure, this writer is a part-time instructor at the center, teaching an elective on the role of the press in Asian security.)
The mission of the APCSS, which opened its doors in 1995, is to pull together American, Asian and Pacific Island military officers and defense officials to study and debate what are known as the "non-warfighting" aspects of security -- economics, diplomacy, humanitarian assistance and peace- keeping operations.
In this concept, rising leaders in Asia, the Pacific and the United States will have a better chance of resolving disputes if they have an understanding of the national interests of potential adversaries. The APCSS has three 12-week courses a year with about 70 students each, plus several senior seminars and conferences on specific issues.
"This process," said Adm. Dennis Blair, who commands U.S. military forces in Asia and the Pacific, "builds confidence, bridges cultural differences and helps eliminate potentially dangerous military misunderstandings."
The right-wingers in Washington, known as the Blue Team, have an informal alliance around conservative members of Congress such as Sen. Jesse Helms, Republican of North Carolina, and Rep. Christopher Cox, Republican of California. Staff aides, lobbyists and political operatives, think-tank specialists and some academics belong to the Blue Team.
The Blue Team, which takes its name from the good guys in war games -- the bad guys are the Red Team -- often have their views reflected in articles by Bill Gertz of The Washington Times. Gertz wrote recently that the APCSS was seen by conservatives in the Pentagon as "a haven for pro-Beijing thinking."
The Blue Team generally believes the United States should confront China at every turn, since the objective of Chinese leaders is to drive the United States from Asia.
In contrast, the strategy of the Bush administration and the Pacific Command is to deter China where necessary and to seek to engage Chinese leaders where possible. The mission of the APCSS is part of that balanced strategy of deterrence and engagement.
"The APCSS plays a vital role in peaceful development in the region," Blair said in response to a query. He said a major goal of his command was to foster "common approaches to common security challenges."
Asked whether the APCSS is "pro-China," Lt. Gen. H.C. Stackpole, the retired Marine who is president of the APCSS, was succinct: "The Asia Pacific Center is pro-Asia Pacific." He continued: "Our purpose is to build relationships with the entire region. China is large because of geography and demography but it is only one nation with which we deal."
Stackpole asserted: "Policy is not made here, policy is made in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and we follow policy."
Asked whether the threat to close down the APCSS was serious, Blair was even more succinct: "No."
A spokesman for the Defense Department said senior officials viewed the APCSS as serving "a vital purpose." He noted that the Pentagon wanted some changes made at the center, notably to include military officers from Taiwan in its programs. Those changes have been made, he said, and Taiwanese officers will be invited to the course that begins in late May.
Although Inouye's office in Washington did not respond to a query about his stance on the APCSS, he has supported it from the beginning. Moreover, he is chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense that oversees the Pentagon's budget -- and his wishes are not likely to be ignored.
The charge that the APCSS has a pro-China bias has generated chuckles in the corridors of the school as several students of different nationalities said their Chinese classmates considered the center to be a hotbed of anti-Chinese propaganda.
Richard Halloran is a former correspondent
for The New York Times in Asia and a former editorial
director of the Star-Bulletin. His column appears Sundays.
He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com