The Rising East


Sunday, July 22, 2001

Summits provide few
prospects for lasting
peace in Asia

Tis the season for summitry but little of it promises to promote greater security in Asia and some of it may have dropped the chances for lasting peace down a notch.

The leaders of arch-rivals India and Pakistan met last weekend close by the fabled Taj Mahal but failed even to dent the emotional issue of Kashmir and parted without signing the usual diplomatic communiqué.

The leaders of China and Russia, which have little in common and much in dispute, met in Moscow to sign a pact intended to counter what they perceive to be an American drive to dominate the world.

The leaders of the industrial West, Japan, and Russia gathered in Genoa this weekend amid raging protests by anti-globalists who were so distracting that not much of substance seemed to have got done.

Then there is the summit that is supposed to have taken place between the leaders of North Korea and South Korea. The prospects of that are nowhere in sight and the hopes of a year ago for reconciliation have evaporated.

The most disappointing of these summits was surely that of President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan who journeyed next-door to India to meet with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee. Reports from India say the two got on well personally, as many Indians and Pakistanis do because they share a culture.

But they could not even agree on an agenda, Musharraf wanting to focus on the core issue of Kashmir and Vajpayee insisting on wider discussions of economic and political issues. Kashmir is just south of the Himalayan mountains, a region whose fate was left undecided when Britain partitioned India and Pakistan and then departed in 1947.

The danger is that hardliners in either country -- and both have their share -- will argue that there is no sense in trying to negotiate with the other.

The concern to everyone else arises from one stark reality, which is that both have nuclear arms and neither has the political and physical constraints that precluded the Americans and Russians from fighting a nuclear war during the Cold War.

Pakistani and Indian spokesmen sought to strike an upbeat note, asserting that at least the two leaders had begun talking.

Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S., Maleeda Lodhi told the Far Eastern Economic Review: "It may be a disappointment but not a disaster."

In contrast, the mood in Moscow was happy faces after a meeting between President Jiang Zemin of China and President Vladimir Putin of Russia. They forged a treaty that brought their nations nearly full circle, from the alliance of the 1950s to the Sino-Soviet split of 1960s to the tentative reaching out after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Tiananmen demonstrations in 1989.

Their 20-year pact set up a "strategic cooperation partnership" in which they would "work together to preserve global strategic balance." They asserted that their expanding military relations were "not aimed at any third country."

Chinese and Russians spokesman said the treaty was specifically not directed at the United States, which is about as believable as the Bush Administration's contention that its plans for missile defenses are not aimed at China, Russia, or North Korea. Ah, would that we have a little truth in international advertising.

Hardly had Jiang and Putin clapped each other on the back than the Chinese bought $2 billion worth of Russian jet fighters, which will give China greater striking power against the island nation of Taiwan over which Beijing claims sovereignty.

As disappointing as was the India-Pakistan summit, the absence of a summit between the North Korean leader, Kim Jong- il, and the president of South Korea, Kim Dae-jung, was equally disappointing.

Kim Dae-jung ventured to Pyongyang 13 months ago for the first meeting between the heads of state of the two nations on the divided peninsula.

Amid pledges of reconciliation, Kim Jong-il promised to make a return visit to Seoul this year. As has happened in the past, however, the North Koreans have shown little interest in making peace with South Korea. Tensions along the border between the two, perhaps the world's most heavily fortified line, have not been diminished in the slightest.

In sum, Asia is a bit more in danger today than it was a week ago.

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

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