[OUTLOOK]America looks elsewhere in Asia

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[OUTLOOK]America looks elsewhere in Asia

The Bush administration’s 2006 National Security Strategy, a self-administered report card and policy road map released last week in Washington, not surprisingly gives lots of passing grades in the war on terror. But the strategy ― in combination with this month’s visits by President George W. Bush to India and by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Indonesia and Australia ― suggests that the United States is also finally moving past the war on terror to address the strategic implications of China’s rise.
The new National Security Strategy characterizes its objectives of ending tyranny and promoting effective democracies as “principled in goals but pragmatic in means,” implicitly admitting the costly lesson from Iraq that “freedom cannot be imposed; it must be chosen.”
A more tempered Bush approach ties together values and interests rather than asserting values despite negative consequences for American strategic interests. This means consolidating relations with fellow democracies, which are presumed to share common values, as the foundation for a convergence of interests; thus a sharpened focus on partnership with Asia’s largest democracies: India and Indonesia.
This logic has led the Bush administration to make a dramatic and contested strategic change in American nuclear policy toward India, recognizing that India will never give up its status as a nuclear state and justifying nuclear cooperation based on India’s democratic system and its non-proliferation record.
Indians welcome unprecedented attention both from Mr. Bush and many other global leaders, but they resent the idea that the developing breadth of U.S.-India cooperation that extends to trade, energy and military cooperation is solely for using India to balance China. Despite opposition from American non-proliferation specialists and Indian critics of American hegemony, a strategic relationship with India will likely gain broad American support because of the convergence of democratic values with shared strategic interests.
Likewise, Ms. Rice last week promoted a “strategic partnership” with Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim democracy, which like India has already signed up to a “strategic partnership” with China through Asean.
The U.S.-Indonesia “strategic partnership” may seem unlikely given domestic political obstacles in Indonesia; polls show that over 80 percent of Indonesians polled held negative views of the United States less than three years ago, at the height of the Iraq war. Despite an improved American image in the context of U.S. military-led post-tsunami relief efforts last year, Indonesian public perceptions of America remain volatile.
These concerns did not dissuade leading Indonesian thinkers at a workshop I attended last January in Jakarta from being intrigued with the idea of a strategic partnership with America. Compared to South Koreans, who have lived with the Americans every day for five decades, Indonesia is distant from American attention, and the American tendency to think of Southeast Asia only as “the second front in the war on terror” stimulated Indonesian thinkers to consider how a partnership with America might be utilized to advance Indonesian foreign policy goals, regardless of American motives.
Greater Indian and Indonesian cooperation with the United States ― in combination with a strengthened U.S.-Japan global partnership ― while meant as strategic moves, should not be reflexively defined as thinking that will lead to a new “Asian cold war” at this early stage. For sure, U.S.-China strategic distrust remains a part of the picture, but it does not have to develop into the all-out competition that characterized the cold war. The new strategy encourages China as a “responsible stakeholder” to “make the right choices for its people, while we hedge against other possibilities.”
No Asian country seeks to choose between China and the United States, which face greater challenges deriving from their own bilateral economic interdependence than from immediate strategic conflicts. Korean (and Asian) concerns about U.S.-China rivalry are much more likely to present themselves in hues of gray than in black and white.
The new strategy claimed a shared vision with Seoul of a “prosperous, united and democratic Korean Peninsula.” North Korea was characterized as a “despotic system” and a “serious non-proliferation challenge,” but the Bush administration gave itself high marks ― unlike many of its partners ― for achieving “extraordinary coordination among historic rivals” at the six-party talks.
For the United States, strategic partnership with the likes of Indonesia and India, enhanced global partnerships with Japan and Australia and expanded American military facilities in Guam all enhance American “strategic flexibility” to meet new Asian security challenges. This first iteration of a post-Cold War U.S. approach to Asia will face further revisions as the situation develops. But it also suggests that when the cold war is finally over on the Korean Peninsula, American attention may shift to other areas in post-Cold War Asia that have greater significance for American interests.

* The writer, a senior associate with the Asia Foundation and Pacific Forum CSIS, is currently a Pantech Fellow at Stanford University’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (APARC). The views expressed here are personal views. He can be reached at ssnyder@asiafound-dc.org.


by Scott Snyder

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