[J–GLOBAL FORUM]The new role of the United States in Asia

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[J–GLOBAL FORUM]The new role of the United States in Asia

When I think about the role of the United States in Asia, I am reminded of a story. An Asian man lost his job. His house burned down, and his wife ran off with another man. So what was the logical next step? He went to the American Embassy to protest!

When asked why, he explained, “I know everything that happens in this part of the world is the work of the Americans. Certainly, they could have prevented these misfortunes!”

This tale illustrates the blame often placed on the United States for the misfortunes of other countries. But it fails to give credit to the U.S. for its many positive contributions to the security and prosperity of Asia.

In the case of Korea, it was the United States’ defeat of imperial Japan that liberated the peninsula from colonial rule. Five years later, in 1950, the U.S. led United Nations troops in repelling the North Korean invasion, thus saving South Korea from extinction. In fact, the United States’ security commitment has shielded many other Asian countries - including Japan, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia, and Singapore.

The U.S. also plays a key role in maintaining the stability of the oil fields of the Middle East, and is active in protecting vital sea lanes, from the Strait of Hormuz to the Malacca Straits, assuring the steady and stable flow of oil to East Asia. In addition, the United States serves as a major market for Asian goods, especially from China.

In fact, much of what China exports to the U.S. originates from other countries such as South Korea, Taiwan and Japan, to the extent that China is serving as a major conduit of other Asian countries’ exports.

Finally, the U.S. plays a key role in preventing the proliferation of WMDs as well as their delivery systems such as missiles. And when big disasters such as a tsunami take place, the United States, is on the scene with help.

Even as some countries such as China and North Korea complain that missile defense systems or the Proliferation Security Initiative can be directed against them, there is no question that, overall, such efforts contribute to the peace, stability, and ultimately to the prosperity of the Asian region.

Now let’s take a look at the U.S. role and image today. Following the demise of the Soviet Union, the United States appeared still more omnipotent, with no apparent challenge to its supremacy. However, much has happened during the past decade.

For one thing, the United States became preoccupied with the war on terrorism, while new powers such as China have been rising. Today we are witnessing the U.S. increasingly sharing its global power as the world becomes more pluralistic. As America looks to its role in Asia in the years and decades ahead, one factor should weigh heavily in its calculations: The importance of Asia as a whole, and Northeast Asia in particular, is growing vis-a-vis other regions in the world. The Asia-Pacific is home to most of the world’s largest economies - present and prospective - including Japan, China, India and Russia.

And it is in Northeast Asia where America’s largest trading partners are located.

So what does the United States have to do both to promote its own interests, and to continue to make a positive contribution to the region?

First, the United States should maintain a stable relationship with China. Whoever becomes the new president should try to avoid the pattern of previous administrations in which relations started out on a rocky footing, only to be stabilized later.

Second, while maintaining its strong alliances with countries such as Japan, South Korea and Australia, the United States should engage in strategic dialogue, both bilateral and multilateral, with other key Asian countries, especially China.

Third, the United States should engage in confidence and security building measures with China and Russia - and initiate measures between them on the one hand and U.S. allies and friends on the other.

Fourth, in Asia, the U.S. should expand the use of so-called soft power. [Soft power is] the power of persuasion rather than coercion.

Finally, as Asia emerges as the world’s most important economic region, the United States should maintain and strengthen its presence here. As Asia advances economically and politically, the United States will remain a leading and vital partner in the region if it recognizes and works on the basis of mutually shared interests; shows respect for Asian countries as equal partners; and continues both to practice and promote enduring values - the values of democracy and peace, innovation and opportunity and the well-being of humankind.

*The speaker is a member of the National Assembly from the Grand National Party, Korea.

by Chung Mong-joon
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