[Overseas view]The decade ahead: a sounding

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[Overseas view]The decade ahead: a sounding

From September through October last year, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Joong Ang Ilbo cooperated on a survey of over 300 strategic leaders across Asia about the future of regional cooperation. The full results will be published by CSIS on Feb. 18 and will be accessible at http://www.CSIS.org. Here’s a preview of the main findings.

The survey covered nine countries: Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea and the United States. It is the first region-wide survey of strategic elites’ views of Asia’s future order.

The first finding in the survey is that regional strategic thinkers expect China to be the most powerful country in Asia within ten years. In response to the question of which other country will be the strongest in overall national power in the Asian region in 10 years, a weighted average of 65.5 percent of respondents answered China, compared with 31 percent who answered that the U.S. would still be most powerful.

Korean strategists were generally more optimistic about American power than others in Asia, with 59 percent of Koreans arguing that the U.S. will still be most powerful.

However, trust in China is still much lower than trust in the United States.

A weighted average of 40 percent of respondents across the region said that the U.S. would still be the greatest force for peace and stability in Asia, compared with 24 percent who said that about China.

China was cited as the greatest threat to peace and stability in 10 years by 38 percent, followed by North Korea, with 21.6 percent.

(Since the number of respondents varied somewhat from country to country, we used a “weighted average” for purposes of comparison).

Korean respondents were the most suspicious of China, with fully 56 percent citing China as the greatest potential threat, followed by 38 percent who cited North Korea.

South Korean respondents also had the most positive expectation of America’s role, with 94 percent saying the U.S. would remain the greatest force for peace and stability in 10 years.

When it comes to the geostrategic view of power in Asia and who to trust, no two countries in the region appear more closely aligned than the United States and South Korea.

The second major finding in the survey is that there is broad support across the region for the creation of an “East Asia Community.”

A weighted average of 81 percent of respondents expressed support for the idea (with 37 percent expressing “strong support”). Koreans expressed the most support for the concept with 94 percent in favor, 51 percent of whom said they were “very supportive.”

Americans demonstrated the least support for an East Asian Community, but were still fairly close to the regional average. Particularly striking was how respondents listed the priorities for East Asia Community building over the next ten years.

The top priority listed across the region, with 98 percent expressing support, was confidence-building among countries in Asia. The second priority, with 91 percent across the region expressing support, was “establishing a regional trade framework.”

The third priority, with 85 percent, was “promoting good governance,” followed closely by “human rights” (80 percent) and promoting “free and fair elections” (79 percent).

Even among Chinese experts a majority expressed support for these last three goals - even promoting “free and fair elections.”

This should give us all a more optimistic perspective on the prospects for sharing values with China somewhere in the future.

These results have a number of implications for the U.S.?Korea alliance. First, the fact that Koreans express the greatest anxiety about China’s rise and the greatest confidence in America’s role in Asia - but also the most support for establishing an East Asia Community - suggests that the United States can place greater faith in South Korea in multilateral meetings like the East Asia Summit or Asean +3 where American officials are not present.

More than any other ally in Asia, Koreans appear to understand that greater regional cooperation and integration will be enhanced by close relations with the United States (not surprisingly, Japanese and Australians were just behind Koreans in this view).

Second, the very strong support within the region for good governance, human rights and democracy suggests that the U.S. and South Korea could begin joint initiatives together on these areas within Asia.

Korea already has a strong leadership record in hosting the Community of Democracies and more recently the Asia Pacific Democracy Partnership.

The Lee Myung-bak government should build on these initiatives, recognizing that cooperation on good governance and rule of law are areas where there is broadest support in Asia, but also using Seoul’s own example to help nations strengthen their democratic institutions.

A third major finding from the survey that will interest Korean readers is the gap in regional views on how to battle proliferation.

When asked what the most important challenge is in Asia, 44 percent of Koreans answered “proliferation” compared with only 11 percent for the region as a whole.

Korean respondents were also most positive about the six-party talks, with 47 percent saying that they would be the most effective institutional arrangement for dealing with proliferation challenges in the region.

Americans were closest to that view, with 39 percent pointing to the six-party talks as most useful, while only 20 percent of Chinese pointed to the talks and only 18 percent of Japanese (more Japanese thought the Proliferation Security Initiative would be the best way to deal with proliferation).

In some ways this response suggests that it is up to the United States and Korea to take the lead in revitalizing the six-party process and to convince Chinese counterparts that the talks are a priority, and Japanese colleagues not to give up.

Readers should log into the CSIS Web site to explore the full range of answers and draw their own conclusions, but the experts at CSIS who analyzed the data came away with a much greater confidence in the potential for building a truly regional and global U.S.?Korea alliance based on common values and interests.

*The writer is a former senior director for Asian affairs at the U.S. National Security Council.

BY Michael J. Green
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