Soviet Policy in East Asia: A New Beginning?

Under Mikhail Gorbachev the Soviet Union has greatly increased its efforts to improve relations with the countries of East Asia, particularly China, but also Japan and South Korea, and with Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. There has been a new diplomatic flexibility, frequent visits, a drive for better trade links, an effort to join regional economic organizations such as the Asian Development Bank and the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council (PECC), a variety of arms control proposals and a determined effort to change the poor image of the Soviet Union in the region.

In a number of speeches, especially those in Vladivostok in July 1986 and Krasnoyarsk in September 1988, Gorbachev has said he wants to lower the level of military activity in the Pacific, to help resolve regional tensions, to improve Moscow's bilateral relations with all the countries in the region, to advance multilateral cooperation, particularly economic cooperation, and generally to create a "healthier" situation.

There is no euphoria about Gorbachev in Asia, as there may be elsewhere, but his initiatives have had an impact, particularly on China and South Korea. A summit meeting between Gorbachev and Deng Xiaoping will take place early in 1989, the first such meeting between two top Soviet and Chinese leaders in 30 years. An informal dialogue between Moscow and Seoul has begun and both sides are anxious to expand economic and even political relations. Moreover, it seems likely that Moscow and Tokyo will also reach some sort of modus vivendi in the near future, despite their territorial dispute. And if Vietnamese troops withdraw from Cambodia, as Moscow is now pressing Hanoi to do, a major constraint on Soviet relations with the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will be removed.

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