American optimism about East Asia, in precious short supply only a few years earlier, was abundantly available in 1980. "The arc from Korea through Taiwan and the Philippines, at the very center of great power rivalry for much of this century, is less subject to these strains today than at any time in well over forty years," Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke declared in June. Such pronouncements by U.S. policymakers were understandable: East Asia offered far more possibilities-for diplomatic overtures, for expanding trade-than anyone dared predict during the Vietnam era. But in 1980 enough warning signals were flashing throughout the region to suggest the need for a more balanced-and less buoyant-assessment.

The strongest warning signals emanated from both ends of Holbrooke's arc. South Korea completed a tortuous, bloody journey from the repression of the Park Chung Hee era, through an intoxicating period of post-Park liberalization, and then back to an even more severe brand of repression under its new military strongman-turned-President, Chun Doo Hwan. This retrogression represented far more than simply a setback for democracy and human rights: it threatened to lock up feelings of frustration and anger that could explode at any time. In the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos' dictatorship continued to lose credibility with its own people and was reduced to devoting most of its efforts merely to maintaining power. A string of dramatic terrorist bombings beginning in August indicated that opposition warnings about the possibility of violence could no longer be dismissed as empty rhetoric.

For the United States, those developments have major implications. South Korea is still the most likely flashpoint in Asia for a major conflict, and it and the Philippines are the only two nations in Asia where the United States still maintains a military presence. Internal strife could threaten the future of those bases. In the Philippines, a strain of anti-Americanism has been visible for some time among the most militant opposition groups, some of whom have openly demanded the ouster of the U.S. Air Force from Clark and the U.S. Navy from Subic Bay. Until recently such sentiments have been missing almost entirely from the South Korean political scene. However, as Chun solidified his grip with what was perceived as Washington's backing, the first signs of anti-Americanism emerged there.

Those were not immediate threats, and it could easily be argued that it would be difficult for anti-Americanism to expand much beyond a small group of opponents of the current governments, since both countries have extensive security and trade links with the United States. But the specter of internal unrest cannot be so quickly dismissed; it raises fundamental questions about the accuracy of America's vision of East Asia as an area that, with the notable exception of Indochina itself, has achieved a remarkable degree of stability after the trauma of the Vietnam War. That vision has been shaped by the remarkable economic successes of such nations as South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, and by the feeling that the region's entire economic potential is only beginning to be discovered. It has also been shaped by the gravitation of the United States, Japan and China toward nearly identical positions on many foreign policy issues. As an added bonus, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has proved to be a formidable ally of that "big three" in diplomatic battles with Vietnam and the Soviet Union.

U.S. policymakers could point with justifiable pride to the strengthening of those trends in 1980. The United States, Japan, China and ASEAN all lined up together on such issues as Afghanistan, the Olympic boycott, and Cambodia. Sino-American relations registered new impressive gains: two-way trade amounted to about four billion dollars in 1980, nearly double the 1979 figure, and by 1985 it is expected to be on the order of ten billion dollars. Defense Secretary Harold Brown and his Chinese counterpart Geng Biao exchanged unprecedented visits, resulting in the Carter Administration's decision to approve in principle the sale of many types of military support equipment, excluding weapons, for sale to China.

Even Indochina provided a modicum of good-or at least less tragic-news for a change. The flow of boat people from Vietnam remained at relatively low levels compared to the earlier flood, and Cambodia's agony visibly diminished. The suffering of the Cambodians was far from over, but for the first time since 1975 there were tangible signs of improvement in their lives. The huge international relief effort had unquestionably produced results, and human skeletons no longer stalked Cambodian villages or poured across the Thai border. But the Khmer Rouge continued their guerrilla warfare against the Vietnamese occupiers, and there was no visible sign of progress on the diplomatic front. ASEAN lobbied effectively for another United Nations vote to seat the Khmer Rouge delegation in October and called for an international conference to break the stalemate. The United States largely followed ASEAN's lead and advanced no new initiatives of its own. Relations between Hanoi and Washington remained distinctly chilly, with no sign that diplomatic ties would be established soon.

As the Reagan Administration sizes up the current East Asian scene, it should be wary of assuming that the area will not present serious problems in the future. New approaches should be explored for defusing the Indochina situation, including the possibility of finding an acceptable formula for normalizing relations with Hanoi. The question of future relations with both China and Taiwan, which surfaced in total confusion during the campaign, will require sober analysis. In evaluating how-or whether-to play a "China card" against the Soviets, a temptation that will probably be even stronger for Reagan than it was for Carter, the new Administration should carefully evaluate China's internal politics, always a key to determining the role Beijing will or will not be capable of playing in the global arena. At the same time, Reagan policymakers should take a close look at the internal situations of a variety of other friends in Asia. The natural tendency of the new Administration will be to place primary emphasis on security considerations, while abandoning the tattered remnants of Carter's human rights policy. That may prove to be a dangerous impulse if it overlooks strong currents of discontent that could produce unwelcome surprises in the future.


No Asian nation was as full of surprises in 1980 as South Korea. On December 12, 1979, Chun-who was then a major general-led a coup within the army that ousted martial law commander General Chung Seung Hwa and other top military leaders. Chun's group, which promptly assumed all key leadership positions within the army, represented a new breed of younger officers. Most had graduated from the Korean Military Academy in 1955, the first class to have gone through a full four-year course there. This "11th class" looked with disdain at many of the older generals whose training had been shorter. Chun and his colleagues were also characterized by a more nationalistic outlook than their superiors: they were visibly less in awe of the American officers stationed in South Korea. It was generally assumed that they were political hard-liners, who had been extremely loyal to President Park Chung Hee. By virtue of the fact that martial law had been declared over most of the country after Park's assassination in October 1979, they were clearly the most powerful men in the country. Thus, the sudden rush toward liberalization of South Korean politics in early 1980 stunned many observers.

A civilian government headed by President Choi Kyu Hah began the year by restoring the civil liberties of 687 of Park's old opponents. Among those freed to engage in political activities was former presidential candidate and dissident leader Kim Dae Jung, who had been kept in prison and under house arrest since 1973 when he was kidnapped by the South Korean CIA in Japan and forcibly brought back to Seoul. Kim Young Sam, who had been stripped of his title of president of the opposition New Democratic Party by Park, was given de facto recognition as Party leader once again by the government. Kim Jong Pil, the head of Park's old Democratic Republican Party, attempted to convince the public he had changed colors by identifying himself with the country's new democratic aspirations. In effect, the "three Kims" launched immediately into what everyone assumed was the beginning of a presidential campaign. The National Assembly established a bi-partisan committee to begin the work of drafting a new Constitution, with the full expectation that whatever document emerged would call for the election of a new president by a direct, popular vote.

Suddenly, with the army seemingly content to stay in the background as political activities resumed, the old rigid rules no longer applied. The press, while still strictly controlled, no longer ignored everything the opposition politicians said or did. And they said a great deal, issuing statements and making speeches calling for even more sweeping reforms and an immediate end to martial law. On university campuses, students clamored-often successfully-for the reinstatement of their colleagues, professors and administrators who had been purged during the Park era. Education Minister Kim Og Kil, the only woman in Choi's cabinet and a respected former president of Ewha Women's University, convinced her colleagues to allow the liberalization to continue. To the students, she counselled moderation-above all, that they keep their rallies and protests on the campuses to avoid confrontations in the streets.

But the confrontations came anyway. With the economy experiencing its first negative growth in 16 years and inflation running at about 30 percent, the country's normally docile workers staged successive strikes, culminating in a coal miners' riot in Sabuk that left one policeman dead and dozens injured. The students grew increasingly suspicious of the government's professed intention to call new elections by early 1981; they wanted action faster and felt a particularly acute sense of foreboding about Chun's assumption of the post of CIA Director in April. They demanded his immediate resignation. By May, the students were pouring off the campuses by the thousands, staging massive rallies and fighting hit-and-run battles with the police.

After several days of massive protests, however, the students called off further action. A popular backlash had begun to set in, and dissident leaders like Kim Dae Jung warned that they should back off so as not to jeopardize the gains already made. "I hope students will leave politics to the politicians for the time being," Kim declared in a statement that was subsequently overlooked by the military court that later convicted him on a variety of charges-among them, that he had incited the students. Ironically, it was after the students agreed to stop their protests at least temporarily and life in Seoul had returned to normal that Chun struck back. On May 17, riot police invaded a meeting of student activists at Ewha University arresting everyone in sight; all universities and the National Assembly were closed, and martial law was extended to the whole country. Kim Dae Jung and Kim Jong Pil, along with other politicians from both the opposition and pro-Park camps, were rounded up in midnight raids, while Kim Young Sam was placed under house arrest.

In retrospect, some opposition politicians now concede that, along with the students, they had engaged in a brand of confrontation politics that precipitated that outcome. "We pushed Chun into a corner," said one member of the now defunct National Assembly, which had been set to consider bipartisan proposals for the lifting of martial law before Chun struck. However, the scope of the crackdown and the prompt circulation of lengthy charges of sedition against Kim Dae Jung and of corruption against Kim Jong Pil left no doubt that Chun had planned his action well in advance; the student demonstrations simply gave him the pretext he needed. His goal was nothing less than the removal of anyone who might stand in the way of the final consolidation of his power.

In the southwestern city of Kwangju, the capital of South Cholla province whose most prominent native son is Kim Dae Jung, the crackdown was particularly brutal, sparking a nine-day insurrection that left 189 dead according to the official count. (Other sources estimated the death toll to be much higher.) Commando units were sent in to disperse a relatively small demonstration on the Chonnam National University campus with rifle butts and bayonets. In the battles that followed, the students quickly picked up support from angry citizens. The civilians seized arms, commandeered military vehicles, and, after several bloody battles, the troops withdrew from the city. But not for long. The city was retaken in a well-executed assault that overwhelmed the defenders; massive arrests followed. In October, a military court sentenced five people to death and another 170 to prison terms ranging from five years to life for their part in the uprising.

With resistance crushed, Chun could proceed with the rest of his agenda: the conviction and sentencing to death of Kim Dae Jung on sedition charges by a military court-martial;1 the creation of the Special Committee for National Security Measures, a junta headed by Chun himself; and the launching of a nationwide "purification" campaign. As part of that campaign, over 8,500 bureaucrats lost their jobs, along with about 1,200 trade unionists and hundreds of journalists. Many were purged for alleged corruption, but others-particularly in the media-were singled out for their political views. Thousands of criminals and "anti-social elements" were rounded up and sent to military reeducation camps without any pretense of due process. At times, the drive took on the moralistic fervor of the Cultural Revolution, with the proclaimed goal of wiping out "errant thought" and such decadent Western practices as playing golf. But the real aims were to produce some backing for Chun by promising a "clean society" free from the corruption of the past and to remove anyone critically disposed to his drive for power. By August, Chun took the final step of forcing Choi's resignation and arranging his own election to the presidency by Park's old rubber-stamp electoral college.

The Carter Administration viewed these developments with visible unease, but its actual handling of relations with South Korea throughout the post-Park transition achieved the dubious distinction of appearing both ineffective and inconsistent. It was ineffective because its repeated expressions of "concern" about the drift of events were never forceful enough to do anything more than irritate Chun and his generals; there is no evidence to suggest that at any point U.S. policy slowed Chun's drive for power or eased his handling of the dissidents. It appeared inconsistent because the actions of both General John Wickham, the commander of the 40,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, and U.S. Ambassador William Gleysteen appeared to many in Korea to have just the opposite effect. In early August, Wickham declared in an interview with The Los Angeles Times and Associated Press that the United States would support Chun as president if he came to power "legitimately." The South Korean press immediately trumpeted this as Washington's endorsement of Chun, and most observers are convinced that this prompted the military strongman to speed up his elevation to the presidency. Wickham suffered no serious consequences because of his remarks, and he was then allowed to return from a trip to the United States in time to attend, along with Gleysteen, Chun's inauguration. To most Koreans, this was a sure sign that, whatever its misgivings, the Carter Administration was willing to accept Chun and his methods.

Neither Wickham nor Gleysteen had any warm feelings for Chun. Wickham, in particular, has never forgiven Chun for his unauthorized deployment of front-line troops, technically under Wickham's United Nations command, in the December 1979 coup. But throughout this entire period, U.S. policy was to tread softly, placing more emphasis on sending warnings to the North Koreans not to take advantage of the internal crises in the South than on demonstrating serious displeasure with Chun. Gleysteen, a mild-mannered conservative by nature, also made no particular secret of the fact that he did not have a high opinion of Kim Dae Jung-something that could easily be misunderstood in the South Korean context. And in the aftermath of the May 17 crackdown, the South Korean press reported that Gleysteen had made remarks which suggested that he approved of Chun's actions. The U.S. Embassy strongly denied those reports, but Gleysteen had in fact expressed his "understanding" of the reasons for the crackdown. The press reports, while overblown, were not completely off the mark. All of this contributed to a growing feeling among the regime's opponents that they were being betrayed by the United States, and some of the dissidents expressed overtly anti-American sentiments for the first time.

The Carter Administration's reluctance to confront Chun, graphically illustrated by Secretary of State Edmund Muskie's cautious response to the news of Kim Dae Jung's death sentence, was prompted by the belief that security precautions had to remain paramount and that any attempt to apply more overt pressure might backfire.2 That danger may have existed, but by telegraphing its reticence to do anything more than issue expressions of concern, the Administration convinced Chun that he did not have to worry about any serious consequences if he largely ignored American feelings. This reinforced his determination to dispose of his critics by any means available.

The Reagan Administration may be tempted to abandon even the rhetoric of human rights in the case of South Korea for the same security reasons that prompted the Carter Administration to back away from its earlier more outspoken position. The idea of living with another Park Chung Hee is not likely to alarm many Republican strategists. However, such comparisons are deceptive. Contrary to the prevailing wisdom, Chun is not simply trying to duplicate the performance of his predecessor. His advisers repeatedly emphasize that he wants to avoid Park's mistakes. Ostensibly, he intends to do so by pledging to serve only a single seven-year term once he is reelected in March, limiting the powers of the presidency under the new Constitution and continuing his drive against the corruption that was institutionalized under Park. But it is now apparent that Chun believes that Park's real mistake was to tolerate too much opposition-quite a different interpretation from that of Park's critics, many of whom were imprisoned and tortured under his rule. Chun has not only ruled out direct elections for the presidency but also set up a special committee to ban "undesirables" from running for office or participating in any political activities. It promptly blacklisted 567 people for eight years, including virtually all of the country's leading politicians and dissidents. Park established a similar screening committee when he first came to power, but Chun's people feel that its standards were too lax.

Such actions may work in the short term, but they are likely to further exacerbate feelings of frustration. During the spring of 1980, when genuine democratic elections appeared to be in the offing, many South Koreans took visible pride in what they saw as the country's new political maturity. Their nation had come a long way under Park economically, and at that time it seemed poised for a political takeoff. Chun has dashed those hopes for now but, unlike Park, he will not be able to compensate for political repression with dramatic improvements in living standards. With the economy suffering from negative growth in 1980, high inflation, and the loss of some of its competitive trading edge, he will be lucky to merely reverse its decline and put it back on the track of slow growth.

Will that be enough to compensate the South Koreans, a highly educated people acutely conscious of political issues, so that they accept Chun's brand of authoritarianism? No one knows the answer, but the Reagan Administration should keep a careful eye on the undercurrents of South Korean society and avoid the mistake of reinforcing Chun's most brutal tendencies. An immediate test will come early this year if all of Kim Dae Jung's appeals are rejected. The United States will have to ask itself to what extent it wants to be identified with the South Korean government's actions, or whether it should consider taking a tougher stance with an ally which could yet provide the spark for a conflict involving American troops. If, even by sheer neglect, the Reagan Administration contributes to the further polarization of South Korean society, American's long-term security interests may be jeopardized by more internal unrest in the future.


The Philippines did not experience the kind of dramatic developments South Korea did in 1980. Instead, the government began what looked like a steady downward slide, one that raised serious questions about how much longer President Marcos could extend his already lengthy tenure. After 15 years in power, the last eight under martial law, the Philippine leader was visibly at a loss about how to keep his mandate from shrinking further. His moods shifted abruptly: one day he would talk soothingly of political reforms and reconciliation, while the next day he would darkly warn that the country was going the way of Cambodia and that he would use whatever means necessary to crush his opponents.

At the root of Marcos' problems is the fact that he has relatively little to show for all of his years in office. The huge gap between rich and poor is as glaring as ever, massive corruption is the rule of the land, and neither a small but persistent communist insurgency nor the Muslim rebellion in the south have been eliminated. The economy is beset by problems: an inflation rate of over 20 percent, declining real wages, and a foreign debt approaching $12 billion. Then, too, there have been persistent rumors, although repeatedly denied by Marcos, that he is seriously ill.

All of this provided a steady supply of ammunition for a disparate but growing political opposition. Marcos' critics freely drew analogies between the Philippines and Iran under the Shah, warning that attempts by Marcos to cling to power at any cost would result in mounting violence. When those predictions were followed by a wave of bombings in Manila that left one dead and over 60 wounded, the government responded with new arrests and a refutation. "We are not going to let this country become like Iran, where the leader hesitated and wavered," said Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile.

The Iran analogy is indeed a tenuous one. Filipinos are overwhelmingly Catholic and very Western in outlook. Despite numerous instances of alleged torture and murder by the military and police, there is no evidence to suggest that Marcos has treated his opponents with anywhere near the systematic brutality of Iran's state security organization, SAVAK. Nonetheless, some Iranian ingredients are present. Marcos even found himself in the situation, like the Shah, of having his chief opponent attempting to stir up a crusade against him from exile abroad.

After seven years in prison, opposition leader Benigno Aquino suddenly flew to the United States in May. Ostensibly Marcos allowed the trip for the treatment of a dangerous heart condition, and Aquino had promised to return as soon as he recuperated. Aquino also vowed not to criticize the regime during his stay in the United States. Both promises were promptly ignored, which could not have been much of a surprise to Marcos. This led to speculation that the Philippine leader had decided that Aquino would be less of an embarrassment in exile than as a jailed martyr at home. But Aquino refused to quietly fade out of the headlines. In August, he declared before the Asia Society in New York: "Developments are moving so fast that I am now compelled to speak out and warn Mr. Marcos of a terrible gathering storm. Very soon the Philippines will be a witness to a new kind of warfare."

The bombing campaign that came shortly thereafter, culminating in an explosion at a convention of the American Society of Travel Agents only minutes after Marcos addressed the group and was still in the conference hall, left the government badly shaken. Marcos accused Aquino and other Filipino exiles in the United States of masterminding the bombings and had arrest warrants issued for 30 people, including both opposition members in the Philippines and others abroad. Aquino denied any involvement, but he left no doubt that he approved of the bombers' goals if not their means. The deep divisions within the society were also prominently put on display in Manila itself, where a variety of highly publicized military trials of alleged subversives took place. Eduardo Olaguer, a newspaper executive and Harvard Business School graduate, admitted to leading the "light-a-fire" group that engaged in arson. His justification was that Marcos had left no alternative to violence.

From the very beginning of the year, Marcos appeared to feel genuinely ambivalent about what to do about the growing challenges to his rule. In January, he held the first local elections since the imposition of martial law. That should have been a step forward, but the voting was marred by such massive vote-buying and outright rigging of the results that even former supporters of the regime denounced the exercise as a farce. In December, he claimed to be preparing for the lifting of martial law in early 1981. However, the preparations included the introduction of measures that would guarantee the extension of many of his emergency powers, such as the detention of people without trial, even after martial law is lifted. Not surprisingly, the opposition continued to denounce Marcos at every step, claiming that the lifting of martial law under those circumstances would be a virtually meaningless gesture.

The U.S. stake in the Philippines is high. Beyond the two large military bases, American investment in the country exceeds one billion dollars. Historical ties would make an overt break particularly painful. But such a possibility cannot be ruled out. When several opposition parties formed a new alliance in August, they specifically demanded the ouster of the U.S. military. The government's critics charge that Marcos had only been able to survive because of American backing.

That is certainly an overstatement, one that underestimates Marcos' own political skills. However, the United States does face a real dilemma. As in the case of South Korea, the Reagan Administration has to ask itself how closely it wants to be identified with the Marcos regime. It has to consider whether its long-term security interests are best served by overlooking the internal ferment in Philippine society and banking on Marcos' ability to stay the course. The evidence of 1980 suggests that American policymakers should begin to seriously consider the possibility of far different outcomes. A sudden upheaval or coup is not inconceivable, but the more likely prospect appears to be mounting pressure on the government, with the risk at any point of increasingly violent confrontations. At the same time, the result of any transition period is impossible to predict, since there is no clear-cut alternative to Marcos or any indication that he will establish the mechanism for a peaceful transfer of power to a more democratic government.


This is not to suggest that all of East Asia is entering a new era of instability. The region as a whole continued to demonstrate greater economic resiliency in difficult times than most areas of the world. The spectacular growth rates of the 1970s have fallen victim to the global slowdown, but Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan still ended the year with healthy growth rates of well over five percent. American and other Western bankers and investors continued to exude optimism about the region's potential, and they gave high marks to many of the bureaucrats responsible for economic planning. Those planners have by and large established responsible fiscal policies and adopted flexible responses to changing world market conditions. In the more highly developed economies, new incentives were introduced to accelerate the trend from labor-intensive to capital-intensive industries.

Australia and New Zealand were still plagued with economic difficulties but, at least in Australia's case, there was some room for cautious optimism. Prime Minister Malcolm Eraser's conservative leadership brought inflation down to a respectable level of about ten percent, and new foreign investment in developing such resources as coal and natural gas have helped spur a slow but steadily improving growth rate. But the price of Fraser's inflation-fighting measures-an unemployment rate of six percent-threatened to produce an upset when the nation went to the polls in October. In the end, however, memories of the Labor Party's disastrous economic policies of the early 1970s proved stronger than disapproval of Fraser's performance and he easily won a third term, although by a somewhat reduced margin. In New Zealand, the immediate future looks bleak, with wool and timber exports hard hit by the world recession. But officials hope large new investments in energy development projects in the 1980s will finally produce an economic upturn.

Both nations are likely to remain largely preoccupied with their economic problems for the foreseeable future. In Australia's case, Fraser's policies are almost certain to keep unemployment at politically dangerous levels, even if they succeed in other respects. Consequently, international problems-or even Asian regional problems-are likely to receive relatively little attention. Fraser and New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon remain committed to a generally hard-line stance against Soviet actions, which is likely to prove quite compatible with the approach of the Reagan Administration. But after voting with the majority to continue seating the Khmer Rouge delegation at the United Nations in October, the Fraser government announced that it plans to drop its recognition of the Khmer Rouge at an unspecified time in the future-a clear signal that it would welcome a general shift in ASEAN's and the West's position on Cambodia.

Japan proved once again that it is the most stable society in the region. Despite a slower pace of growth, the country's economy continued to take every major challenge in stride, always developing new growth and export strategies to maintain its competitive edge. On the political front, the Japanese put their conservative instincts on dramatic display. For years, many students of Japanese politics have been charting the steady decline in the popularity of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and predicting that the day was fast approaching when Japanese politics would undergo a fundamental transformation: the LDP, having lost absolute control of the Diet, would have to form a coalition government with other conservative parties, thus shattering its monopoly on decision-making. But in June, the Party picked up nearly 30 seats in the lower house, giving it a clean-cut majority of 284 out of 511 seats. It was the LDP's best performance in 11 years, and the prospect of a coalition government simply vanished from the horizon.

A somewhat bizarre series of events precipitated this turn-around. Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira had done little to boost the government's dwindling popularity-and even less to end the factional infighting that plagued his own party. On May 17, a routine no-confidence motion passed the lower house when 73 LDP members aligned with rival party leaders deliberately abstained from voting. Ohira was visibly stunned: factionalism had never been carried that far. His own prospects, and the future of his party, never looked bleaker. Then, just 10 days before the nation went to the polls for the second time in less than a year, Ohira died. A leaderless party had to appeal for support. But what in any other nation might have been the final blow turned out to be the LDP's salvation. The only real issue in the campaign had been Ohira himself-a general sense of unhappiness about his leadership, his inability to end the internal feuds within the Party and his reluctance to take strong action against those colleagues tainted by Lockheed and other scandals. Once he died, the opposition parties found no new issue to rally around and the conservative instincts of the electorate reasserted themselves. The majority wanted continuity, if possible with more effective leadership, but the voters were quite willing to have the LDP sort out the leadership question after the elections.

In the end, the Party elders pulled another surprise by naming Zenko Suzuki, a relatively unknown Party veteran who had risen to the upper ranks under Ohira, as the next Prime Minister. A man with no strong enemies in any of the rival camps, Suzuki appointed a Cabinet that included members of all the LDP factions, thereby muting the internal discord that had threatened to weaken the Party's control. Consensus politics had regained the day, and Suzuki was quick to identify himself with the basic policies of his predecessors. He reaffirmed Japan's close ties with the United States and, despite pressure from both Washington and Beijing for increased military spending, he promised that Japan will not make any basic change in its defense policy.

Nonetheless, the LDP victory at the polls is likely to lead to a gradual beefing up of Japan's defense capabilities. A variety of factors-Afghanistan, the Soviet naval buildup in the Pacific, and the enlarged military presence on the northern islands seized from Japan at the end of World War II-have contributed to a marked increase in public support for a stronger military posture and a rejection of the older, more rigid interpretation of the limitations imposed by the postwar Constitution on defense policy. Even the Socialist Party showed signs of a softening of its opposition to Japan's security ties with the United States.

Suzuki, however, gave every indication that he will proceed with the utmost caution. The military budget, while rising in 1980 at a slightly higher rate than overall budget expenditures, remained at 0.9 percent of the GNP.3 The accent is on augmenting air and sea capabilities with conventional weapons of a clearly defensive nature: fighter planes instead of strategic bombers, destroyers and anti-submarine patrol planes instead of aircraft carriers. The Reagan Administration is expected to urge the Japanese to do even more-and up to a point such prodding may be effective. The result will probably be less of an increase in expenditures than what the Administration is hoping for, but enough to lessen any friction over this issue.

Trade remained a more serious source of friction in 1980 and, in all probability, will prompt new skirmishes in 1981. The major villain, as many Americans and Western Europeans saw it, was the flood of Japanese cars. But American auto-makers failed in their attempts to stem the tide by blaming the Japanese, not themselves, for their losses. In November, the U.S. International Trade Commission rejected an appeal by Ford and the United Auto Workers to impose restrictions on imports.

Such conflicts over trade will not disappear, but there were signs that they may decrease in intensity. Even before the ITC ruling, the Japanese auto surge had shown signs of slowing down. Although that trend was largely due to market forces, there was little doubt that Japanese firms had decided to cool tempers by exercising a bit of deliberate restraint. Another major sticking point in U.S.-Japanese relations, the dispute over Japan's practice of not allowing foreign firms to compete in the bidding for huge government contracts for communication equipment, may be close to resolution. The Japanese offered proposals to change that practice.

The Reagan Administration inherits U.S.-Japanese ties that are stronger, and more free of tensions, than they have been in years. That may be one of the Carter Administration's most overlooked accomplishments in Asia; it is also to a large extent the personal accomplishment of Ambassador Mike Mansfield, who has quietly and effectively used the respect he commands both in Tokyo and on Capitol Hill to take the sting out of the disputes between the two nations. Assuming that Reagan resists pressures to opt for protectionist solutions, further progress can clearly be made in strengthening bilateral ties. Japan is America's most stable and reliable ally in Asia; the new Administration should be careful not to make the mistake of Nixon and Kissinger of taking those ties for granted.


Some other East Asian nations could also boast of genuine political stability-or at least that they had learned to cope with crises better than in the past. Thailand, for one, broke with its recent history of coups and military clampdowns in February when the Prime Minister, General Kriangsak Chamanand, stepped down of his own accord after oil and electricity price hikes eroded his popular support. Rather than face a no-confidence vote in Parliament, he announced: "In order to preserve the parliamentary system of democracy and to give a chance for more capable persons to govern, I resign as Prime Minister." Such a statement is rare in any developing country, but it was in keeping with Kriangsak's style of leadership with its emphasis on the return of an elected government. His successor, army commander General Prem Tinsulandond, made no dramatic changes in policy. It was far too early to conclude that abrupt and violent changes in leadership had been consigned to Thailand's history, but that smooth transition was an encouraging sign.

The future of other American friends is far more of a question mark. South Korea and the Philippines are the most obvious examples, but not the only ones. Indonesia exhibited new internal strains during 1980 that, while far from posing an immediate threat to its stability, do raise questions about its long-term prospects. Thanks to rising oil and gas prices and skillful economic management by American-trained technocrats, President Suharto can legitimately take pride in many accomplishments: the economy has been growing at an average of 7.5 percent a year, inflation has been brought under control, agricultural production has steadily increased, and family planning and health services now extend into the villages. But as the 1980 World Bank report on Indonesia pointed out, "The dimensions of poverty in Indonesia, although declining, remain overwhelming." A highly publicized anti-corruption campaign has done little to control the graft in high places that has produced an actual widening of the already huge gap between rich and poor.

During the year, the signs of discontent multiplied. Students attempted to stage sporadic protests, and the Islamic parties walked out of Parliament to protest restrictive provisions in a bill governing the 1982 elections. In May, a group of 50 leading citizens, including several top retired generals, petitioned Parliament to censure Suharto. The President retaliated swiftly, banning press coverage of the protest, putting the signers under surveillance, and stripping the retired officers of their access to government contracts. There were no indications of any serious dissent within the active military, which dominates all aspects of Indonesian life, but the severity of the crackdown struck many observers as a sign of the regime's own sense of insecurity.4 Suharto seems determined to ensure that he will be awarded a fourth five-year term in office when his current term expires in 1983. He will probably succeed, for the special assembly that selects the president is heavily stacked in his favor. But the level of dissatisfaction with his authoritarian rule is definitely on the rise.

Indonesia is an example of a nation that has progressed economically but not politically in recent years. Its political rigidity probably accounts for its lack of progress on such fundamental issues as high-level corruption and the maldistribution of national income. For some reform-minded Indonesians, the determination to increase pressure on the government for liberalization has been strengthened by the negative example of South Korea. "It is wrong to believe that you can pay attention to human rights and political development only once you have economic development," says Adnan Buyung Nasution, a Jakarta lawyer active in human rights cases. "South Korea shows that we have to develop politically before it is too late."

Ironically, at a time when "human rights" considerations are far less fashionable in Washington than before, many Asians are coming to similar conclusions. They not only want and expect higher living standards, they are seeking a broader sense of political participation. At the moment, they may not be on the winning side of many battles, but they do represent a significant source of discontent. They will push their societies toward change whenever possible, and they will be closely monitoring American attitudes toward the issues that concern them. U.S. policy in the region has to take those factors into consideration. This does not necessitate actually siding with opposition forces, a dangerous course of action under any circumstances. But it does mean listening to what they have to say and making some hard decisions about the kind of support that the United States wants to offer to specific governments. Benigno Aquino reacted to Reagan's victory by advising him: "Even if you do not believe in the real morality of human rights, at least be practical. Play both ends." Sound, perhaps cynical, advice. Reagan's policymakers would do well to heed it.


Throughout 1980, China emitted contradictory and somewhat disturbing signals. According to the conventional view of many China-watchers in the West, Deng Xiaoping effectively laid the groundwork for his own succession and cleared away many of the doubts about the future of his country's modernization drive by purging the remaining radicals in the Politburo, stripping Hua Guofeng of the premiership, and positioning his most trusted lieutenants in key posts. Mao's widow Jiang Qing and the other members of the Gang of Four finally emerged to face a special court and television cameras that beamed excerpts of the trial to viewers at home and abroad, achieving the dual aim of completing the disgrace of the radical leadership and ostensibly demonstrating that the country's new legal system really works. But there is another conclusion that can be drawn from these developments: justice in Deng's China is still brutally arbitrary, and there is no guarantee that new leadership and policy reversals could not once again transpose the roles of accusers and accused.

Which of those interpretations most Chinese decide on for themselves could determine the ultimate success or failure of the attempt to eliminate the roadblocks on the way to real modernization. Despite numerous signs of change, both in Beijing and even the most remote provinces, an almost palpable feeling of inertia still pervades much of daily life. It is based on an attitude, repeatedly identified and denounced in the media, that it simply does not pay to implement new policies too vigorously. The cadres of the country's gigantic bureaucracy remember all too well that those who did so in the past were the first to be purged in the next political upheaval. According to the Jiangxi provincial radio, the peasants summed up that approach by saying: "It is not the heavens that we fear, but changes in Party policies."

Deng's response to such fears was to attempt to prove that even after he dies there can be no going back to rigid Maoist doctrine. At a February meeting of the Central Committee, Wang Dong-xing, Wu De, Chen Xilian and Ji Dengkui-all identified with the radical policies of the past-were dropped from the Politburo. Deng protégés Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang were elevated to the elite Politburo Standing Committee; Hu was also named General Secretary of a reestablished Central Committee secretariat, giving him effective control of the party's daily affairs. Then, at a meeting of the National People's Congress in September, Zhao took over the title of Premier from Hua Guofeng, whom Mao had reportedly chosen as his successor. In December, there were also growing indications that Hua would soon lose his post of Communist Party Chairman to Hu.

Deng himself relinquished his title as Vice Premier. Along with the resignations of several other Party elders from top posts, this was part of an effort to make way for younger leaders. But Deng still retained his post as Deputy Chairman of the Party, and there was no doubt he was still fully in command. The National People's Congress endorsed his pragmatic economic policies, formally admitted that the targets of the 1976-1985 economic plan were unattainable and announced that an entire new plan would be devised to take its place. The delegates scrapped the crucial article of the Constitution that had guaranteed people "the right to speak out freely, air their views fully, hold great debates and write big character posters" in favor of a watered-down commitment to free speech and assembly. This formalized the regime's abandonment of the more liberal policies that had been erratically pursued in 1978 and 1979. China's fledgling dissident movement was driven further underground by new arrests of activists and the banning of their magazines.

The choice of Zhao as Premier revealed just what kind of course Deng hopes to set the country on before he disappears from the scene. As governor of Sichuan province, a post he assumed in 1975, Zhao was credited with putting the province's economy back on its feet after the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. He spurred agricultural production by raising government purchase prices and increasing the amount of land allotted to private farming. He boosted industrial production by experimenting with a degree of self-management for factories: after paying fixed taxes on profits, they could award the rest in bonuses to their workers. Deng, who told a Belgrade television interviewer in November that he wants to decrease Party meddling in production, clearly hopes to push such reforms on a nationwide basis. But there is another facet of Zhao's character that is less well known to the outside world-and is equally revealing about the direction China's current leadership intends to take. From his earliest days as an administrator of the land reform program in Guangdong province in the 1950s, he has earned a reputation as a ruthless Party apparatchik who does not hesitate to crush anyone who stands in his way. It was Zhao who warned China's human rights activists in late 1979, the time of the worst crackdown on dissidents, that they should not confuse "socialist democracy" with "capitalist bourgeois democracy."

For all the talk of a return to the rule of law, the evidence of 1980 suggested that justice is as political as ever in today's China-and that arbitrary punishment is far from a thing of the past. The Gang of Four and 6 associates of the late Defense Minister Lin Biao were charged with a long list of crimes including persecuting "to death" 34,800 people during the Cultural Revolution and plotting an armed rebellion in Shanghai and the assassination of Chairman Mao.5 In theory, they were not on trial for their political views, but no one believed that in China. And protestations that their guilt or innocence would be determined by the court were flatly contradicted by a press campaign that had already pronounced them guilty. At the same time, the suppression of all dissent by people who had taken Deng's earlier "emancipation of the mind" campaign too literally left little doubt that the Party was dictating a new "correct line"-not that it was permitting genuinely independent views to emerge.

That basic reality of how power is used in China has not fundamentally changed. The people dictating policy have, and they have definitely expanded the boundaries of what is permissible and what is not. They realize that a rigid adherence to narrow ideological beliefs precludes the accomplishment of their modernization goals. There is little doubt, too, that most Chinese favor those goals. But Deng's methods of implementing his policies leave a host of unanswered questions. Will China's bureaucrats shed their customary caution and stop their instinctive obstructionist tactics whenever new ideas are introduced? Approximately half of the nation's 38 million Communist Party members were admitted to the Party after the Cultural Revolution began; how will they feel about the punishment meted out to the Gang of Four and the likelihood, already mentioned in public by some officials, that more radicals will be put on trial later and that a new series of purges of Party members will be carried out at all levels? Finally, what if the unthinkable happens: the modernization drive, for whatever reasons, ends in failure and living standards are not significantly improved?

At the Beijing Teacher's College in June, this visitor asked a group of students whether the failure of the modernization drive could set the stage for another Cultural Revolution. At first, several students vehemently rejected that possibility, claiming that people would no longer follow radical demagogues blindly since they now understood what price they paid before. Then, one student in her late twenties spoke up: "That may be true of our generation, but what about the younger people who don't remember the Cultural Revolution? Who is to say they won't be misled again?" Others nodded their heads in agreement, with one young man adding that if the modernization drive failed to produce results young people would lose their faith in government and could be vulnerable to precisely such appeals.

That is not to say that China will change course once again-or even that it is likely to. But any realistic assessment of China today has to take into consideration those possibilities, however remote, and not underestimate the dimensions of the problems the country is struggling with.


Western and Japanese businessmen are probably more aware of those problems than anyone else. In 1980 many deals hit new snags, while others-like a $250 million foreign trade center that was to be designed by American firms-fell through altogether. China's planners were still busy sorting out their priorities and determining just how much they could spend on what projects, only adding further to the frustrations of foreign businessmen seeking definitive answers. But the travails of the China traders did not dissuade most of them from their efforts. Nor should they. Although China's economic "reassessment" has already meant that some of the more grandiose schemes have been scrapped, the leadership fully intends to push new programs that will require increasingly heavy doses of foreign technology, capital and management skills. It is in the West's and Japan's interests to provide all of those necessary ingredients. These are not only good business opportunities; they provide a chance to buttress the positive forces at work in China today.

It would be wrong to exaggerate the impact that outsiders will have on determining China's fate. The success or failure of the modernization drive will ultimately depend on internal factors, particularly political developments. But outsiders can help by seeking to expand areas of cooperation further; conversely, they can play a destructive role if they undercut the position of those leaders trying to ensure that the country never returns to its xenophobic isolation of the 1960s. This applies to both trade and foreign policy.

During the U.S. presidential campaign, Mr. Reagan's handling of the Taiwan issue betrayed a singular insensitivity to those dangers. His repeated pledges to upgrade U.S. ties with Taiwan to an "official" level appeared to threaten to undercut the fundamental tenets of the U.S.-China relationship. For Beijing, this is a matter of national sovereignty, and no government can afford to be seen as compromising on such essential principles. Even after Reagan backed away from his calls for "official" ties with Taiwan after running mate George Bush's cool reception in Beijing, China felt compelled repeatedly to warn the United States that any change in the nature of its relations with Taipei would have grave consequences. It also objected loudly when the Carter Administration worked out an agreement with Taiwan to give its "unofficial" representatives in Taipei and Taiwan's representatives in Washington the equivalent of diplomatic immunity, and it repeated earlier protests against arms sales to Taiwan.

The angry tenor of those protests was in marked contrast to the tone earlier in the year when Beijing's primary emphasis had been on its "peace overtures" to Taiwan. Beijing and Taipei still held irreconcilable positions, and Taiwan rejected all of China's offers of postal, communication and trade links as a trick designed to strip it of its sovereignty, but tensions had visibly decreased across the Taiwan Straits. Indirect trade between Taiwan and China through Hong Kong, although miniscule compared to Taiwan's overall trade, jumped dramatically in 1980. There were increased person-to-person contacts between people from Taiwan and China in third countries. And given Beijing's more tolerant attitude and the U.S. example, which demonstrated that strong relations could be simultaneously maintained with both governments, several other nations upgraded their own "unofficial" ties with Taipei. So long as Beijing was confident that the United States and others were not seeking to dispute Taiwan's fundamental status, it was willing to assume a more flexible posture than in the past.

Under the Taiwan Relations Act, the President does have a good deal of discretion on how ties with Taiwan are handled, provided they are no longer "governmental" in name. For fear of offending Beijing, the Carter Administration did sometimes impose stricter restrictions on contacts between U.S. and Taiwan officials than really necessary, and Reagan could certainly improve upon that performance by quietly doing away with some of those restrictions. But the key word is "quietly." If Reagan is seen as once again trying to transform the nature of ties with Taiwan, Beijing will be forced into an increasingly hostile position. It will be up to Reagan to convince Beijing he is not doing so, thus gradually swinging the spotlight away from that issue. Only then will he be able to make the kinds of adjustments he wants in U.S. ties with Taiwan without risking consequences that could prove detrimental to the interests of all parties involved.


In Southeast Asia, the sense of constant crisis that characterized 1979 gave way to a gradual lessening of tensions in 1980. There were notable-and alarming-exceptions to this trend. In June, Vietnamese troops staged cross-border raids designed to punish the Thais for repatriating Cambodian refugees. Hanoi claimed that the repatriated Khmer were in reality Pol Pot supporters returning to join military units. But, on balance, the year's developments contained far less conflict and tragedy than before.

The most striking evidence of that fact was the dwindling number of refugees in Southeast Asian nations. Approximately 5,000 to 10,000 Vietnamese boat people continued to arrive on Southeast Asian shores each month, but the United States' and other nations' refugee programs were large enough to still produce a steady decline in the population of the boat-people camps, alleviating tensions in countries like Malaysia that had only reluctantly agreed to provide the refugees with temporary shelter. In December, the first large groups of Vietnamese to leave under a long-delayed "orderly departure" program-worked out by Washington, Hanoi, and the U. N. High Commissioner for Refugees-flew out of Ho Chi Minh City to begin their journey to the United States. The numbers of people involved in this program are still relatively small and it will not prevent others from trying to leave illegally. But this represents the first significant progress in the negotiations that began when the boat-people problem was at its height.

Within Cambodia itself and along its border with Thailand, a similar transformation was taking place. UNICEF and the International Red Cross pronounced the Cambodian crisis over in November and indicated that they were preparing to leave the food distribution program on the Thai-Cambodian border to other agencies. This sparked a bitter debate between relief officials, many of whom disputed that optimistic assessment. But there was no doubt that, thanks largely to the relief effort, the situation had improved and the threat of a new famine had visibly receded. As a result, the number of refugees along the border was reduced to about 220,000, most of whom lived in camps that were finally providing adequate food and services. The year before, the floating refugee population along the border had reached about 500,000.

But Cambodia was still not at peace. The Khmer Rouge guerrillas regrouped early in the year and then, with the help of the Chinese resupply effort through Thailand, emerged well fed and well armed. Led by Pol Pot, who still retained his post as Commander in Chief of the armed forces despite his earlier loss of the premiership to Khieu Samphan, they staged raids both along the border and deep inside the country. Such warfare, while not effective enough to have any chance of actually driving the Vietnamese out, hampered the nation's painstakingly slow return to a more normal existence.

On the surface, there was no sign of movement to break the diplomatic stalemate and thereby end the fighting. Hanoi was as intransigent as ever, offering no concessions in the face of international condemnations of its occupation. China continued to offer the Khmer Rouge both diplomatic and military support on the theory that their resistance would bleed the Vietnamese-and, by extension, their Soviet backers. ASEAN, for its part, disclaimed any military support for the Khmer Rouge but remained adamant about diplomatic support to avoid anything that smacked of acceptance of the Vietnamese-installed Heng Samrin regime. But the situation was not quite as frozen as it appeared. ASEAN is by no means of one mind about the entire Indochina-China equation, and if it makes any shift in its position other nations are almost certain to follow.

Indonesia and Malaysia, while publicly supporting ASEAN's formal position that all Vietnamese troops must be withdrawn from Cambodia and that a neutral government must replace the Heng Samrin regime, are privately inclined to take a more conciliatory approach toward Hanoi-and they are more willing to concede that those policy goals are almost certainly unattainable. This softer stance stems, in part, from their tendency to take an equally suspicious view of China as its neighbors do of Vietnam. And even Thailand and Singapore, the two ASEAN nations which have taken the lead in formulating the Association's position on Cambodia, felt compelled late in the year to speak of the need for new strategies if the pressure is to be maintained on Hanoi. Their proposed solution is to recast the structure of "Democratic Kampuchea" to include a broad coalition of resistance groups. By submerging the present Khmer Rouge leadership in such a coalition, or even ousting some of the figures most prominently associated with the wholesale massacres of the Cambodian people, they hope to retain the support of other nations which have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the notion of backing the Khmer Rouge.

There are several problems with this approach. First of all, the most prominent non-Khmer Rouge opponents of the Vietnamese occupation, Prince Sihanouk and Son Sann, have repeatedly indicated that they have no interest in allying themselves with the Khmer Rouge, who would still be at the core of any restructured leadership. Secondly, as Chinese leaders reportedly indicated to Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew and Thailand's Prem on their visits to Beijing in the autumn, there is a danger that if the top Khmer Rouge leaders are ousted from their posts to make way for more palatable alternatives, the resistance effort, which is almost entirely conducted by the Khmer Rouge, could collapse altogether. Thus, at year's end the prospects for a successful change of that nature looked extremely dim.

The apparent failure of ASEAN to devise a workable alternative to its current policy leaves the United States with the choice of either continuing its diplomatic support for the Khmer Rouge or exploring the possibility of launching new initiatives of its own. The first course is the safest in the short term; it avoids any break with either China or ASEAN over this issue. But the long-term costs are far from negligible: it leaves the United States in the position of helping to perpetuate the current stalemate, which always has the potential of sparking new conflicts in the future. And what is gained by holding out for demands that no one, not even the Chinese, expect to be met? What is gained by offering indirect support for more guerrilla attacks that cannot alter the fundamental political realities but only guarantee more suffering?

The Reagan Administration should ponder those questions, even if the answers go against its likely instinct to take an uncompromising stance on this issue. The alternative it should consider is to find a way to bring peace to Cambodia and simultaneously bring to an end the years of enmity with Vietnam. The most the United States and other nations can realistically hope for anytime soon is a partial Vietnamese troop withdrawal, particularly from the volatile Thai border, and the broadening of the existing government in Phnom Penh to include "neutral" Khmers. No one should have any illusions that this would remove Cambodia from Hanoi's sphere of influence, something that is simply not in the cards, but it could offer a more acceptable alternative to the status quo.

There is no guarantee that Hanoi would agree to make even such admittedly modest concessions. But the Reagan Administration could attempt to persuade ASEAN to go along with a package deal, in return for those concessions, with some powerful incentives. Its possible ingredients: an end to U.S. and ASEAN recognition of the Khmer Rouge, assurances that efforts will be made to cut off supplies to their guerrilla forces coming from Thailand, an international aid effort for all of Indochina, and normalization of relations between Washington and Hanoi. For Vietnam, that final element could be the most attractive. Despite its frequent vitriolic denunciations of the United States, Hanoi has left no doubt that it wants diplomatic ties with Washington.

China would find nothing attractive in such a new initiative from Washington. But there is no reason why the United States should write off Indochina altogether, keeping Vietnam isolated and totally dependent on the Soviet Union-even if that, in essence, is the advice it is getting from Beijing. If Washington did negotiate such a settlement successfully, it would undoubtedly bring along most of its allies, who would welcome an end to the annual exercise at the United Nations, where they feel compelled to line up behind the barbaric Khmer Rouge. China, too, would almost certainly feel compelled to drop its support for such a clearly lost cause. This is perhaps an improbable scenario for a Reagan Administration, but it does not have to be. After all, it would be no more improbable for a Republican Administration to seek a dialogue with Hanoi in the 1980s than it was for an earlier predecessor to seek a dialogue with Beijing in the 1970s.


The battle over Indochina can either be seen as essentially regional in nature, a revival of the traditional struggle between China and Vietnam for power and influence in the area, or as an extension of a global Soviet expansionist drive. The Chinese clearly prefer the latter explanation, viewing Vietnam as "the Cuba of the East." But even the ASEAN states, which share many of China's perceptions of the Soviet Union as a bully on the world stage, tend to see this as an oversimplification. The Soviets provided the Vietnamese with the wherewithal to carry out their invasion and occupation of Cambodia, but Hanoi hardly needed any prodding from Moscow to see a Chinese-backed government in Phnom Penh as a direct threat-and also as a convenient excuse for fulfilling an age-old imperialistic dream. And many observers are convinced that the Vietnamese want to eventually decrease their dependence on the Soviet Union. Singapore's Foreign Minister Suppiah Dhanabalan said recently of the Soviets: "They must have their own reservations about Vietnamese faithfulness, and it must be clear that the Vietnamese probably have a White Paper of Soviet perfidy to use anytime they want."

Given Hanoi's massive economic problems and its heavy deployment of troops in both Cambodia and Laos, it can hardly afford to take such a drastic step anytime soon. But even the hint that at some point in the future Soviet influence in Indochina could be curtailed raises a fundamental question: have the Kremlin's policies in East Asia been worth the price? In theory, the Soviets have gained a foothold in Indochina and a vastly expanded naval presence in the area with access to Vietnamese ports. But both of those developments are of questionable value. Their role in the Cambodian takeover, and their even more blatant use of force in Afghanistan, have given Moscow a zero credibility rating throughout non-communist East Asia, leaving almost no opportunities for extending any Soviet influence in the area. Whatever misgivings some nations have about China's role as a regional power pale in comparison to their apprehensions about Soviet global might.

The self-defeating nature of Soviet policy in the area is particularly visible in the case of Japan. While Moscow has repeatedly denounced the Japanese for their rapid expansion of ties with Beijing and issued shrill warnings about the dangers of Japan abandoning its reservations about improving its military forces, the Soviet naval buildup in the Pacific has provided ready ammunition for Japanese proponents of both those trends. According to some estimates, the Soviets have added more than 270,000 tons of shipping in the last three years alone-an addition that is larger than the entire Japanese fleet. Approximately two-thirds of the Soviet Pacific fleet, Japanese defense officials contend, are combat vessels. Given that kind of evidence just off their shores, the Japanese have had no hesitation about supporting U.S.-orchestrated diplomatic retaliation over Afghanistan, and Soviet-Japanese commercial ties have remained largely stagnant.

Soviet policies have thus provided the main impetus for the increasingly close cooperation among the United States, China and Japan. The benefits of such cooperation are visible not only in the unified response to Soviet actions but also in the efforts to lower tensions in trouble spots like the Korean peninsula where all three nations have a vital interest in preserving the peace. A concrete example of that was provided during Hua Guofeng's visit to Tokyo in May at the time of the Kwangju uprising in South Korea. Hua told his hosts that North Korea "will never embark on a military intervention in the South"-a clear signal that Beijing was counseling restraint to its North Korean ally.

But such demonstrations should not obscure the fact that China's continuing preoccupation with its internal problems will undoubtedly limit its influence on global politics, and the United States should avoid setting unrealistic goals for its China policy. It should also clearly recognize that even in situations where the two nations share a common general goal, their interests are not always identical. The Korean peninsula is once again a case in point. Washington and Beijing are committed to the defense of unpredictable allies on opposite sides of the 38th parallel and, therefore, their room for cooperation is inherently limited. China will attempt to prevent North Korea from taking any rash action during a crisis, but Kim Il Sung knows that he has a card that he can always play against the Chinese if he feels they are not being supportive enough: he can threaten to abandon his current tilt toward Beijing and move closer to Moscow. Chinese officials are acutely aware of that leverage; throughout 1980, they continued to faithfully support North Korean denunciations of the South as the North-South talks between the two Koreas ground to a virtual halt and chances for any diplomatic breakthrough all but disappeared.

In Indochina, too, there is not just the question of a possible difference of approach to the Cambodian situation but also the larger danger of a renewed conflict between China and Vietnam. Although there was no evidence in 1980 that the Chinese were preparing to administer a "second lesson" to Vietnam, tensions remained high, with each side accusing the other of repeated border violations. When China invaded Vietnam in February 1979, old fears about China's attitude toward its neighbors surfaced even in nations that had been in the forefront of the effort to apply retaliatory pressure on Vietnam because of its Cambodian takeover. The United States has to carefully avoid an overidentification with China that might bring with it the automatic assumption that any Chinese action, however questionable, has Washington's support.

It is those kinds of considerations that should be included in any debate, almost certain to take place among policymakers within the Reagan Administration, about how far the United States should go in developing security ties with China. The Carter Administration's decision to allow the sale to China of such items as portable air defense radar systems, transport aircraft, and helicopters and communications gear with definite military applications was not followed by a rush of orders; in fact, no sales were actually completed in 1980. But the Chinese did begin negotiations with dozens of U.S. manufacturers for possible purchases of the approved items, and contacts between the two nations' defense and intelligence establishments have rapidly expanded.

There is no reason to reverse the decisions made so far, since it can hardly be argued that they have either compromised U.S. interests or had any effect on China's military capabilities. But the Reagan Administration should carefully deliberate before taking any further steps-particularly approving actual weapons sales to China. This is not a matter of maintaining an "even-handed" policy in its dealings with Beijing and Moscow; there is no reason why the United States should refrain from expanding areas of cooperation with China that are clearly in both countries' interests merely because the Kremlin is pursuing policies that make U.S.-Soviet cooperation increasingly difficult. Rather, it is a question of measuring what can be accomplished by adopting such policies-and what are the dangers.

Presumably, the primary motivation for selling weapons to China would be to attempt to make Beijing into a more effective counterweight to Soviet power. But that is hardly a realistic hope. Unless the United States were willing to underwrite on a massive scale a modernization program for China's antiquated military machine, a prospect that should not be seriously entertained, the fundamental imbalance of power between the two communist powers will remain intact. And the dangers? Aside from the instances mentioned earlier in which U.S. and Chinese interests are far from identical, there are other hypothetical conflicts that could arise-for instance, over Taiwan. The sale of U.S. weapons to China, while not significant enough to alter the Sino-Soviet equation, could have an impact on China's capability to mount an attack on Taiwan. Admittedly, such an invasion can only be envisioned in an absolute worst-case scenario, but U.S. policymakers cannot afford to overlook that possibility altogether. The United States and China have found much common ground in recent years, and the Reagan Administration should certainly seek new cooperative ventures whenever and wherever it serves U.S. interests. But, those interests have to be defined by American policymakers themselves.

1 The charges against Kim ranged from alleged communist activity in the 1940s to involvement with an "anti-state" organization during his exile in Japan to organizing the Kwangju rebellion. Park Chung Hee, who viewed Kim as his main enemy, never attempted to pin the first two charges on him because they were patently flimsy, and the charge that Kim incited the Kwangju violence ignores the simple fact that Kim was already under arrest when the city exploded.

2 Muskie's statement of September 17 said: "As is well known, we have followed the court-martial trial of Kim Dae Jung with intense interest and deep concern. In light of our past comments, we obviously have strong feelings about the extreme verdict which has been handed down. Nevertheless, since the case is subject to judicial review and since the government of the Republic of Korea is fully aware of our views, we will have no additional comment on the matter at this time."

3 It has been an unwritten rule of postwar Japanese politics that defense expenditures should never rise beyond one percent of the GNP. Given the new mood of the country, that invisible barrier may eventually fall, but any dramatic increases in defense expenditures much beyond that level still appear extremely unlikely.

4 That sense of insecurity was further demonstrated by the government's reaction to the Kwangju rebellion in South Korea: it ordered a news blackout about the uprising in the local press.

5 Jiang Qing and the other Gang members were not accused of complicity in the assassination plot against Mao, which was allegedly the work of Lin Biao and his associates.



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  • Andrew Nagorski has been Hong Kong Bureau Chief of Newsweek since 1979. Prior to that, he was Assistant Managing Editor and then Asian Editor of that magazine's international edition.
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