East Asia was a stable region in 1984, marked by general progress toward the goals laid down by the various national leaderships. In Japan, Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone’s election to a second two-year term signified continuity in foreign policy and particularly in the partnership between Washington and Tokyo. Not only is the close security relationship with the United States being maintained; Japan also began significant movement toward a modest but increasing political role in global affairs.

In China, the year saw a further blossoming of major economic reform. The opening to the West identified with the durable Deng Xiaoping and his protégés was strengthened. The Sino-British agreement on the future of Hong Kong (signed December 19, 1984) added to the area’s stability by reconciling, in a manner apparently acceptable to most of Hong Kong’s residents, two imperatives: China’s insistence on unquestioned sovereignty after 1997, and safeguards for the territory’s present capitalist economy and social structure with their untrammeled links with the outside world.

Even on the Korean peninsula, where the bellicosity and unpredictability of President Kim Il Sung’s North Korea poses a perennial threat to South Korea, and hence to the geostrategic frontier between the communist sphere and the Western alliance, 1984 brought signs of another gingerly rapprochement. There were even tenuous indications that North Korea might be considering a Chinese-type economic opening to the West.

In the South Pacific and Southeast Asia the scene was more troubling for American policy. President Ferdinand Marcos has been unable to lift the Philippines out of political turmoil; communist guerrillas gained ground in the provinces while the national armed forces showed signs of deteriorating discipline. The economy continued its downward spiral. The Philippines confronts American policymakers with uncomfortable choices.

The conflict continued in Kampuchea, threatening at the turn of 1985 to spill over into neighboring Thailand. And a new problem emerged for American policy in Southeast Asia. The July 1984 election in New Zealand brought back to power the Labour Party under a new prime minister, David Lange, campaigning on a pledge to refuse port calls by nuclear-armed U.S. vessels. Unless some compromise could be constructed, New Zealand’s membership in ANZUS (the Australian-New Zealand-U.S. security pact) appeared to be at risk.


The alliance with Japan remained the cornerstone of American policy in Asia. Ronald Reagan’s arrival in the White House in January 1981 had been greeted with suspicion by the two most important capitals in East Asia—Tokyo and Beijing. How this sentiment gradually changed in Japan, as in China, is a story with twists and turns. In Tokyo it resulted from the advent of an active internationalist, Nakasone, to the premiership at the end of November 1982.

Prior to Nakasone, Japan’s relations with the Reagan Administration had been rocky. Tokyo had piled up increasing surpluses in its trade balance with the United States. Japan was perceived in Washington as enjoying a free ride," because its defense spending was extremely modest (mandated at less than one percent of GNP, compared to five-and-a-half percent for the United States). It seemed that Japan was keeping its own domestic market tightly closed to foreign goods and services while flooding overseas markets, especially the United States, with manufactured goods that took jobs away from domestic workers.

When Nakasone succeeded Zenko Suzuki as prime minister, he immediately set about trying to change these perceptions. First, he paid a lightning visit to Seoul early in January 1983, both to make amends with a close neighbor unforgiving of Japan’s harsh imperial past, and to show that he shared Washington’s concern over Korean security. He thus created a favorable prelude to his visit to Washington later that same month. In the United States he spoke of Japan as an "unsinkable aircraft carrier" and quickly established a warm personal relationship with the American President.

Although congressional resentment over Japan’s mounting trade surplus was largely unappeased, the Pentagon and the State Department were beginning to reevaluate the roles of American bases in Japan and Japan’s own modest Self-Defense Forces, in light of the constant strengthening of Soviet naval and air forces in Northeast Asia and the Pacific. This sense of a new importance to the partnership with Japan was reinforced when George Shultz succeeded Alexander Haig as secretary of state in July 1982. In contrast to the supposed European orientation of Haig, the former NATO commander, Shultz had been involved with Asian affairs for many years, both in and out of government.

The relationship between Reagan and Nakasone flourished during 1983, especially during the Williamsburg Summit of the world’s seven leading industrialized democracies. In that colonial American setting, Nakasone strongly supported the deployment of American intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe and was active in drafting the political declaration on that subject produced by the summit seven. This represented a departure, in that Japan associated itself with the European-American security relationship.

That was in June 1983. In November President Reagan visited Japan on an enormously successful public relations exercise. Japan’s trade surplus with the United States (which would total $19.3 billion in 1983) was not forgotten, of course, but the United States’ own economic recovery was by then robust. Some in Washington believed that high imports helped to keep inflation down, and Nakasone’s own policy of opening the Japanese market and promoting imports signaled his good intentions. These factors kept the lingering trade issues from exploding.

Thus, U.S.-Japanese relations seemed in good shape as 1984 opened, and they remained good throughout the year. Japan’s trade surplus was expected to exceed an unprecedented $30 billion by the end of the year, but, if the U.S. election was any indicator, it was yet another one of those issues about which there were no popular passions. Frictions over trade are far from dead; U.S. Ambassador Mike Mansfield was clearly worried. He characterized the state of affairs between Tokyo and Washington as a "lull before the storm," though he said in the same breath that the tie with Japan is "our most important bilateral relationship—bar none."

The Reagan visit to Tokyo in November 1983 was followed by a number of high-level meetings to consider trade and other frictions, with Vice President George Bush as coordinator on the American side. After intensive talks a series of agreements was reached, the total effect of which was to open Japanese markets wider to U.S. beef and citrus products, and to ease testing standards, procurement methods and other practices that the United States complained were non-tariff barriers. Most important, the first substantive steps were taken toward opening Japan’s capital markets and enhancing the yen’s role as a freely convertible international currency.

None of these measures, however, was likely to make much of a dent in Japan’s trade surplus with the United States. In testimony before a Senate committee on October 3, 1984, Commerce Under Secretary Lionel Olmer predicted that Japan’s surplus would reach $30.9 billion in 1984 and $36 billion in 1985. A U.S. government interagency report to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee submitted November 1, 1984, said that although Japan had taken five successive market-opening measures between December 1981 and April 1984, "significant barriers to trade still remain [in Japan]." The report cited unsolved problems in such areas as telecommunications equipment, import tariffs, agricultural products, communications satellites, tobacco, services and investment—in short, in nearly all areas of bilateral trade.

A festering sense of Japanese unfairness remained, therefore, in the American public consciousness. This was matched by an indignant perception on the Japanese side that high interest rates, spurred by the high U.S. government deficits, kept the dollar artifically high and attracted excessive imports. When signs appeared in the fall that the American economic recovery might be flagging, the tension only increased.

In defense relations, however, the picture was brighter—in part because of changing U.S. perceptions regarding the Soviet threat. For many years the Pacific theater was secondary to the Atlantic and to Western Europe in U.S. global defense planning against the Soviet Union. The increasing strength of Soviet naval forces in the western Pacific enhanced the value of American bases in Japan and of the Japanese islands which lie athwart the major straits controlling Soviet access to the Pacific and to the Okhotsk Sea—Tsugaru Strait between Hokkaido and Honshu, and Soya, or La Perouse, Strait between Hokkaido and Sakhalin.

Nakasone’s consistent stance in favor of strengthening Japan’s Self-Defense Forces has also helped. Despite austerity budgets that held down increases in overall expenditure to 0.5 percent, the defense budget for 1983 was increased by 6.5 percent and for 1984 by 6.55 percent, to reach $12.4 billion. Though still less than one percent of GNP, this gives Japan the fifth highest level of defense spending among the Western allies. Although Nakasone has pledged to keep spending under the one-percent ceiling set by the Takeo Miki cabinet eight years ago, rises in personnel costs are certain to make this goal impossible—if not in 1985, assuredly in 1986.

The one-percent-of-GNP limit on defense spending is a political barrier that opposition parties as well as doves within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have accepted, against fears of a revival of prewar militarism. Even Liberal Democrat hawks generally agree that if the one-percent ceiling is to be breached, some new consensual limit on defense spending should be imposed, whether expressed in a percentage or some other terms.

To the Pentagon and Western defense policy makers the idea of a one-percent-of-GNP limit on defense spending seems ridiculous for a country with Japan’s economic might. But in Japan, the "peace" constitution renouncing war and pledging not to maintain armed forces (imposed by General Douglas MacArthur after World War II) remains politically potent. Popular acceptance of the Self-Defense Forces (so named, in fact, to avoid the constitutional ban on "armed forces") depends in large measure on the perception that this force is small and nonthreatening. Successive polls show 80 percent of the people supporting the SDF at around its present size of approximately 245,000 men.

Western defense specialists point out, however, that even within the present budget of $12-$13 billion a more efficient and effective defense force could be organized. They note that the ground, air and maritime branches of the SDF are independent of each other, that the equivalent of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is just that—a chairman—and that the Japanese are still in the very early stages of working on coordination with their American allies (although joint exercises with American forces are being held in increasing number). The defense minister is one of the least powerful of Japanese cabinet ministers and usually serves no longer than one year.

If Japan’s major defense role is to protect its sea lanes out to a distance of 1,000 nautical miles, as former Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki pledged, then the major share of the defense budget should go to the Maritime Self-Defense Force and its air arm, as well as to the Air Self-Defense Force. Both are in fact being strengthened, but at a much slower pace than Pentagon planners would like. American and Japanese defense planners say that the SDF as a whole lacks sustainability and therefore the capacity to respond to even the very limited scenarios that the SDF planners envisage. (Any major Soviet assault against Japan would require the immediate assistance of American air and naval forces under the terms of the 1960 U.S.-Japanese Mutual Security Treaty.)

Nakasone’s domestic position is uneasy; he owes his office to the support of the controversial Tanaka faction, largest of the five major Liberal Democratic factions in the Diet (parliament), with one-third of the party’s seats. Prime minister from 1972 to 1974, Kakuei Tanaka is still the most powerful politician in Japan, able to make or break governments by giving or withholding support. He is a convicted criminal, sentenced to four years in jail for accepting a bribe in the early 1970s. The power of his loyal faction arises not only from its size but also from the circumstance that, having no current candidate of its own for the party presidency, it can support whichever other faction looks most promising for its own interests.

Nakasone’s dependence on Tanaka alienates the other factions. The Liberal Democrats did poorly in the general election of December 1983, largely because the public resented the continuing power of a convicted criminal. Nakasone was forced to issue a statement promising "to eliminate all so-called political influences coming from Mr. Tanaka." In fact, however, Tanaka’s influence has remained so strong that the Nakasone cabinet is popularly known as "Tanakasone." Nakasone had to be reelected to his party’s presidency by November 21, 1984, or he would have lost the premiership. He gained reelection for a second and final two-year term, but ended up in a seriously weakened position due to maneuvering among the factions. Many observers doubt that he can last out his full two-year term.

For the United States this means that the Reagan Administration will have to deal with a new Japanese prime minister two years from now, and perhaps much sooner. Nakasone’s potential successors—Kiichi Miyazawa, Shintaro Abe or Noboru Takeshita, to name the most prominent—all have their own personal ties with the United States, and their policy stances on defense, trade and other issues of concern to Washington differ only in nuance from those of Nakasone. But none has Nakasone’s flair for enunciating policy in terms immediately accessible to a Western audience; in addition, it takes time to establish a personal relationship with the U.S. President.


The latter half of 1984 saw a series of encouraging developments in Korean affairs. Japanese-Korean relations improved significantly under Nakasone; both Japan and China have encouraged North-South contacts. North Korea offered, and South Korea accepted, shipments of relief goods to help South Korean flood victims. Talks at Panmunjom between the two sides advanced from subjects like humanitarian exchanges and the Olympic games to more substantive economic issues. A shoot-out at the truce site on November 23 between North Korean and U.S. and South Korean units following the defection of a young Soviet attaché has beclouded the atmosphere but will not, in all probability, reverse the general trend of North-South talks.

Washington, like Tokyo, remains cautious about the ultimate intentions of North Korea’s Kim Il Sung. China has made some effort to encourage change in North Korea, and Pyongyang has its own need to break out of isolation. What happened in 1984, excluding the isolated November 23 incident, seemed a welcome change from events such as the Rangoon bombing in 1983, which killed 17 high-ranking South Korean officials and caused nonaligned Burma to break off relations with North Korea.

As for South Korea, President Chun Doo Hwan’s state visit to Japan in September was a success for both sides. Nakasone took considerable personal political risk to have Chun meet the emperor and to have the latter express, in however roundabout a manner, regrets for Japan’s past harsh colonial rule. In Seoul, the resistance of students and others to President Chun sputtered along, though exiled opposition leader Kim Dae Jung said he hopes to return to his homeland from the United States in early 1985. Chun has not yet achieved the kind of grudging respect won by his assassinated predecessor, Park Chung Hee. But the South Korean economy continued to enjoy healthy growth and to benefit from informal and indirect trade relations with China routed either through Hong Kong or Japan. South Korea expects to host the Asian games in 1986 and the Olympics in 1988, the year in which Chun has pledged to step down. (Under the present South Korean constitution, which Chun played a decisive role in drafting, he is limited to one seven-year term as president.)

American relations with South Korea are in good repair. President Reagan’s endorsement of Chun has not backfired as did his public enthusiasm for Marcos in the Philippines. American troops continue to help guard the border with North Korea, but the easing of North-South tensions makes the old fear of a North Korean invasion seem less credible.


For China, 1984 was a year of substantial achievement. There were bumper harvests for the fourth successive year, the fruit not only of good weather but of the economic incentives identified with Deng Xiaoping and his Politburo colleagues. Emboldened by these results, the Communist Party leadership unveiled sweeping reforms in October, applying to urban industry some of the liberalizing measures that have proved so successful in agriculture since their implementation in 1978-79. "Conditions are now ripe for all-round reform of the economic structure," said a Central Committee decision of October 20, announcing more daring changes than any communist country has hitherto contemplated.

The common theme of the various reform policies is decentralization. This includes a move away from rigid Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideology and a bold willingness to experiment with management methods and market and price mechanisms hitherto identified mainly with capitalism.

The twin pillars of China’s course toward economic modernization within this century—a goal set by Deng Xiaoping and his associates at the end of 1978—are liberalizing reforms at home and an open-door policy abroad. Both terms need to be carefully defined. China remains an authoritarian state under the rule of the Communist Party. "Liberalizing" in this context means a measure of freedom from rigid economic controls for individual citizens and for enterprises. The "open door" signifies liberalized economic contacts with foreign governments and enterprises but does not mean unrestricted freedom for Chinese to travel abroad.

Nevertheless, if economic liberalization and increased contacts with overseas partners began timidly in the late 1970s, the trend since then has been broadly in the direction of greater freedom and more contacts. Of course there have been setbacks. At home, youthful political dissidents were suppressed. Abroad, contracts had to be canceled or scaled down when it became clear that the Chinese, in their enthusiasm, had overestimated their current capacities.

Every year since 1978, Chinese and foreign observers have asked how long the reformist zeal would last and how stable was the structure erected by Deng and his supporters. These questions remain. Incentive policies have been a great boon to agriculture, but China is hardly immune to the vagaries of the weather. Nor can Beijing exercise much control over the world economic climate. Another recession in the West could severely damage promising economic cooperation projects just as they are beginning to bud. For example, Occidental Petroleum’s plan to set up the world’s largest open-cast coal mine in northern Shanxi province has had to be renegotiated time and again because of the declining world price of coal.

Any economic setback would almost certainly have political consequences. Deng’s Maoist enemies within the party and the armed forces are lying low, but they have not been eliminated. They must be waiting for any chance to counterattack.

The most serious potential opposition to Deng comes from within the armed forces, where loyalty to the memory of Mao is strongest and where there is stubborn resistance to the idea of a smaller, more professionally competent force. Deng, who was himself commissar of one of the major communist armies during the revolution and who has served twice as armed forces chief of staff, has the prestige and political skill to control disaffection in the armed forces. But his protégés, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, lack this experience and charisma. Many observers fear the possibility of a military takeover once Deng departs. Others note, however, that in the past the armed forces have been loyal to the political leadership even when that leadership struck down some of the nation’s most revered and popular military heroes, Marshals Peng Dehuai, He Long and Chen Yi for instance, during the ten-year disaster known as the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). As of today, the armed forces are controlled by generals who have accepted Deng’s logic: that modernization of defense can only come as part of the process of economic modernization as a whole, and that the defense share of the total economic pie can increase only as the entire nation becomes more prosperous.

The United States and its allies, notably Japan, have a large stake in the success of Deng’s reforms. The Reagan visit to Beijing in April 1984 symbolized American support for China’s road to modernization; it completed a process of reassessment and eventual reversal of the attitudes that the President had brought to Washington in 1981. President Reagan continues to say that he will not turn his back on an old friend (Taiwan) in order to make a new one (China), but there seems little question that, in terms of global politics, China’s strategic value vastly outweighs that of Taiwan. Washington’s careful formulation of the Sino-American relationship is that China is not an ally, but a friend. Nevertheless, defense ties between the United States and China are growing. Defense Minister Zhang Aiping visited Washington in June 1984 on a trip which also included France, Canada and Japan. His visit returned Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger’s trip to Beijing in September 1983.

China has continuing problems with the United States in the fields of agriculture, textiles and nuclear technology, but over the course of several years each side has learned not to let problems in one area spill over into another. In the case of textiles, the United States, after first granting China a fairly liberal quota, has been progressively clamping down on specific categories as domestic producers complain of a disruptive increase in imports. In agriculture, China has bought only one-third of the 6.4 million tons of grain it is obliged to buy from the United States this year under a four-year grain agreement. More serious for the United States, China’s bumper harvests are turning it into an exporter of both corn and soybeans.

The most troublesome potential dispute between Washington and Beijing concerns nuclear proliferation. China has not signed the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons. It is, however, anxious to develop a nuclear generating capacity in order to alleviate severe power shortages, especially in coal-poor southern China. It would like to buy nuclear technology from the West, including the United States. President Reagan signed a nuclear cooperation agreement that opens the way to such purchases when he was in Beijing, but the agreement has not been approved by Congress, where suspicions are high that Beijing—despite flat denials—may be secretly helping Pakistan to develop an atomic weapons capability. The impasse persisted at the year’s end.

The most emotional point of contention, of course, remains Taiwan. China continues to make the point that it expects American arms sales to Taiwan to diminish gradually, as agreed in a joint communiqué with Washington on August 17, 1982. The Taiwan Straits have been peaceful for several years, and although President Chiang Ching-kuo continues to refuse all offers of talks emanating from Beijing, Sino-Taiwanese trade prospers, mainly through Hong Kong. Beijing’s leaders obviously hope that the Sino-British agreement on the future of Hong Kong will reassure Taiwan about the seriousness of the Chinese formula of "one country, two systems" (communist on the mainland, capitalist offshore).

President Chiang continues to run the island of Taiwan as a more or less benevolently authoritarian one-party state, with both party (Kuomintang) and state interfering less conspicuously in the life of the individual citizen than occurs on the mainland. In the spring 1984 elections, Chiang received a renewed mandate as president, as expected, while naming an experienced and vigorous Taiwan-born administrator, Lee Teng-hui, as his vice president. Most observers on Taiwan believe that there will be no response to Beijing’s reunification calls as long as Chiang remains president, but that in a post-Chiang period, if China remains on its current course of economic reform, the Taiwanese may begin to see the advantage of a political link with the mainland. In Washington and Tokyo, the two capitals most concerned about a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan issue, the view is that a gradual and natural process of coming together is the best solution that can be hoped for, and that outsiders should try neither to hasten nor to delay this evolution.

China’s relations with the Soviet Union continued a gradual process of improvement during 1984. Deputy Premier Ivan Arkhipov visited China late in December, and concluded four cooperation agreements with the Chinese, one of them a long-term trade pact for 1986-1990. The pact, to be signed in 1985, may allow as much as $6 billion in Sino-Soviet trade by 1990. It was also agreed during Arkhipov’s visit that bilateral trade in 1985 would be increased 22 percent, to $1.8 billion. Arkhipov was the top Soviet aid official in China during the days of Sino-Soviet solidarity in the 1950s, and his return to Beijing at this time was taken as a sign both of Moscow’s desire to improve economic relations and of its curiosity about the economic reforms the Dengist leadership is carrying out.

The visit had originally been scheduled to take place in May 1984, and Moscow’s abrupt postponement was believed to indicate Kremlin irritation at the warm welcome Beijing had just given to President Reagan and at comments implying that China could be friends with both the United States and the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, no permanent damage was done to the Sino-Soviet relationship, and bilateral talks at the deputy foreign minister level continued at their twice-yearly pace (in Moscow in March, in Beijing in October). Also, Foreign Minister Wu Xueqian had his first bilateral meeting with his Soviet counterpart, Andrei Gromyko, at the United Nations in October. According to Chinese sources, however, no substantive progress has been made toward settling any of China’s three principal political demands on the Soviet Union: to withdraw troops from the Sino-Soviet border, to end the occupation of Afghanistan and to stop aiding Vietnam’s occupation of Kampuchea.

Thus, the prevailing view among East-West political analysts is that while the two communist giants see advantages in reducing tension along their long border and in normalizing state-to-state relations, there is no disposition on either side to revive the close alliance of the 1950s. Furthermore, Moscow’s conservative and aging leaders will not easily overcome their profound misgivings over the economic road taken by Deng and his associates, which is so much more innovative and daring than anything the Soviets are contemplating.


The greatest challenge the second Reagan Administration faces in East Asia is the unraveling of the Marcos regime in the Philippines.

Ferdinand Marcos has been president since 1965—as a democratically elected chief executive for seven years, and then as an authoritarian ruler under various guises since 1972. Since the assassination of his chief opponent, former Senator Benigno Aquino, on August 21, 1983, the president, once so politically surefooted, has been struggling to cling to power in the face of successive waves of public protest and a sharply deteriorating economy. The New People’s Army, a classic Maoist guerrilla movement, has gathered strength in the provinces to the point where it is beginning to function as an alternative government in some areas.

The two major U.S. bases in Southeast Asia—Subic Bay naval base and the air base at Clark Field—are in the Philippines, their importance enhanced by increasing Soviet use of Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam across the South China Sea. American investors have a $5-billion stake in the Philippine economy, and in both the United States and the Philippines a special mutual affinity has been part of a long tradition. The United States cannot be merely a disinterested observer of the political and economic scene in the Philippines. This relationship is itself a factor in the current political turmoil, and presents both an opportunity and a grave danger to policymakers in Washington.

Discreet American advice is said to have played an important role in two major events of 1984—the legislative elections in May and the Agrava Commission’s report in November, which found key military officials guilty of conspiracy in the Aquino assassination. The elections were less blatantly rigged than previously, and the opposition, though divided, won 59 of the 183 elected seats in the 200-seat assembly. (Seventeen seats are filled by presidential appointment.)

Estimates in Washington vary about the viability of the Marcos regime. The prevailing view in the State Department seems to be that since no opposition leader has emerged with Aquino’s charisma, the Marcos era may well last another two years, or even beyond 1987, when the president is up for reelection. But experts within the Pentagon are said to be deeply concerned over the provincial communist guerrilla movement and also over evidence of growing corruption, rapacity and war-weariness among government troops battling the guerrillas.

There may still be time to pressure Marcos for political and economic reform and to build up a viable democratic alternative to the present regime. This, at least, appears to be Washington’s first choice, on the theory that Marcos remains the Philippines’ most effective leader. Subic Bay and Clark Field are important for the United States, but also for the Philippines, which earns about $300 million annually from these bases. Talk of considering alternative bases in the Mariana Islands may be one form of pressure on Manila. Persuading international aid organizations like the World Bank to withhold loans to the Philippines, lacking evidence of economic reform, is another. The moderate democratic opposition in Manila also looks to the United States to press for the abolition of the sixth constitutional amendment, which allows Marcos to rule by decree.

The United States has other levers to help bring the Philippines out of economic and political unrest and restore the imperfect but relatively open democratic government these islands enjoyed before 1972. Ultimately, however, it is the Philippine people themselves who will have to rethink and rework their political and economic institutions, cast off the deadening weight of authoritarianism, and create a structure that will allow the full flowering of their own rich human and natural resources.


Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, the picture was much less alarming despite the festering Kampuchean question. At the year’s end, Vietnamese forces in Kampuchea were once again engaged in a vigorous dry-season offensive against the guerrilla forces opposing them, including both nationalists and Khmer Rouge units commanded by the infamous Pol Pot. Once again, peasants caught in the fighting fled to the Thai side of the border, carrying what miserable possessions they could with them.

Some day the Kampuchean question will have to be solved, but the sad truth of the moment seems to be that Vietnamese forces firmly control most of the country without, however, being able to totally eliminate guerrilla units except at the risk of all-out war with Thailand.

The Heng Samrin regime is a puppet of the Vietnamese, and enjoys little international stature, largely due to the consistent attitude taken by members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)—the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. They strongly condemned the Vietnamese invasion of 1978 and have persistently demanded Hanoi’s military withdrawal from Kampuchea and the holding of internationally supervised elections.

There are, nevertheless, differences in approach among the ASEAN states. Thailand, which borders Kampuchea, feels most threatened by the Vietnamese occupation and has been the most supportive of the Kampuchean forces opposing Hanoi—organized today in a loose coalition known as Democratic Kampuchea and headed by Prince Norodom Sihanouk. Indonesia, which has ties with Vietnam going back to the days when Ho Chi Minh was fighting the French and Sukarno the Dutch, seems more inclined to look for a compromise allowing continued Vietnamese influence in Kampuchea. Indonesia is also far more suspicious of China and of the possible growth of Chinese influence in Southeast Asia than is Thailand. Malaysia’s position may be somewhere between the two.

These are questions of attitudes rather than of specific policies, however, and so far ASEAN has managed to maintain a unified approach to the Kampuchean question. It is this cohesion that keeps Hanoi and Moscow on the defensive in international bodies. ASEAN has thus proved to be a valuable asset for American foreign policy in Southeast Asia.

In Indonesia, President Suharto has shown himself as a durable and resilient leader; his country boasts an economy in much better shape than that of the nearby Philippines. Yet Suharto shares some of Marcos’ problems: how to manage the problem of the succession, how to keep corruption under control and how to distribute power more widely beyond a tight concentration within the military hierarchy.

In Malaysia, the strong-willed Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamed is troubled by pressures from the sultans or traditional rulers. Tensions between the Malay majority and the Chinese minority are controlled, but not defused. Communist guerrillas, who are ethnic Chinese, still slip in and out across the border from their sanctuaries in Thailand, without doing great damage, but contributing to Malaysian suspicions of China. Although Malaysia, unlike Indonesia, has diplomatic relations with Beijing, it does not fully trust Chinese assurances of non-support for an insurgency that has gone on since the days of British colonial rule.

In Thailand, Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanond has managed so far to balance the growing demands of the political parties for a share in government against the continuing reality that the army ultimately still holds most of the levers of power. General Prem is reported to have had health problems, but he enjoys the confidence of the king, who plays an essential stabilizing role in this profoundly Buddhist country.

Finally, the city-state of Singapore continues to run like a Swiss watch under the stern rule of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, although the remarkable first generation of leaders, who built Singapore and made it a viable, prosperous community, are gradually giving way to younger men—intelligent, hard-working, but less tested.

Australia and New Zealand, partners with Washington in the 1951 ANZUS treaty, both now have Labour governments. The Australian government sees eye to eye with the United States on defense matters, and Prime Minister Bob Hawke enjoys excellent personal relations with President Reagan. The same cannot be said for New Zealand, where the general election on July 14, 1984, toppled conservative Robert Muldoon and brought to power a Labour government headed by David Lange. (Labour won 55 seats in the 95-seat parliament.)

Lange and his party support ANZUS but strongly oppose visits to New Zealand’s ports by nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed American naval vessels. Lange has said he is prepared to accept port calls by nuclear-powered vessels so long as they are not nuclear-armed. But this stand directly challenges long-standing American policy never to reveal whether a ship is carrying nuclear arms.

Lange’s anti-nuclear policy is popular in New Zealand, where his approval rating in polls shot up from 13 percent while he was opposition leader to 70 percent since he took office July 26. "There will be no nuclear weapons in New Zealand as long as I am prime minister and that is from the heart," Lange is quoted as saying.

The United States insists that it cannot help defend New Zealand unless its naval ships, whether or not armed with nuclear weapons, are allowed to visit New Zealand’s ports. To give way on this issue would have serious consequences for the United States in other countries, such as Japan and Spain, where port calls by nuclear-armed ships are also politically sensitive.

Whenever a nuclear-powered U.S. submarine or aircraft carrier ties up at a Japanese port, opposition parties routinely ask whether the ships are carrying nuclear arms. The government routinely responds that, under the security treaty, the United States has pledged to have prior consultation with Japan before undertaking a major change of equipment for its units (navy and air forces) stationed in Japan. Presumably, the introduction of nuclear weapons would be a major change of equipment, and therefore would require prior consultation with Japan. The Japanese formula, thus, is that since the United States does not ask for consultation, the Japanese authorities choose to assume that the naval vessel in question is not carrying nuclear arms. This formula allows the United States to avoid direct answers to difficult questions, and the Japanese government can continue to pretend that no nuclear arms are entering Japanese ports.

This elaborate Japanese rationale will not work for the straightforward New Zealanders. They are asking the United States to submit a reckoning of all ships planning visits to New Zealand’s ports, including whether they are nuclear-armed. If this impasse cannot be settled by the July 1985 ANZUS meeting, Washington may face the necessity of shrinking the old tripartite alliance to a purely bilateral arrangement between the United States and Australia.


American foreign policy has traditionally been oriented toward Europe. The Reagan Administration, however, has started looking more closely at Asia and the Pacific. The most pointed manifestation of this trend was the astonishing reversal of Washington’s attitudes toward China and Taiwan. As a result, Sino-American relations are closer today than during the Carter Administration, which removed the U.S. embassy from Taiwan (while continuing "non-governmental" ties with "the people in Taiwan") in order to establish full diplomatic relations with Beijing.

The Reagan Administration has also reinforced the partnership with Japan, helping it become more global in scope. The Japanese are beginning to take initiatives on sensitive questions like the possible transfer of Soviet SS-20 intermediate-range missiles from the European to the Asian theaters of the U.S.S.R. and the possibility of diplomatic action to end the Iran-Iraq war. What is surprising about this new air of cooperation in U.S.-Japanese relations is that it has developed despite the increasing American trade deficit with Japan.

The fact that both Ronald Reagan and George Shultz are men from beyond the eastern seaboard may have set the tone for these developments. As Reagan said during his visit to Japan last November: "You cannot help but feel that the great Pacific basin—with all its nations and all its potential for growth and development—that is the future." Or as Shultz put it more succinctly in July of this year: "The Pacific and the future are inseparable."

In its second term, the Reagan Administration is likely to look even more toward the Pacific. As China accelerates the market orientation of its economy and its opening to the West, as Japan strengthens its strategic partnership with the United States and opens its own markets in a more significant way to American high technology exports, as South Korea, Taiwan and the Southeast Asian nations (the Philippines excepted) move forward on their path of economic growth, the United States’ transpacific ties are likely to grow ever stronger and more pervasive.

That is the optimist’s view, and past developments and trends can be arrayed to support it. But there is also a more pessimistic scenario. The continuation of China’s present liberalizing policies depends upon the untested strength of the party and government structure Deng Xiaoping and his colleagues are putting in place (Deng himself turned 80 this year). It also depends on factors over which the Chinese have little control. Suppose the world economy were to turn sour? Suppose oil is not found in abundance off the China coast? The Dengist policies have found a ready response among the Chinese people so far; yet it is too soon to say that they have struck deep roots and will endure.

The current warmth of U.S.-Japanese relations owes much to the personal ties between Reagan and Nakasone, and in Japan the personal factor is particularly important. The national interests of Japan and the United States were much the same under the premiership of Nakasone’s predecessor, Zenko Suzuki, as they are today. But the friction that developed between the two countries during this period, which spanned the first two years of the Reagan Administration, can be ascribed in large part to a prime minister basically uninterested in foreign affairs, and a string of undistinguished foreign ministers in Tokyo. Yet, in the Japanese political context, the pattern of the Suzuki administration is closer to the norm than is the active international involvement of Nakasone and his foreign minister, Shintaro Abe.

From now on, Washington is going to expect a prime minister who can make small talk in English and who volunteers assertive pronouncements on international issues, according to one veteran policy planner. But except for Abe and former Foreign Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, none of Nakasone’s potential successors have these capacities. The trade deficit problem is more likely to intensify than to diminish. Will greater access for American goods and services in the Japanese market truly compensate for ever larger flows of Japanese goods into the American market?

Finally, Washington’s policy dilemma in the Philippines—whether and how far to work with the Marcos administration, whether to actively encourage and even to help form a more cohesive non-communist alternative to Marcos—is one that it has faced before in this part of the world, as in the declining days of the Syngman Rhee regime in South Korea in the 1950s, and of Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam in the early 1960s. One can wonder if any enduring lesson was learned from either of these two experiences; the case of Marcos may well repeat the pattern. Perhaps the real lesson is that even a superpower should hesitate before rushing into a troubled situation with money, arms and men, unless it has the assurance that its efforts will complement forces already present. When the stakes are high, as they are in the Philippines, the temptation toward a quick fix is strong. It is not the limits to American power that have to be learned in such situations. Rather, it is how to recognize these limits without shrinking into immobilism.

The core of American policy interests in Asia, relations with Japan, China and Korea, was strengthened and enlarged. But on the periphery, in the Philippines and New Zealand, there were signs of trouble, perhaps serious trouble, in the President’s next term.

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  • Takashi Oka is Editor-in-chief for special projects, TBS-Britannica. Until June 1984 he was chief Far Eastern correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, stationed in Beijing. He has lived and traveled in East Asia since 1960.
  • More By Takashi Oka