East Asia: Another Year of Living Dangerously

Courtesy Reuters

The major events of 1983 in East Asian politics and economics can be looked at from three broad vantage points or planes of abstraction. At the most general level one sees, rather like the movements of tectonic plates on the earth's surface, a slight shift in the center of gravity of U.S. foreign policy from Europe toward Asia. In large part this shift is prompted by a growing realization among the leaders of the United States and Japan that their nations will, for the indefinite future, be paramount in the fundamental sciences and their practical offshoots in microelectronics, biotechnology, fine ceramics, and other new areas of technical development, and that Western Europe will trail in most of these fields and the Soviet Union simply be left behind. The fact that the American President met with the prime minister of Japan three times during 1983 underscores this trend, as did the President's statement in Tokyo in November that "No relationship between any two countries is more important to world peace and prosperity than the relationship between the United States and Japan."

The next level one can observe in East Asian politics is a shift in the center of gravity from communist to non-communist countries. Several developments punctuated this trend. Japan became involved for the first time in the issue of intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF)-if not in the negotiations themselves. Coincidentally, the Soviet Union has become increasingly concerned with the potential military challenge of Japan, above all with its high technological capability-a concern reflected in the Soviet Union's deployments in East Asia regardless of their impact on progress toward a Sino-Soviet reconciliation. There is also the whole cluster of issues surrounding American attempts (private and official) to understand and respond intelligently to the economic competition coming from the East Asian capitalist developmental states (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia).

Finally, the People's Republic of China no longer looms very significantly in American strategic consciousness. No one is much interested in

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