America's motto in the Pacific in 1990 could have been: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The region remains America's largest export market ($21 billion larger than Europe in 1989), and its politics represents much of what the United States has long sought: healthy nationalism, pluralism and even democracy in places where not long ago there was mainly military-led authoritarianism and, finally, the absence of any single dominant nation.
Such an environment does not call for major new U.S. initiatives. Instead Washington needs to encourage East Asia's many favorable trends and dampen the few others that could undermine progress. The one exception where the United States did initiate important new steps in 1990 was in Southeast Asia-involving the American presence in the Philippines and a more substantial policy shift in Indochina.
The Philippines issue concerns U.S. bases, principally at Subic Bay Naval Station and Clark Air Force Base. Agreements on these installations expire in 1991, and the renewal negotiations have not gone well. President Corazon Aquino's administration is divided on the issue, and despite many years of nationalist campaigns against the bases Philippine public opinion remains decidedly in favor. One poll reported as much as 80 percent for retention, a higher figure than previous polls; this support probably reflects a growing realization of how much the economy will lose if the Americans leave. Twenty-two thousand Filipinos work at the air force base alone, and the Philippine economy, with a $26 billion foreign debt, remains desperate.
Manila's problem is compounded by its partners in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, who believe Aquino and her foreign secretary have missed opportunities to develop broader support for the bases, especially in an ASEAN context. They regard the bases as important for regional stability and are not anxious for an American departure. In that environment Manila's negotiating position has not been strong, while the American side has clearly concluded that if it has to leave the main losers will be Filipinos.
Washington certainly would prefer to retain the
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