Inside the Beltway and on op-ed pages across the United States, it has become increasingly popular to lament the demise of U.S. influence in Asia. Power transitions, resurgent Asian nationalism, and poor policy choices in Washington have supposedly undermined U.S. leadership in Asia. According to critics, the Bush administration has been distracted by Iraq, has failed to deal adequately with China's economic and political rise, and has alienated many Asians with its singular focus on counterterrorism. The lack of U.S. leadership after the Cold War, detractors charge, has made Asia ripe for conflict.
But the conventional wisdom is wrong. The United States' position in Asia is now stronger than ever, and Asia remains at peace. The United States has achieved a pragmatic, results-oriented, cooperative relationship with China, and it has expanded and strengthened its alliance with Japan just as Tokyo and Beijing are improving their bilateral relations. This confluence of events has created an emerging U.S.-Chinese-Japanese partnership that greatly enhances regional stability. Washington has also improved its defense relationship with South Korea and successfully facilitated the shutdown of North Korea's bomb-making capabilities through the six-party talks. Finally, the United States has steadily improved its relations with Southeast Asian nations, largely by building on the goodwill it created by leading the humanitarian response to the tsunami in 2004.
Few commentators in Japan, South Korea, or the United States will give any credit to the Abe, Roh, and Bush administrations for these accomplishments. Rather than conceding that the Bush administration has made progress, naysayers in Washington tend to attribute Asia's good fortune to benign neglect while the administration's neoconservatives were busy focusing on Iraq. But they are wrong. President George W. Bush's Asia policy has worked.
WHO'S ASIA'S DADDY
Contrary to the dire warnings issued by many Asia pessimists, China is not eating the United States' lunch in Asia. Beijing is indeed building its military capabilities, pressing for free-trade agreements, and increasingly occupying central positions in various regional organizations.
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