Adjusting to the New Asia

Courtesy Reuters


Transpacific relations today have become almost as uncertain as those across the Atlantic. The United States' strategic position in East Asia is changing, and in ways few anticipated just a couple of years ago. America's role in the region and its military posture there will look very different at the end of this decade than they did at the start of it.

The changes are due in part to trends within East Asia itself -- trends over which the United States has little control and lessening influence. Two factors have affected Washington's role most directly. The first is the rise of China, in both economic and geopolitical terms. And the second is the dramatic diminishment of Japan's economic vitality, which has led its regional influence to slip. Japan will remain a major economic player in the region for years to come, especially as a source of investment and technology for the rest of Asia. But its strategic value to the United States, although still great, is declining.

Meanwhile, other players are starting to take on more importance in East Asia. First among these is South Korea, where stunningly rapid economic growth, burgeoning democracy, and generational change have produced a newly assertive and more independent foreign policy. At the same time, Taiwan -- long an economic powerhouse and ward of Washington -- is being further marginalized internationally and increasingly integrated into the mainland's economy. Peaceful reconciliation between the two Chinas thus now seems closer than ever.

Changes outside Asia have also affected the U.S. role in the region. First on this list is the Bush administration's preoccupation with the war on terrorism. Fighting terror has become as or more important to Washington than were its traditional concerns for peace and stability. This shift in priorities -- as well as America's demonstrated ability to wage war with minimal international support and the reconsideration of its worldwide basing requirments -- has raised pointed questions about the vitality of the U.

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