When President George W. Bush traveled to Asia last month for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum he found himself on unfamiliar ground--not just geographically, but diplomatically. Whereas American presidents have previously been star attractions at the annual economic gathering, this year Bush had to share equal billing with Chinese President Hu Jintao. The change signals that, after almost 60 years of U.S. dominance in the Asia-Pacific region, Beijing is emerging as a new powerbroker there.
Trade numbers help explain the transformation. Japan, the world's second largest economy, now imports more from China than from the United States, and China has become the largest trading partner of South Korea, the world's 12th largest economy. China's geopolitical power is also on the rise. Beijing has emerged as a critical player in resolving the North Korea crisis, for example. And Washington's failure to win support for its initial hard-line stance toward North Korea shows that the region's security no longer revolves around policy made in Washington; today, it revolves around policy increasingly shaped in Asia, by Asians, with U.S. input.
The Bush administration must recognize the economic and security components of this transformation and develop a comprehensive vision that encompasses both. While it is addressing the economic component through APEC and a series of bilateral trade agreements, it has yet to find its footing with respect to the security component, particularly in northeastern Asia.
Ironically, North Korea, the region's bad boy, could be of help. It could serve as the catalyst for the creation of a regional security organization. Such a group--the Northeast Asia Security Forum--would initially consist of the players now involved in resolving the North Korea crisis--the United States, China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea--but over time other countries could also join. The forum would deal with security-related issues, including arms control, crisis management, conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and confidence-building measures.
The foundation for this new organization may be close at hand. The Bush administration appears to be giving in
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