Volume 5, Issue 2

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April - June 2003 · Published: Jul 2003

Washington’s post-Sept. 11, post-post-Cold War military strategy and force posture realignment plans for East Asia began to take shape this quarter, albeit in bits and pieces. While “everything is going to move everywhere,” first up seems to be the Korean Peninsula, at least in terms of planning. The long-term objective appears to be reducing footprints (and ultimately numbers?) and increasing flexibility without reducing commitment or defense/deterrent capabilities or creating too much regional anxiety (or false expectations).  Meanwhile, bad behavior by the region’s twin despots – North Korea’s Kim Jong-il and Burma’s Than Shwe – resulted in increased promotion of multilateral solutions and a willingness, however tentative, by the nations of Southeast Asia and other members of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) to interfere, ever so slightly and gently, in one another’s internal affairs.  Ad hoc multilateralism was also the order of the day down under, as Australia worked to put together a coalition of the willing to intervene, by invitation, in the Solomon Islands.

Some unilateralist U.S. tendencies remain, however, especially when it comes to announced missile defense plans (which were hardly noticed) and nuclear force modernization and research efforts (which were).  Meanwhile, in Iraq, winning the war has given way to the more daunting task of winning the peace while, elsewhere, the world holds its collective breath in hopes that the worst of SARS is now behind us.

US - Japan

April — June 2003

Still on a Roll

I was wrong:  U.S.-Japan relations could get better – and this quarter they did.  Tokyo continued to provide rock solid support for the U.S. in Iraq and North Korea, even though the Japanese public had doubts about the U.S. war on Baghdad. Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro was rewarded for that backing with a summit at President Bush’s Crawford, Texas ranch, a privilege reserved for only a very few world leaders.  The passage of “emergency legislation” and renewed enthusiasm for missile defense were more proof that Tokyo’s efforts to modernize its national security policies have not slowed.  The prospect of U.S. force redeployments worldwide only confirmed the significance of the alliance and its increasingly sturdy foundations: while much of the region worried about a reduced U.S. presence, alliance officials discussed adding to U.S. forces in Japan.  Even the fallout from crimes by U.S. servicemen on Okinawa was contained.

Some dark spots became apparent at the end of the quarter, but it would be churlish to focus on them.  Economic issues are still a problem, and dollar devaluation adds a new wrinkle.  But those misgivings aren’t new and I’m tired of sounding like Cassandra. So this quarter we celebrate without reservation the U.S.-Japan relationship.

Although Beijing was distracted this quarter by the SARS epidemic, there was still progress in U.S.-Chinese relations. Dealing with North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs continued to top the bilateral diplomatic agenda with China orchestrating and hosting trilateral talks in Beijing. Presidents Bush and Hu Jintao agreed to seek a peaceful solution to the nuclear weapons issue in a summit on the sidelines of the G-8 meeting in Evian and exchanged views on other international and bilateral issues. In an unprecedented joint effort between the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and law enforcement authorities in China and Hong Kong, the U.S. and China succeeded in dismantling a massive heroin smuggling organization that targeted the U.S. and Canada.  On the negative side of the ledger, the U.S. expressed displeasure at Beijing’s lax enforcement of its export control laws, promulgated almost one year ago, by slapping sanctions on Norinco, one of China’s biggest and most prestigious state-owned conglomerates.

The “nuclear issue” with North Korea continued to dominate U.S.-Korea relations this quarter, although it appeared no closer to resolution at the end than the beginning.  When China, the U.S., and North Korea met together in April for their first “multilateral” dialogue, North Korea continued its strategy of making nuclear-related threats while offering to dismantle its nuclear facilities in exchange for U.S. concessions.  Refusing to negotiate under Pyongyang’s gun, the U.S. pursued a policy of enlisting its allies to ratchet up diplomatic pressure on North Korea. The Bush-Roh summit in mid-May aimed to strengthen the U.S.-Korea alliance, and while affirming the need for a peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue, committed both countries to consider taking unspecified (and impliedly coercive) “further steps” against Pyongyang.  At the end of the quarter, diplomats pushed for a new round of multilateral talks with North Korea, with the U.S. threatening to seek condemnation of Pyongyang at the UN Security Council if North Korea rejected U.S. negotiating demands.

In early June, Washington and Seoul agreed on major realignments and redeployments of U.S. forces in South Korea over the next several years.  U.S. troops will be withdrawn from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and from Seoul’s Yongsan garrison, to be redeployed south of Seoul. The redeployment followed mainly from the Pentagon’s view that it was no longer necessary to maintain a military “tripwire”on the DMZ in view of new U.S. warfighting capabilities.  Finally, a trade conflict over Korean sales of memory chips in the U.S. simmered throughout the quarter, after the U.S. imposed heavy punitive tariffs on Hynix corporation. The Korean government vowed to contest these penalties at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

In the second quarter of 2003, the war in Iraq brought to light fundamental differences between the United States and Russia that some seasoned observers had been claiming existed between the two erstwhile allies, even as Moscow and Washington forged a partnership in the war against terrorism. It has become clear that Russian President Vladimir Putin, with an eye to upcoming Duma and presidential elections, has heeded advisors that have been warning him about being too accommodating with the United States.  In addition, the Russian public has clearly voiced its opposition to the actions of the United States government across the globe.  This was reflected in the coolness toward Washington prevailing in ruling circles in Moscow during the Iraq war, and the official refusal to back U.S. actions in the Middle East. Washington, however, has steadfastly maintained its strategy of accommodation with Moscow, and has been eager to enlist Russian support in the Middle East and maintain the partnership in the war on terrorism.

With the end of hostilities in Iraq, the Russian government has again changed tack somewhat and has publicly reaffirmed its desire to maintain a constructive relationship with the United States. The June summit meeting between Presidents Bush and Putin in St. Petersburg smoothed over the tense spots in the relationship somewhat.  Energy issues continue to unite the two nations economically.  Meanwhile, Moscow and Washington remain actively engaged on the Korean Peninsula, and have both called on Pyongyang to not develop nuclear weapons.

The past quarter has witnessed growing antiterrorist cooperation by the core ASEAN states (Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand) with the United States to apprehend the Bali bombers and others bent on attacking Western interests.  Although Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand were reticent about supporting the U.S. war in Iraq because of concern about the political backlash from their own Muslim populations, these states as well as Singapore and the Philippines – openly enthusiastic about Washington’s quick Iraq victory – are looking beyond the war to economic reconstruction opportunities there.  American plans to reduce and reposition forces in the Pacific may have a Philippine component if Manila agrees to prepositioning military supplies there.  The United States also expressed concern over Indonesia’s military assault on Aceh province, Cambodian violence against Thai residents, and Burma’s crackdown on the pro-democracy opposition.

The quarter began on a negative note with escalating concern about the spread among ASEAN countries of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, a new viral disease that originated in China and carried a death rate of up to 15 percent, and was transmitted by means that were not well understood. It threatened to create panic and devastate regional economies just as most were emerging from the economic crisis that began in 1997.  ASEAN played a key role in persuading China to take more effective action to halt the spread of SARS, and can take satisfaction that its often-maligned “way” of diplomacy, low key and nonconfrontational, was well suited to this particular crisis.

At the annual ASEAN ministerial meetings in Phnom Penh in June, China proposed the establishment of a new Security Policy Conference, comprised of senior military as well as civilian officials from the 23 ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) countries. The objective would be to draft a new security pact to promote peace and stability in the region. Also at the ASEAN meetings, China won points by becoming the first major power to agree to sign ASEAN’s 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. Further steps were recorded in the march toward a China-ASEAN Free Trade Area as Thailand became the first country to gain concrete benefits from “early harvest” tariff reductions. A nascent Asian Monetary Fund emerged, including China and the original ASEAN five countries, among other members. China conspicuously stayed out of the growing consensus that pressure must be increased on Burma to institute democratic reforms. High-level visits between Hanoi and Beijing produced no new developments.

Throughout this quarter, Beijing and Taipei struggled to contain the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).  SARS dramatically reduced cross-Strait travel; its effects on cross-Strait economic ties appear less severe but remain to be fully assessed.   SARS intensified the battle over Taiwan’s request for observer status at the World Health Organization (WHO). Although the World Health Assembly (WHA) again rejected Taiwan, the real problems of a global health emergency led to the first contacts between the WHO and Taiwan.  Beijing’s handling of SARS embittered the atmosphere of cross-Strait relations and created a political issue in Taiwan that President Chen Shui-bian is moving to exploit in next year’s elections.

The most emblematic moment in inter-Korean ties during the past quarter occurred June 14. In a low-key ceremony timed to mark the third anniversary of the first North-South summit, the two sides reconnected their railway tracks in two corridors across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), near the west and east coasts of the Peninsula. If rejoicing was muted, this reflected not just the ongoing nuclear blight, but the fact that this relinking was so far only symbolic. On the Southern side, all is ready to roll, whereas north of the DMZ, large chunks of track have yet to be built.  So the much-hyped “iron silk road,” across Siberia to Europe, will not be ready any time soon.  South Korea still hopes to see the western Kyongui rail link completed this year.  Yet that will depend not only on Pyongyang’s willingness to realize a project it has persistently delayed – although latterly it has seemed keener again – but (in all probability) also on developments over the nuclear issue, which continues to overshadow everything.

In that sense this rail “link” is symptomatic of the ambiguous state of inter-Korean relations currently. While the nuclear shadow has by no means ended all North-South contact – in fact there was more this quarter than in some pre-crisis periods, especially in 2001 – it inevitably colors and inhibits dialogue. Thus both ministerial and economic talks spent much time discussing this – or rather, with the South raising it and the North refusing to discuss it. In a related twist, in the first full quarter of the Roh Moo-hyun administration in South Korea Pyongyang took strong exception to the new president’s harder line after he met George W. Bush in Washington in mid-May.  Inter-Korean meetings then witnessed a new sight:  a tough-minded Seoul digging its heels in and demanding an apology before proceeding to business.

This quarter marked a period of transition and tumult in China-Korea relations.  Beijing revealed its own diplomatic initiative to settle the North Korean nuclear problem with a surprise announcement that it would host representatives from Pyongyang and Washington in multilateral talks.  But that effort was set back by an embarrassing North Korean threat during the talks, warning that it had nuclear weapons and might test them in the near future.  The economic and health threat from severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) was a major concern at the beginning of the quarter, but dissipated by the end of the quarter with little apparent lasting effect.  South Korea’s new Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan took his first trip to Beijing in April to meet newly installed counterpart Li Zhaoxing for the first of several meetings.  The dates are now set for President Roh to follow in early July.

Despite the apparent volatility of events this quarter, however, there has been little apparent change either in the seriousness of the North Korean nuclear issue or in continued bullish prospects for buoyant China-Korean economic relations.  Still, one can’t help but feel that more volatility is on its way, and that tensions with North Korea will rise as events unfold in the second half of the year.

Political relations broke out of the Yasukuni-induced deep freeze. Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro met with China’s President Hu Jintao in St. Petersburg, Russia, on May 31 during ceremonies marking the city’s 300th anniversary.  Less than three weeks later, during meetings of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Phnom Penh, Foreign Minister Kawaguchi Yoriko invited China’s new Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing to visit Japan in August to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Japan-China Friendship Treaty; Li accepted. Japan also successfully lobbied China to support Japan’s admission to the multilateral U.S.-China-North Korea talks that opened in April in Beijing.

But across the board, the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic in China dominated the relationship.  Japan extended emergency medical assistance and personnel to help China cope with the epidemic.  SARS also affected Japanese business operations in China as well as in Japan, which is now increasingly dependent on low-cost component imports from China.  Throughout the quarter, economists repeatedly tried to assess the bottom-line impact of SARS.  Through mid-May, the prospects were judged to range from bad to catastrophic. However, by the end of the quarter as the epidemic appeared to come under control, economic forecasts brightened.

We are under threat ourselves from another terrorist state, North Korea, which has kidnapped 150 of our citizens. 150 people! I don’t think any of them are alive. Pyongyang is also sending boatloads of drugs to Japan to harm our youngsters, and it has missiles ready to hit 15 Japanese cities. What other country would tolerate this?…You mean the Sunshine Policy? Do you really think the policies of Kim Dae-jung were working? (All throughout), the North was becoming more dangerous. This is the country that says it is ready to deliver a ‘sea of fire’ over Japan.

 Tokyo Gov. Ishihara Shintaro

The quarter saw Japan implement its own version of the Bush administration’s “containment lite” policy toward North Korea, inspecting and detaining DPRK vessels. Pyongyang accused Tokyo of taking the first step to sanctions (which North Korea equates with war).  Japan responded to the North’s bluster not by cowering but by making serious steps toward a robust missile defense system as well as toward emergency security legislation that would give the government the power to respond to military crises.  Meanwhile, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun did his own rendition of a Madison Avenue-type media blitz of Japan, leaving summit observers with some choice memories of his off-the-cuff style.

China - Russia

April — June 2003

Party Time!

As the war in Iraq was winding down, diplomacy quickened its pace.  The pursuit of national interests yielded statecraft such as Russian President Vladimir Putin embracing the era of preemption with his Bismarckian shrewdness and Peter the Great style.  With “three steps” − the Putin-Hu summit, the Shanghai Cooperative Organization (SCO) summit, and the St. Petersburg extravaganza − Chinese leader Hu Jintao left severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) at home and vaulted onto the world stage at the G-8 summit in the French spa town of Evian.

As the planes struck on Sept. 11, 2001, Australian Prime Minister John Howard was in Washington for an official visit scheduled to mark the 50th anniversary of the ANZUS Treaty that formalizes the security alliance between Australia and the United States. He had met the president Sept. 10, and the two men had signed a statement affirming the vitality and strength of the bilateral strategic partnership between the two countries.

The poignancy of Howard’s presence in Washington that day, and the symbolic significance of the anniversary that he was there to celebrate, have lent weight to the view that the events of Sept. 11 mark a fundamental turning point in the dynamics of the U.S.-Australia relationship, with a much strengthened trend to an even deeper and closer alliance than before.  This view in turn is often adduced to support a wider hypothesis: that Australia under John Howard is undertaking a fundamental realignment of its international relationships away from Asia and toward the U.S.

There is evidence, some of it quite compelling, to support these views.  Certainly over the intervening 22 months since that tragic day, Australia has been second only to the UK in the warmth of its support for the Bush administration’s approach to the war on terror. The Howard government has put less rhetorical weight on Australia’s relationships in Asia than did its predecessor, Paul Keating. Even so, one must be careful. Relationships as old,  deep, and complex as that between the U.S. and Australia have a tempo and a trajectory that are not easily transformed by individual events − even events as resonant as the terrorist attacks of Sept 11. It may be that the current phase of evolution of the U.S.-Australia alliance, while obviously affected by the dramatic contemporary context, is also, and to a greater degree, reflecting the influence of longer-term, slower-acting, but in the end, more powerful forces.

Daily Digest

Global Times: Anxiety pushes US to turn hostile to China

An editorial stressing that US-China relations are going to become more competitive

 

The Indian Express: Five months on, understanding Doklam ‘disengagement’, a few other issues

This piece provides an update on the recent Doklam crisis, which remains unresolved

East Asia Forum: Will Trump snap Japan’s tenuous tightrope?

Following the Trump administration’s lead will get more difficult for Japan in 2018.

Will Trump snap Japan’s tenuous tightrope?

Korea JoongAng Daily: Listen to the people

South Koreans say “not so fast” to a combined N-S Olympic team

The Straits Times: Canberra looks for new bridges over troubled waters

Australia hedges against US uncertainty

Canberra looks for new bridges over troubled waters

The Interpreter: Why Australia should consider sharing nuclear weapons

Layton believes that Australia should change its stance on nuclear weapons.

War on the Rocks: Why Americans Aren’t Really Worried About War With North Korea

The article lists five misconceptions among the American public when it comes to a war with North Korea.

Why Americans Aren’t Really Worried About War With North Korea

The Straits Times: Why a trade war looms over US-China relations

An antagonistic rivalry would be far more severe than the Cold War of the last century.

The Cipher Brief: Give Peace, and Sanctions, a Chance

Still time for patience with North Korea