Volume 7, Issue 1

Download Issue as PDF
January - March 2005 · Published: Apr 2005

More of the same! That appears to be the Asia policy theme for the Bush administration as it begins its second term. During her maiden voyage through Asia, incoming Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reinforced the central themes of her predecessor: the centrality of the U.S.-Japan alliance relationship and Washington’s support for a more “normal” Japan; a commitment both to the defense of South Korea and to a peaceful settlement, via the six-party process, of the nuclear standoff with Pyongyang; and a continuation of Washington’s “cooperative, constructive, but candid” relationship with the PRC, including a “one China” policy that objects to unilateral changes in the status quo by either Beijing or Taipei. Underlying all this was Washington’s continued commitment to the promotion and expansion of democracy in Asia and around the globe, a central theme in President George W. Bush’s second inauguration address.

Unfortunately, it was more of the same from Pyongyang as well, as it continued to boycott the Six-Party Talks, insisting that Washington, among other preconditions, abandon its “hostile attitude” toward the DPRK and apologize for branding North Korea as an “outpost of tyranny” during Secretary Rice’s confirmation testimony. China and Taiwan also continued their familiar dance: one step forward (direct flights between Taiwan and the mainland during the Chinese New Year period), two steps back (the PRC’s anti-secession law and the massive protests it drew in Taiwan). Further complicating this issue and adding to already rising tensions between Japan and China were reports – largely erroneous – that Japan was now prepared to actively assist the U.S. in maintaining stability in the Taiwan Strait.

Surprisingly, Secretary Rice made no mention of regional multilateral organizations during her Asia policy address. Nor did Assistant Secretary of State-designate Christopher Hill during his March 15 confirmation hearings, although he did express a desire to “thicken up” multilateral diplomacy in East Asia during his end of quarter “listening and learning” trip to Southeast Asia.

Finally, in the “more of the same” category, the quarter ended the way it began, with Indonesia responding to its second devastating massive earthquake in three months, thankfully this time without the tsunami and staggering death tolls experienced in the aftermath of the Dec. 26 event. The U.S. and global response to this earlier crisis raised international cooperation (and generosity) in humanitarian/disaster relief to new levels and helped to improve the Bush administration’s battered image in this part of the world.

 

 

In the first quarter of 2005, the United States and Japan signed a historic declaration that laid a foundation for the future of their bilateral security alliance. The Feb. 19 Security Consultative Committee (SCC) meeting both locked in the impressive progress that has been made in the security dimension of the alliance over the past four years and committed Washington and Tokyo to continuing efforts to modernize their alliance. Yet, as the two governments looked toward a rejuvenated alliance, an increasingly contentious trade spat over beef reminded both countries that bad old habits were ever ready to spoil celebrations over “the best relations ever.”

Both governments will have their hands full. To help reassure Japanese that a new foreign policy team in Washington – or at least the departure of the most prominent Japan hands – does not augur a shift in U.S. priorities, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made Japan her first stop in East Asia during a six-country Asian tour. In Tokyo, she wowed the crowd despite sending a tough message on beef and walking a careful line on North Korea policy.

 

President Bush’s second term opened with an active agenda of bilateral U.S.-China interactions.  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled to Beijing on a six-nation tour of South and East Asia during which she sought to enlist China’s help in exerting pressure on North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. China’s National People’s Congress passed an anti-secession law that the Chinese government viewed as reasonable and necessary, but U.S. officials characterized as “unhelpful” and likely to increase cross-Strait tensions.  Urging China to enhance its protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) was the central task of outgoing U.S. Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans’ visit to Beijing. Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Richard Lawless conducted the first ever “special policy dialogue” between the two militaries. Senior U.S. officials voiced concern about China’s military buildup and its proliferation activities, and strongly opposed the lifting of the EU’s 15-year old arms embargo on China.

Shortly after a U.S. official briefed South Korea, Japan, and China on North Korea’s clandestine sales of processed uranium to Libya, North Korea declared in early February that it possessed nuclear weapons and would indefinitely suspend its participation in the Six-Party Talks.  Seeking to keep alive the nuclear negotiations, both the U.S. and South Korea downplayed Pyongyang’s announcement.  But in the following days, media leaks indicated that Vice President Richard Cheney pressed Seoul to turn down North Korea’s request for a large quantity of fertilizer and sought to suspend Seoul’s participation in a joint industrial project at Kaesong, just north of the demilitarized zone.

When South Korea resisted the U.S. request, the Bush administration called for “coordinated approaches” to North Korea, diplomatic code words for Seoul to support the U.S. position.  South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun indirectly responded by emphasizing the equality of South Korea with the U.S. in their alliance relationship.

In late February, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il told a high-level Chinese delegation that North Korea would return to the Six-Party Talks when conditions are “mature” and “suitable.”  Kim emphasized once again that the U.S. would have to show “no hostile intent” before it could expect Pyongyang to rejoin the negotiations.

Visiting the region in the latter part of March, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged North Korea to return to the Six-Party Talks.  In her bilateral meetings, she said the U.S. would pursue unspecified “other options in the international system” if Pyongyang continues to refuse to negotiate.

U.S. and South Korean defense negotiators could not reach agreement this quarter on the amount of Seoul’s contribution to the cost of keeping U.S. troops in Korea.  The two countries remained wide apart in their demands, with South Korea asking for a 50 percent cut in its share and the U.S. requesting a 10 percent increase.

This quarter South Korea became ranked as the 10th largest economy in the world, based on 2004 gross domestic product.  Despite an ongoing dispute over South Korea’s refusal to import U.S. beef, American and South Korean trade officials conducted two working-level meetings in their early efforts to conclude a bilateral free trade agreement.

U.S.-Russia relations continued down a rocky path this quarter.  The summit meeting between George Bush and Vladimir Putin in Bratislava in February seemed inconclusive at best.  While pundits in the West called on President Bush to be tougher on Putin, critics in Russia urged Putin to not “bow down” to the United States.  Both presidents seem unsure as to which way they are leaning.  Both recognize the strategic necessities that dictate a sound and cordial relationship.  But they must also keep a wary eye on their domestic critics.  Meanwhile, it is clear that the two nations’ agendas in Central Asia and the Middle East are starting to diverge.  In East Asia, the two remain committed to the Six-Party Talks, but both Moscow and Washington have a number of unresolved issues in the region that need to be addressed; these issues could affect bilateral relations.

A massive U.S. relief effort led by the U.S. Navy for the tsunami-devastated north Sumatran coast has burnished America’s image in Indonesia, which had sunk to a record low after Washington’s invasion of Iraq.  Even large Indonesian Muslim organizations that previously voiced anti-American views have praised U.S. humanitarian activities in Banda Aceh.  The Bush administration has seized the new positive spirit of Indonesian-U.S. relations to press Congress for the restoration of training and education programs for the Indonesian military that had been suspended since 1992.  On the anti-terrorist front, the U.S. expressed disappointment at an Indonesian court’s acquittal of radical Jemaah Islamiyah cleric Abu Bakar Bashir on allegations of involvement in the 2002 Bali and 2003 Jakarta Marriott bombings.  Bashir received a relatively light 30-month sentence – half of which has already been served – for knowing about the terrorists’ plans.  The U.S. State Department’s annual Human Rights Report criticized the Thai government killings of southern Thai Muslims during efforts to suppress secession activities.

As the year 2005 approached, Beijing was reportedly in the midst of preparations for an all-out effort to consolidate and expand the remarkable gains it scored in relations with the nations of Southeast Asia during the previous year. However, the shock and devastation of the December tsunami forced an immediate shift in regional priorities. Beijing appears to have responded by adjusting its diplomatic agenda, too.  Despite the somber atmosphere, the requirements of greeting the Year of the Rooster provided their own distractions. As a result, the first quarter of 2005 was a quiet period for Chinese diplomacy and for China’s relations with the subregion. No doubt, as the year progresses, the tempo and scope of Chinese activity will return to its previous high level.

Having sown the seeds of multilateral cooperation, China’s leaders must have been disappointed at their inability to follow up on previous initiatives. Little specific effort was directed toward creating the institutional framework for multilateralism that Beijing had been seeking. Rather, if Chinese diplomacy during the quarter reflected any deliberate focus, it seemed to involve what might best be termed assurance and reassurance. By participating actively in the tsunami relief effort, the Chinese seemed to be attempting to assure the subregion of the constancy of their commitment to the welfare of what they increasingly refer to as the “Asian Community.”

At the same time, Beijing made a quiet but significant effort to reassure its neighbors about the positive nature of Chinese intentions for shaping the emerging regional economic and security architectures. Sensitive as they are to regional concerns about the emergence of China as a driver of Southeast Asian economic and political developments, the leadership tried to disarm regional fears by speaking directly to issues related to economic competition and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.  Arguably, some success was achieved on both counts.

After burnishing its hardline credentials by announcing its intention to enact an anti-secession law (ASL) in December, Beijing took some significant steps toward improving cross-Strait relations in January by cooperating in New Year charter flights, stopping propaganda criticism of Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, and sending Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) officials to Koo Chen-fu’s funeral in Taipei. For his part, Chen also took conciliatory steps by reaffirming his inaugural pledges concerning constitutional reform and appointing as new premier Hsieh Chang-ting, who quickly set a more moderate tone on contentious domestic and cross-Strait issues. Nevertheless, despite widespread criticism from Taiwan and the U.S., Beijing’s National People’s Congress adopted in March the anti-secession law (ASL), which emphasizes China’s pursuit of peaceful reunification but mandates that unspecified “non-peaceful means” be used if Taiwan seeks to secede from China. When the dust from the ASL controversy settles, the question will be whether Beijing and Taipei are able to follow up on the successful New Year charter flights by arranging further steps toward direct cross-Strait cargo and/or passenger flights.

The inter-Korean relationship – like every other relationship with North Korea following the DPRK’s Feb. 10 announcement to indefinitely suspend participation in the Six-Party Talks – remains on hold this quarter. Although there is no chance to speak with North Korea officially in either a multilateral or bilateral setting, there are lots of opportunities in South Korea to talk about how to fashion more opportunities to pursue one-sided reconciliation with the North.  There is also lots of self-criticism about how South Korea can be a better partner to its brothers in Pyongyang, despite ample evidence that brothers in Pyongyang are unwilling to provide support or even to take simple actions that might lead to more South Korean largesse. This quarter, Pyongyang’s begrudging attitude toward South Korean assistance was evident in its reaction to South Korean offers of help during the Avian flu emergency in North Korea, its refusal to accept some types of assistance in the Kaesong Industrial Zone, and its demand that South Korea expand its annual donation of fertilizer to the DPRK from 200,000 tons to 500,000 tons.

 

With North Korea’s Feb. 10 announcement that it would indefinitely suspend its participation in the Six-Party Talks, a series of intensive bilateral and multilateral consultations regarding the North Korean nuclear weapons program took center stage this quarter. China’s diplomacy with both Koreas intensified accordingly. PRC-DPRK diplomacy reached the highest levels, with an exchange of messages between President Hu Jintao and Central Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong-il and the scheduling of a visit by Hu to the DPRK for later this year through an invitation conveyed by DPRK Prime Minister Pak Pong-ju during his March visit to Beijing.

There was a simultaneous intensification of diplomatic contact between Beijing and Seoul, with South Korea and all other parties looking to Beijing to find a way to reverse the DPRK position on the Six-Party Talks.  These intensive consultations took place at the same time that a series of diplomatic setbacks occurred in the PRC-South Korean relationship, including the forcible shutdown of a press conference on North Korean refugees that South Korean National Assemblymen tried to hold at a Beijing hotel, the repatriation to North Korea of a South Korean prisoner of war, and increasing signs of bilateral economic tensions.

Beijing’s long-term strategy of hedging its bets on the Korean Peninsula through a vibrant relationship with South Korea appeared to be paying handsome dividends as South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, in response to rising bilateral tensions with Japan, suggested that South Korea may step outside the constraints of the U.S.-ROK alliance to play a strategic balancing role in the region.  In short, no parties in the regional nuclear poker game in Northeast Asia actually had to show their cards this quarter, but North Korea raised the stakes and every other party matched North Korea’s bet and remained in the game; it remains to be seen who is bluffing and who holds a winning hand.

The New Year opened with promise – Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro did not visit the Yasukuni Shrine. While old issues, history and nationalism, sovereignty in the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands and the East China Sea, the extent and scope of the Japan-U.S. alliance (Taiwan) lingered, if not intensified, political leaders and diplomats worked to repair strained political relations, hopefully setting the stage for high-level reciprocal visits.  The spirit of the Santiago and Vientiane Summits, in particular dealing “appropriately” with the Yasukuni issue, appeared to suffuse political and diplomatic engagement. Meanwhile, economic relations continued to expand – China replaced the United States as Japan’s top trading partner in 2004.

Despite a good working relationship during the last quarter of 2004, during the first three months of 2005, some tiny, uninhabited rocks in the middle of the sea between Japan and Korea became the source of a major diplomatic spat between both Koreas and Japan. “Who owned Tokdo/Takeshima first” is evidently more important to Japan and South Korea than is concluding a free-trade agreement, resolving the North Korean nuclear issue, or sorting out relations with China and the U.S.  This might be fitting: although 2005 is “Japan-Korea Friendship Year,” which marks the 40th anniversary of normalized ties between the two countries, it is also the 100th anniversary of Japan’s annexation of Korea.

That said, not much progress was occurring in any of these other issues. Japan and North Korea remain sidetracked in a dispute over abductees, and Japan moved toward economic sanctions even as the Six-Party Talks stalled. South Korea and Japan made little progress toward a free-trade area, preferring to argue about history.

The Year of the Rooster ushered in a quite different mold of Chinese-Russian interaction. In sharp contrast to the “oil-politicking” of much of the previous year, strategic gaming topped the agenda of bilateral relations for the first quarter of 2005. Several high-profile visits occurred, including the first China-Russia inter-governmental consultation on security issues and three rounds of talks between top military officers to prepare for the first ever joint military exercise in the fall. All this occurred in the midst of a sudden burst of “orange revolutions” in Russia and China’s western peripheries (Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan). To the East, Washington and Tokyo were hardening their alliance with the “2+2” meeting in Washington D.C. in February, in anticipation of China’s anti-secession law that was adopted in March.

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