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U.S. Policy Priorities and the East Asia-Pacific

U.S. Foreign Policy Priorities and the East Asia-Pacific Region


Evans J.R. Revere, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Remarks to the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs
Baltimore, Maryland
May 3, 2005

Thank you for this opportunity to speak about U.S. foreign policy priorities in the East Asia-Pacific region. It's an honor to be here with you this evening. Let me begin by expressing my admiration and appreciation to Dr. Frank Burd and all of the members of the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs for all you do to promote interest in and support for U.S. foreign policy. You are rendering an important service to America and Americans.

The topic you've asked me to address this evening is a timely one. The East Asia-Pacific is one of the world's most challenging and dynamic regions, and an area that will play a major role in determining the future course of the world's economy and the prospects for international peace and stability. The region is therefore, as you might expect, a central focus of American diplomacy and national security policy. As we meet this evening, the new Deputy Secretary of State, Robert Zoellick, has just arrived in the region for his initial visit. Newly appointed Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Chris Hill has just returned from a visit to the region. And only a few weeks ago Secretary of State Rice paid her first visit to the region as Secretary.

Visiting Tokyo, Seoul, and Beijing, she clearly articulated the goals of our policy toward the region: security, opportunity, freedom. She told an audience in Japan that these goals are linked, saying that "Security shelters the prosperity that opportunity brings; security and prosperity, in turn, allow human creativity to flourish -- but human creativity can only flourish fully in freedom."

Developing policies to achieve these goals poses a special challenge in the East Asia-Pacific region, because the one dominant characteristic across the region over the past decade has been dramatic change. Not unexpectedly, the region's dynamism, its economic growth, and the social and political transformation that has accompanied these require us constantly to reexamine our policies and our assumptions. The change I speak of seems likely to continue -- and possibly accelerate -- demanding of us continued flexibility to recognize new challenges and to take advantage of opportunities.

With this in mind, let me give you some thoughts on our policy toward the region during this time of change and challenge.

Favorable Trends

Despite some potential flash points in the region, which I will describe shortly, I believe that we are witnessing a constellation of favorable trends in the East Asia-Pacific region, trends -- I might note -- in which the U.S. has played a leadership role. These trends have set the starting point for our future efforts, so I'd like to address them first.

Spread of Democracy

The most important and encouraging trend in recent years has been the region-wide strengthening of democracy. Since January 2004, successful elections have taken place not only in those places that have established democracies -- Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Mongolia, Malaysia, Australia, and Thailand -- but also in newly democratized Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation. The progress in Indonesia in a series of free, fair and peaceful elections last year is especially noteworthy. The country has a directly elected President for the first time in its history and is now the third-largest democracy in the world.

In Thailand, over 70% of voters went to the polls on February 6. This election marked the first time a democratically elected leader has served a full four-year term. And as democracy has taken on deeper roots, it has brought with it an enhanced respect for civil society and the rule of law, demonstrating effectively the great advantages of giving the people a voice in their own governance.

Increased Economic Opportunities and Greater Prosperity

Concurrent with the spread of democracy, prosperity is growing throughout the region, fueled by China's rapid development and broad recovery among ASEAN countries from the financial crisis of the late 1990's. Regional economies are moving toward greater economic openness, lower trade barriers, and regional cooperation. Income levels have climbed throughout East Asia as extreme poverty has generally declined. East Asian nations are looking increasingly beyond their borders for markets, investment capital, higher education, and ideas.

Increased Regional Cooperation

With intra-regional trade growth, we are also witnessing expanding regional cooperation. This is happening politically, economically, and culturally, both bilaterally and through such organizations as ASEAN, APEC, and the ASEAN Regional Forum. We welcome this trend, which contributes to further openness and inclusiveness, understanding that strengthened ties and cooperation advance regional prosperity and stability, two of our highest priorities. The United States is working to ensure that the region's major institutions continue to advance the goals of economic prosperity and regional security across the region.

Increased Security and Stability

East Asia is an area largely at peace. Asia has not seen a single major military conflict for more than three decades. There has been widespread rejection of terrorism, and we are working effectively with governments to enhance our mutual security. With some notable exceptions, governments and people have recognized the advantage of resolving differences through dialog and the ballot box, and of maintaining political stability as an essential ingredient of economic prosperity.

Increased Attention to Global Issues

We are also seeing increased attention paid to global issues. Sparked by U.S. leadership, governments throughout the region are beginning to work with us to alleviate human misery by combating human trafficking, environmental degradation, infectious diseases, narcotics trafficking, and international crime. The United States has also taken the lead in advancing human rights and religious freedom in Asia these are very important priorities for the U.S. And we are a leading source of assistance to bring about needed change. Our major partner in the region, Japan, ranks second only to us in providing official development assistance and is focusing increasing attention on these global issues of concern.

Goals of Our Policy Toward the Region

It is against this backdrop of favorable trends that we seek to develop policies to achieve the goals that I mentioned earlier: security, opportunity, freedom. To achieve the first goal -- security -- we must redouble our commitment to addressing the threats to regional peace and security that remain.

Regional Peace and Stability

Chief among these threats is the situation in North Korea, where the Pyongyang regime continues to challenge the international community through its pursuit of nuclear weapons and their means of delivery. To deal with this challenge, we established the Six-Party Talks framework aimed at obtaining the dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear programs in a permanent, thorough and transparent manner. We did so because of our belief that harnessing the diplomatic leverage of the parties most directly affected by North Korea's nuclear ambitions offers the best hope for resolution of this problem. Regrettably, the DPRK has not seen fit to return to the Talks since the third round ended in June of last year, nor has it sought to explore a forward-leaning proposal that the U.S. put on the table at that meeting. In that meeting and repeatedly since then, the U.S. has made clear that the resolution of the nuclear issue with Pyongyang would offer an opportunity to end North Korea's isolation and improve the plight of its long-suffering people.

Elsewhere in the region, we continue to pay close attention to tensions across the Taiwan Strait. In accordance with our One-China Policy, the three Joint Communiqués with China, and the Taiwan Relations Act, we oppose unilateral changes by either side to the status quo. We do not support Taiwan independence, and we oppose the use or threat of force by Beijing. In this regard, we have made it clear to the Chinese authorities that we consider the recently enacted Anti-Secession Law to be unhelpful. President Bush has consistently encouraged Beijing and Taipei to engage in dialogue to resolve cross-Strait differences peacefully and in a manner acceptable to the people on both sides. We welcome positive cross-Strait gestures, such as the direct flights between Taiwan and Mainland China this past Lunar New Year holiday period. The visit of Taiwan's opposition party leader to Beijing last week -- which was endorsed by President Chen -- and additional Beijing-Taipei exchanges scheduled for this month are positive developments. We hope that the leaders on both sides will seek opportunities to expand dialogue and ease tensions across the Taiwan Strait.

In the region, we continue to counter the threat of terrorism, which respects no national borders. Although East Asia has generally rejected the extremist forms of Islam that spawn terrorists, our challenge remains to root out all vestiges of this menace that has threatened all our societies and beliefs. One byproduct of the September 11 terrorist attacks has been a strengthening of our ties with many governments of the region. There is a growing realization throughout the region that terrorism threatens people and governments everywhere and that the best way to confront this threat is by working together. Regional support and cooperation offers us the opportunity to find the terrorists wherever they hide and bring them to justice. Our counterterrorism cooperation has improved greatly -- bilaterally and multilaterally. We continue to develop ways to help regional states that have sovereign responsibilities for ensuring security of the vital Strait of Malacca trade route to enhance their maritime law enforcement capabilities and cooperation.

We must work with allies and friends in the region to promote genuine national reconciliation and democracy in Burma. Burma's continued estrangement from the international community is a troublesome problem for the region, especially for ASEAN. Burma is moving steadily toward entrenched military rule, which its sham National Convention is designed to solidify. We continue to press the Burmese leadership to release Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners immediately and unconditionally and to engage the democratic opposition and ethnic minority groups in a meaningful dialogue.

Strengthening of Alliances and Partnerships

From the outset of his Administration, President Bush has emphasized the strengthening and revitalization of alliances, and, in East Asia, alliance sustenance is work that is never complete. The ties we have with our five key treaty allies in the region have been improved significantly since 2001, but continuing this progress will remain a key focus in the coming years.

This Administration came in with a vision for advancing our relations with Japan toward a more mature partnership. We have continued to expand and deepen our alliance with Tokyo since then through our joint work on reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq -- including Japan's unprecedented deployment of Self-Defense Forces to southern Iraq; coordination and cooperation on tsunami relief; and in deepening our bilateral strategic dialogue, including on overseas development assistance. The Japanese people are increasingly desirous of having their country play a more significant role in regional and global affairs, and the U.S. supports this aspiration and together with our allies in Toyo we are constantly seeking ways to enhance U.S.-Japan cooperation not only in the region but beyond.

The U.S.-Australian relationship is also the best it has ever been. Australia was one of the first countries to respond in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Canberra stood with us in Afghanistan -- sending forces during the conflict and now playing a major role in reconstruction. Australian ships and aircraft remain on station in the Persian Gulf. Australia, an early and key member of Operation Iraqi Freedom, still has forces in Iraq and the surrounding region and is heavily involved in Iraq reconstruction efforts. Australia recently increased its troop strength by half to provide security support to Japanese forces in southern Iraq and to help train Iraqi security forces, despite being stretched thin in other areas. I should also acknowledge the important role played by Australia in leading multilateral efforts to stabilize some of the more fragile countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including East Timor, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands in recent years.

Prominent among the policy successes of the last four years has been the consolidation of our partnership with South Korea. We recently reached agreement to return Yongsan Base, the headquarters of our forces located in the center of Seoul, to the South Korean people. We have also begun reducing our troop presence in a prudent way and handing off some tasks formerly performed by U.S. soldiers to their Korean counterparts. At the same time, we are enhancing our deterrent capability on the Korean Peninsula by restructuring and reorganizing our forces, and by taking advantage of the benefits of the latest in military technology. Meanwhile, our relationship with South Korea is moving beyond its original security rationale as the nation begins to play a global political role commensurate with its economic stature.

The Philippines was one of our first coalition partners to send forces to Iraq as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, and in 2003 we designated that country a Major Non-NATO Ally. While we were disappointed at their sudden withdrawal from Iraq following the kidnapping of a Filipino truck driver, our alliance remains strong and we continue to cooperate on a broad range of issues.

We have steadily strengthened our alliance with Thailand over the past several years. In the war against terrorism, Thailand has also been a staunch partner and ally, contributing troops to coalitions efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. President Bush recognized the strength of the alliance by designating Thailand as a Major Non-NATO Ally. We are also negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with Thailand, a key trading partner and a dynamic economy that offers great potential for U.S. businesses.

While not a treaty ally, our partnership with Singapore has furthered our shared interests, and the relationship had gotten closer over the past years. Our arrangements with Singapore give us access to world-class port and airfield facilities in a key strategic region. Singapore has also contributed logistical and training support to Operation Enduring Freedom.

Although the Asia-Pacific lacks the strong multilateral security structures that play such an important role in Europe, the U.S. is an enthusiastic participant in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which is the region's only broadly inclusive institution dedicated to security issues. We strongly support the increasing activism and vitality of the ARF as it moves to stimulate cooperation on a wide-range of nontraditional security threats of concern to the U.S. including, maritime security, terrorism, nonproliferation, and cyber security.

Restructuring of Our Global Defense Posture

Changes in our relations with major Asian allies reflect the priorities of our Global Defense Posture Review, which aims to improve our and others' reactions to emerging threats while we maintain the ability to address traditional ones. We are taking advantage of advances in technology that have multiplied the combat power of our individual soldiers to reduce our military footprint in Asia. At the same time, we are using our increased mobility to guarantee that we will be present when needed to help our friends and allies.

Deterring Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction

Another challenge to regional and global security is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. While in the past we were primarily concerned with proliferation between states, we have become more conscious that terrorist organizations could use these weapons. For this reason we initiated the Proliferation Security Initiative to stop their transit. I am pleased to say that Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, and Japan are among the participants in PSI.

Opportunity and Freedom

Concurrent with our efforts to advance the goal of security, we will build upon the favorable trends in the region to push forward toward our goals of opportunity and freedom.

Engagement with China

One of the key challenges before us is how we interact with China as an emerging regional and global power. We have worked hard to develop a relationship that lets us cooperate whenever possible but still allows us to communicate in a candid and direct fashion to address common challenges -- regional and global, economic and political. China has responded in ways that show it understands that it has to continue to become a responsible regional, and in some ways global, actor. We and others do have differences with China on some contentious issues, most notably in its approaches on Taiwan, Hong Kong, bilateral economic questions, human rights, religious practice, and dialogue with the Dalai Lama. We recognize the importance of handling these issues sensitively but in a way that is consistent with our values and beliefs. We intend for our relationship with China to be based on dialogue, the exploration of common interests, and the explanation of differences.

Economic Engagement

U.S. trade with East Asia and the Pacific totals over $750 billion a year -- a figure that exceeds our trade with the EU -- and it is growing at a rapid clip. Home to nearly 30% of the Earth's population, East Asia accounts for over a quarter of world production and nearly a quarter of world trade. The region buys about 40% of U.S. agricultural exports and supports, directly and indirectly, millions of American jobs in all sectors of our economy. Our challenge is to open markets, facilitate trade, promote transparency, and fight corruption.

The United States has reached out to the dynamic economies of the region. We have completed Free Trade Agreements with Australia and Singapore and are currently negotiating one with Thailand. Our Bilateral Trade Agreement with Vietnam has been a catalyst for economic growth and development in that country. The U.S. supports Vietnam's accession into the WTO. We're also working effectively in the region through APEC and other multilateral fora to lower barriers to trade, create opportunities for American business, and enhance the prosperity of the region. For nearly every country in Asia, the U.S. is their number one market outside the region and a major investor. And Japanese and Korean firms have restructured themselves to encourage much of this regional growth.

One of the greatest economic challenges we face is to ensure that China's opening to the outside world continues. China has made considerable strides since its WTO accession in opening its markets, and American businessmen today find it easier to trade and invest there. But and this is an important qualification we continue to have serious concerns, especially with respect to IPR enforcement, standards, transparency, and services. China's continuing evolution and its adoption of a more flexible currency regime will lead to even greater opportunities that will benefit both countries enormously. We are active in encouraging China to move in this direction at an early date.

Jump-starting Development

President Bush has determined that America must lead in promoting economic development in the world's poorest countries. Experience has shown that, while official development assistance is important, proper economic policies and openness to trade and investment are essential in making development assistance lead to economic growth. The United States has thus created the Millennium Challenge Account as a way to link the provision of U.S. development assistance to a proven record of governing justly, investing in people, encouraging economic freedom, and fighting corruption. Two East Asia-Pacific countries, Mongolia and Vanuatu, are eligible to apply for assistance. In addition, East Timor and the Philippines are part of the Millennium Challenge Account's threshold program for countries that have demonstrated a significant commitment to meeting eligibility requirements.

We are also seeking the cooperation of other developed countries to advance common objectives in developing countries. Noting that Japan and the U.S. together provide about 40% of all government assistance to such countries throughout the world, Secretary Rice on March 19 proposed a Strategic Development Alliance through which Japan and the U.S. would regularly and systematically focus our developmental efforts in countries where we are already working side-by-side. In announcing the proposal, she welcomed the participation of others who could usefully contribute to this work.

These bold approaches offer us the opportunity to bring increased prosperity to those countries that can employ development assistance effectively to promote sustained and lasting growth.

Tsunami Relief

I have reserved for last the dramatic refocusing of American attention on the region as a result of the tsunami disaster of December 26, compounded by the massive earthquake of March 28 that caused further destruction in Indonesia. We cannot yet predict the long-term impact our humanitarian response will have on our relations with the affected countries and their neighbors, but our response was massive, and we expect the impact will be significant. There are already indications of more favorable views of millions of people in the region about U.S. intentions, our capabilities, and indeed the very nature of our culture.

Most of you are aware of the huge outpouring of goods, services, funding, and volunteer effort our government and our private citizens provided to those in need. We can look back on this as one of the proudest moments of our history. It reinforced a message to the peoples of Asia of American willingness to help those in need, generously and unhesitatingly. And we got our aid to those who needed it with remarkable speed.

A transition is now taking place, as the affected countries move out of the emergency relief phase and enter the much longer and more difficult reconstruction phase. The U.S. will work closely with the countries concerned and the international community to coordinate the long-term assistance that will be needed. The U.S. Congress is considering the Administration's supplemental request for funds to support this effort that would bring our total tsunami relief and recovery assistance to a total of $950 million. As our friends in Asia will see, we plan to carry this effort through to its completion.

Conclusion

Let me end with this thought: the United States is an Asia-Pacific country not only by geography, but also by virtue of our openness to free trade, our support for the growth of democracy, our interest in regional security and stability, and the enduring ties of the millions of Americans of Asian origin. We accept the challenges and seek the opportunities in the region because we are a key player in the region, and we are in the region to stay. Thank you.

ENDS

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