A Changing Asia: Threat or Opportunity?

As the world’s most dynamic and rapidly advancing region, the Asia-Pacific has commanded global attention. Business and policy leaders alike have been focused on the rise of China, tensions on the Korean peninsula, Japan’s economic recovery and political assertiveness, globalization and the outsourcing of jobs to South Asia, Indonesia’s multiple transitions, competing forces of nationalism vs. regionalism, and the future of U.S.-Asia relations.

What is the near-term outlook for change in the region? How might developments in the economic, political, or security sphere affect Asia’s expected trajectory? And how will a changing Asia impact the United States? These were among the complex and challenging issues addressed by a faculty panel from the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (Shorenstein APARC) and the Eurasia Group at the Asia Society in New York on January 23, 2006.

Moderated by director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies Coit D. Blacker, the Olivier Nomellini Family University Fellow in Undergraduate Education, the panel included Michael H. Armacost, the Shorenstein Distinguished Fellow, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and former Ambassador to Japan and the Philippines; Donald K. Emmerson, the director of the Southeast Asia Forum at Shorenstein APARC and noted expert on Indonesia; Harry Harding, the director of research and analysis at the Eurasia Group in New York and University Professor of International Affairs at George Washington University; and Gi-Wook Shin, the director of Shorenstein APARC, founding director of the Korean Studies Program, and associate professor of sociology at Stanford.

Q. COIT BLACKER: WHAT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT, CHALLENGING ISSUE YOU SEE?

A. HARRY HARDING:

In China, we are seeing a darker side of the Chinese success story. Millions of people have been lifted out of poverty, China's role in international affairs is on the rise, and China is an increasingly responsible stakeholder in an open, liberal global economy. Yet, the world is now seeing the problems China's reform program has failed to resolve. China's new five-year plan seeks to address a number of these issues, providing a plan for sustainable economic development that is environmentally
responsible and addresses chronic pollution problems, for a harmonious society that
addresses inequalities and inadequacies in the provision of medical care, insurance
and pension systems, and for continuing technological innovation, as part of China's
quest to become an exporter of capital and technology.

A. GI-WOOK SHIN:

The world should be deeply concerned about developments on the Korean peninsula. Two pressing issues are U.S. relations with South Korea and the nuclear crisis with the North. It is not clear when or whether we will see a solution. Time may be against the United States on the issue. China and South Korea are not necessarily willing to follow the U.S. approach; without their cooperation, it is difficult to secure a successful solution. The younger generation emerging in South Korea does not see North Korea as a threat. Our own relations with South Korea are strained and we are viewed as preoccupied with Iraq and Iran, as North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons.

A. DONALD EMMERSON:

In Southeast Asia, a key problem is uneven development, both in and between the political and economic spheres. Potentially volatile contrasts are seen throughout the region. Vietnam is growing at 8 percent per year, but will it become a democracy? It has not yet. Indonesia has shifted to democracy, but absent faster economic growth, that political gain could erode. Indonesia's media are among the freest in the region;
multiple peaceful elections have been held--a remarkable achievement--and nearly all Islamists shun terrorism. Older Indonesians remember, however, that the economy
performed well without democracy under President Suharto. Nowadays, corruption
scandals break out almost daily, nationalist and Islamist feelings are strong, and the
climate is not especially favorable to foreign investment. While Burma's economy
lags, its repressive polity embarrasses the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN). How long can the generals in Rangoon hold on? Disparities are also
international: dire poverty marks Laos and Cambodia, for example, while the
Malaysian and Thai economies have done well.

A. MICHAEL ARMACOST:

Japan is a "good news/bad news" story. The good news is that Japan has found a new security niche since the end of the Cold War. Previously, when a security problem loomed "over the horizon," they expected us to take care of it while, if prodded, they increased their financial support for U.S. troops stationed in Japan. During the first post-Cold War conflict in the Persian Gulf, Japan had neither the political consensus nor the legal framework to permit a sharing of the risks, as well as the costs, and this cost them politically. Since then, they have passed legislation that permits them to participate in U.N. peacekeeping activities, contribute noncombat, logistic, and other services to "coalition of the willing" operations, and even dispatch troops to join reconstruction activities in Iraq. Clearly, their more ambitious role is helping to make the U.S.-Japan alliance more balanced and more global.The bad news is a reemergence of stronger nationalist sentiment in Japan and more generally in Northeast Asia. In part this is attributable to the collapse of the Left in Japanese politics since the mid-1990s. This has left the Conservatives more dominant, and they are less apologetic about Japanese conduct in the 1930s and 1940s, more inclined to regard North Korea and China as potential threats, more assertive with respect to territorial issues, less sensitive to their neighbors’ reactions to Prime Ministerial visits to Yasukuni Shrine, and more eager to be regarded as a “normal” nation. Many Asians see the United States as pushing Japan to take on a more active security role and, in the context of rising Japanese nationalism, are less inclined to view the U.S.-Japan alliance as a source of reassurance.

Q. COIT BLACKER: WHAT ARE THE COMPETING AND CONFLICTING TENSIONS BETWEEN REGIONALISM AND NATIONALISM?

A. HARRY HARDING:

In China, there has been a resurgence of nationalism over the past 10 to 15 years. Since the end of the Maoist era and the beginning of the reform movement, the leadership has embraced nationalism as a source of legitimacy, but this is a double-edged sword. It places demands on the government to stand up for China’s face, rights, and prestige in international affairs, especially vis-à-vis Japan, the United States, and Taiwan, at times pushing Beijing in directions it does not wish to go.

A. DONALD EMMERSON:

In Indonesia, it is important to distinguish between inward and outward nationalism. Outward nationalism was manifest in Sukarno’s policy of confrontation with Malaysia. ASEAN is predicated on inward nationalism and outward cooperation. Nationalist feelings can be used inwardly to motivate reform and spur development. But there are potential drawbacks. Take the aftermath of the conflict in Aceh. The former rebels want their own political party. Hard-line nationalists in the Indonesian parliament, however, are loath to go along, and that could jeopardize stability in a province already exhausted by civil war and damaged by the 2004 tsunami.

A. GI-WOOK SHIN:

Korea is a nation of some 70 million people, large by European standards, but small in comparison to the giants of Asia, especially China, India, and Russia, making Korea very concerned about what other countries are doing and saying. Korea is currently undergoing an identity crisis. Until the 1980s, the United States was seen as a “savior” from Communism and avid supporter of modernization. Since then, many Koreans have come to challenge this view, arguing that the United States supported Korean dictatorship. Koreans are also rethinking their attitudes toward North Korea, seeing Koreans as belonging to one nation. This shift has contributed to negative attitudes toward both the United States and Japan

Q. COIT BLACKER: GENERATIONAL CHANGE IS ALSO A MAJOR ISSUE IN CHINA, THE DPRK, AND JAPAN. WHAT DOES IT BODE FOR POLITICAL CHANGE?

A. MICHAEL ARMACOST:

Japan has had a “one and a half party system” for more than half a century. Yet the Liberal Democratic Party has proven to be remarkably adaptive, cleverly co-opting many issues that might have been exploited by the opposition parties. It is clearly a democratic country, but its politics have not been as competitive as many other democracies. As for the United States, we have promoted lively democracies throughout the region. But we should not suppose that more democratic regimes will necessarily define their national interests in ways that are invariably compatible with ours. In both Taiwan and South Korea, to the contrary, democratic leaderships have emerged which pursue security policies that display less sensitivity to Washington’s concerns, and certainly exhibit little deference to U.S. leadership.

A. GI-WOOK SHIN:

In both North and South Korea, a marked evolution is under way. In the South, many new members of the parliament have little knowledge of the United States. Promoting mutual understanding is urgently needed on both sides. In the North, the big question is who will succeed Kim Jong Il—an issue with enormous implications for the United States.

A. DONALD EMMERSON:

Indonesians have a noisy, brawling democracy. What they don’t have is the rule of law. Judges can be bought, and laws are inconsistently applied. The Philippines enjoyed democracy for most of the 20th century, but poverty and underdevelopment remain rife, leading many Filipinos to ask just where democracy has taken their nation.

A. HARRY HARDING:

China has seen a significant increase in rural protests. There has been an increase in both the number of incidents and the level of violence. People are being killed, not just in rural areas, but also in major cities like Chengdu. We are seeing a new wave of political participation by professional groups, such as lawyers and journalists, galvanizing public support on such issues as environmental protection, failure to pay pensions, confiscation of land, and corruption. A new generation has been exposed to the Internet, the outside world, and greater choice, but it is not yet clear at what point they will demand greater choice in their own political life.

 

WHAT WOULD YOU ADVISE THE PRESIDENT ON U.S. POLICY TOWARDS ASIA?

In the lively question-and-answer session, panelists were asked, "Given the chance to talk to the U.S. President about change and improvement in U.S.-Asia policy, what would you say?"

MICHAEL ARMACOST: I am struck by a mismatch between our interests and our strategy in Asia. In some respects our Asia policy has become something of an adjunct of our policy toward the Middle East-where we confront perhaps more urgent, if not more consequential, concerns. Asia is still the most dynamic economic zone in the world; it is the region in which the most significant new powers are emerging; and it is where the interests of the Great Powers intersect most directly. Also, it is an area where profound change is taking place swiftly. We are adapting our policies in Asia to accommodate current preoccupations in the Muslim world, rather than with an eye to preserving our power and relevance in Asia.

HARRY HARDING: It is striking how much Asian nations still want us around- as an offshore balancer and a source of economic growth. Yet they want us to understand the priorities on their agenda as well as our own. We are seen as obsessed with terrorism and China. We should exhibit more support for Asian institution building, as we have with the European Union. We also need to get our own economic act together-promoting education, stimulating scientific research and technological innovation, and reducing our budget deficits-and quit resting on past laurels. Requiring Japan to accept U.S. beef exports and then sending them meat that did not meet the agreed-upon standards has been a setback for our relations, since the Japanese public regards the safety of its food supply as critically important.

DONALD EMMERSON: Most opinion-makers in Southeast Asia are tired of Washington's preoccupation with terrorism. To be effective in the region, we must deal-and appear to be dealing-with a wider array of economic, social, and political issues, and not just bilaterally. The United States is absent at the creation of East Asian regionalism. For various reasons, we were not invited to participate in the recent East Asia Summit. Meanwhile, China's "smile diplomacy" has yielded 27 different frameworks of cooperation between that country and ASEAN. We need to be more, and more broadly, engaged.

MICHAEL ARMACOST:
The establishment of today's European community began with the historic reconciliation between France and Germany. I doubt that a viable Asian community can be created without a comparable accommodation between China and Japan. Some observers believe that current tensions between Tokyo and Beijing are advantageous insofar as they facilitate closer defense cooperation between the United States and Japan. I do not share that view. A drift toward Sino-Japanese strategic rivalry would complicate our choices as well as theirs, and I hope we can find ways of attenuating current tensions.