Volume 4, Issue 3

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July - September 2002 · Published: Oct 2002

Concerns and complaints about Washington’s Iraq policy and its broader approach toward the ongoing war on terrorism, and speculation regarding North Korea’s diplomatic overtures dominated East Asia security dialogue during the last quarter.  This time last year, the world had rallied behind the U.S. in the wake of the horrific Sept. 11 attacks. Much of that support and goodwill has dissipated, however.  The reasons vary and are complex but two words are central to any explanation: Iraq (and more specifically “regime change”) and preemption; the latter being put forth not only in the Iraqi context but as the basis of a new national security strategy.  Their long-term impact on U.S.-East Asia (and broader) relationships remains unclear; China-U.S. relations in particular could be challenged – or strengthened – depending on how the UN Security Council debate over Iraq plays out.  Equally unclear is the impact of the DPRK’s recent “smile diplomacy,” which has seen an unprecedented effort by Pyongyang simultaneously to improve relations with Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington.  Meanwhile, multilateralism seems to be thriving in East Asia, both with the U.S. (ASEAN Regional Forum) and without (ASEAN Plus Three).

US - Japan

July — September 2002

An Oasis of Stability

It has been another peaceful quarter for U.S.-Japan relations. That the bilateral relationship could be so calm despite the tumult in international diplomacy generally is testimony to the current strength and stability of the alliance. Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro’s surprise visit to Pyongyang and the U.S.’s full court press to get the international community to take action against Iraq have provided ample opportunities for friction in relations between Washington and Tokyo. Although critics see tensions on the rise, the two governments seem to be keeping their differences at a manageable level.

Success could prove temporary. At the best of times, the U.S. and Japan have very different approaches to international problem solving; the Bush administration’s muscular foreign policy – as made evident in the newly published National Security Strategy of the United States of America (NSS) – may prove to be more than the Japanese public is willing to bear. Washington’s fixation on “regime change” in Iraq threatens to put the alliance under serious strain. Fortunately, in this context, managing relations with Japan demands no more of Washington than that which the U.S. should provide the international community more generally: convincing evidence that underpins U.S. concerns and respect for the views of others.

Preparation for the U.S.-China October summit between Presidents George W. Bush and Jiang Zemin in Crawford, Texas proceeded smoothly this quarter.  During Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage’s August visit to Beijing, the United States and China exchanged positive gestures. Washington endorsed China’s claim that at least one separatist group in Xinjiang has links to the al-Qaeda terrorist network and announced that its assets in the United States would be frozen.  The Chinese in turn released new rules on the export of missile technology and a missile technology control list.  Both countries signaled their growing satisfaction with bilateral cooperation in the counterterrorism arena.  A crisis was averted over Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian’s Aug. 3 statement that there is “one country on each side” of the Taiwan Strait.

The mid-July release of two reports on China, one by the Department of Defense and the other by a bipartisan congressional commission, stirred concern in China. Overall, relations improved as both Beijing and Washington advanced their respective interests by emphasizing the positive elements of their relationship.

This quarter began with a serious naval confrontation between North and South Korean patrol vessels on Korea’s West Sea. It ended with the surprising diplomatic breakthrough in Japan-North Korea relations at the Koizumi-Kim summit in mid-September and the ensuing U.S. decision to send Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly to Pyongyang for consultations. Through it all, the Bush administration watched warily, postponing its special envoy’s planned trip to Pyongyang in July, but cautiously welcoming the results of the summit meeting. Strategists planning the next U.S. diplomatic move now have to pay greater attention both to Japanese policy and South Korean public opinion to avoid weakening U.S. standing in the Northeast Asia region. This is especially true given growing anti-American sentiments in the ROK, stimulated by the tragic death of two South Korean girls during a U.S. military training accident.

In the spring of 2002, the U.S.-Russian antiterror coalition seemed in fine shape.  A bilateral summit between U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in May in St. Petersburg resulted in the signing of a dramatic arms reduction agreement.  The trend continued through June and part of July. In public appearances Russian leaders continued to insist that their country stood firmly behind the United States and was committed to closer integration with the West.

But as the summer wore on it became apparent that the partnership had its limits.  Two issues, in particular, became major irritants.  One issue was an old one that came back onto the radar screen – Chechnya, or in this case Chechen fighters operating in the Pankisi Gorge over the Georgian border.  Another issue was an even older one – Iraq.  As U.S. leaders tried to convince their Russian counterparts that action was needed in Iraq as part of the global campaign against terrorism, Russian leaders tried to convince their U.S. counterparts that action against Chechen separatists operating out of Georgia was also related to the larger campaign.  Meanwhile Russia’s flirtations with Iran and North Korea seemed directly in contravention of the U.S. policy of isolating the “axis of evil.”  In both Russia and the United States voices clamored for a realistic reassessment of the relationship between the erstwhile antiterror partners. The successful energy summit in Houston in early October gives hope to many that cooperation between Russia and the United States will continue.  But as autumn began it was unclear to most observers where the relationship was headed and the partnership weathered a stormy first anniversary.

The third quarter of 2002 was one in which the U.S.-led war on terrorism continued to claim the attention of regional policymakers and media.  But it was also a period in which more traditional economic and political concerns began to reassume their previous prominence. In a number of countries, the war on terrorism adhered to patterns established earlier in the year. In a precautionary move reflecting information from a captured al-Qaeda source, U.S. embassies in Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia were closed on the anniversary of Sept. 11. That action underlined the emergence of the region as a major arena in the new global battleground.

The global campaign against terrorism presents China with a conundrum. Its own interests require that it support that campaign, which it is doing.  At the same time, counterterrorism is expanding the U.S. military presence and involvement in the affairs of Southeast Asia, as in other regions on China’s periphery. China appears to have decided that the best course is to play for the long-term, and stress its comparative advantages.

The annual mid-year Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ministerial-level meetings in Brunei gave Beijing multiple opportunities to argue for its version of multilateral security and economic cooperation in Asia, and at the same time to empathize quietly with sensitivities bruised by superpower leadership. ASEAN’s failure to reach agreement on a code of conduct for the South China Sea permitted China once again to appear benign and forthcoming, without actually accepting any constraints on its activities. China’s decision to award a large natural gas contract to Australia rather than Indonesia was a sharp disappointment to Jakarta, tempered by the offer of a less lucrative deal in Fujian.  The Indonesian military announced it would consider buying weapons from China to avoid U.S. embargoes.  Hanoi resumed demarcating its border with China, but remains on the defensive about charges that it gave too much to Beijing in a 1999 bilateral boundary agreement. Taiwan aggressively exploited its economic leverage during the quarter to try to upgrade the level of contacts with several Southeast Asian governments.

On Aug. 3, President Chen Shui-bian told a video conference with independence supporters in Tokyo that there was “one country on each side” of the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan government officials, Washington, and Beijing were caught by surprise and concerned.  Taipei quickly sent out assurances that policy has not changed, Washington reiterated that it did not support independence, and President Chen refrained from repeating this remark publicly. While no crisis occurred, the remarks appear in part to reflect Chen’s conclusion that Beijing’s cool response to Taipei’s goodwill offers means there is little near-term prospect for progress on cross-Strait issues. Taipei has pressed ahead with efforts to strengthen ties with the U.S., but its efforts to increase Taiwan’s international standing have suffered setbacks. Minor steps continue to be taken to ease restrictions on cross-Strait economic ties, which are again expanding rapidly.

Yet again, inter-Korean relations have confounded expectations. A quarter that began with the Northern navy sinking a Southern patrol boat – and Kim Dae-jung’s Sunshine Policy with it, or so it seemed – ended with Korean People’s Army (KPA) and Republic of Korea (ROK) soldiers jointly clearing mines in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to relink two cross-border road and rail routes. On Sept. 29, athletes from both Koreas marched behind a unity flag to open the 14th Asian Games in Pusan, the first time the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has ever joined in a sporting event in the Republic of Korea. All this, and much more recounted below, is hopeful.

But past precedent inevitably counsels caution, lest seeming breakthroughs prove once again temporary rather than definitive. From next February, a new South Korean president may take a harder line; especially if new claims that Seoul paid for the 2000 North-South  summit poison the atmosphere. Or noises off could spoil things, such as a U.S.  attack on Iraq – particularly if not under UN auspices. Against that, Japan’s opting for engagement, as in Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro’s sensational summit with DPRK leader Kim Jong-il, leaves Washington’s tougher stance more isolated. Also moves toward economic reform, harder to reverse than diplomatic outreach, buttress hopes that this time North Korea really is trying to change, and that progress may prove enduring.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Republic of Korea (ROK) celebrated a decade of normal relations on Aug. 24, with mutual commemorative events and academic workshops to mark the event. There is much to celebrate. With a bilateral trade relationship that has grown from $3 billion in 1991 to over $30 billion per year in 2001 and social, cultural, and political ties that have grown robustly in only a decade, this burgeoning relationship is dramatic evidence of how the end of the Cold War has allowed the development of new relationships in Northeast Asia. China has become South Korea’s largest destination for foreign investment and for outward-bound South Korean tourists and has surpassed Japan as South Korea’s number-two trading partner. The “Korean wave” in China marks South Korea’s capacity to make a notable contribution to China’s consumer culture and South Korea remains a model – and benchmark – for managing China’s own economic development and political liberalization process.

However, the gathering dark clouds posed by the North Korean refugee issue, illegal drug imports, migrant workers, “yellow dust,” and occasional squalls driven by China’s direct challenge to Korea’s global economic competitiveness are now being directly felt. It is time to post a warning to South Korea of impending damage from a Chinese economic typhoon that could be at least as unsettling to the economic and political landscape in Northeast Asia as Typhoon Rusa, the worst typhoon to hit the Korean Peninsula in four decades, leaving considerable damage in its wake.

The quarter ended on a high note with ceremonies in Beijing commemorating the 30th anniversary of the normalization of relations between Japan and China.  Senior Foreign Ministry officials and over 50 political figures represented Japan. Conspicuously absent, however, was the prime minister. Still under a Chinese cloud for his April visit to Yasukuni Shrine, Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro decided in August not to attend the ceremonies.

Over the course of the summer the past continued to intrude on the present.  A Tokyo District Court was the first to rule that Japan had engaged in biological warfare in China during the war. The court, however, rejected the Chinese plaintiffs suit for compensation.  Visits by members of the Koizumi Cabinet to Yasukuni Shrine on Aug. 15 drew traditional censure from Beijing.  At the same time, Japanese concerns with China’s on-going military modernization and its perceived lack of gratitude for Japan’s development assistance largess foreshadowed a looming debate over the China official development assistance (ODA) program.

Nevertheless, commerce continued to expand as joint ventures multiplied, and Japanese investment continued to flow into China (although at reduced rates).  At the same time, the safety of Chinese dietary supplements and pesticide residue on imported Chinese vegetables have triggered trade controversies.

The big news for the quarter was Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro’s meeting with DPRK leader Kim Jong-Il on Sept. 17. The two-and-a-half hours of discussions between the two leaders were described by officials as “frank talks” on difficult issues of concern to both sides.  Tokyo went into the summit with a fairly stern attitude.  In pre-summit negotiations at the end of August, the Japanese established up front that they wanted a satisfactory and definitive accounting by the North Koreans on the unresolved claim of past abducted Japanese nationals.  In a break from Japan-DPRK agendas, Tokyo also wanted the North to address security issues in the Dear Leader’s meeting with Koizumi (including missiles, the 1994 Agreed Framework, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the North-South Basic Agreement), and moreover maintained that there would be no explicit in-kind compensation of any sort by Japan for this meeting.

Two one-year anniversaries – the Russia-China friendship treaty and the Sept. 11 attacks – were very much in the minds of Russian and Chinese leaders during the third quarter of 2002. Both China and Russia publicly expressed satisfaction with the historic treaty that “legalizes” bilateral interactions. Beyond that, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Bismarckian diplomatic dexterity seemed to make Russia not only an eagerly sought member of the major power club, but also to position it in a crucial point between the West and the so-called “axis of evil” states (Iraq, Iran, and North Korea). Meanwhile, Beijing’s strategic and diplomatic constraints were somewhat alleviated by the country’s sustained economic growth. Between China and Russia, the much alluded to friendship treaty appeared only to offer another round of strategic maneuvering and mutual adjustment at the dawn of a new U.S. military doctrine of preemption that would displace deterrence.

Daily Digest

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Nikkei Asian Review: How will Japan’s new leader handle growing China-US tensions?

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Asia Times: Kim Jong Un issues rare apology to the South

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South China Morning Post – China-India border row: stay alert for surprise Indian attack, retired Chinese general warns

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The Japan Times: PM Suga talks with Moon for first time but signals no fresh start

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Foreign Policy: As Decoupling Grows, the West Risks Losing Insight Into China

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Asia Times: Duterte tightens grip as the Philippines falls apart

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South China Morning Post: If coronavirus unmasked Trump’s hostility to China, could Biden contain it?

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Hindustan Times: India prepared for a long haul over disengagement but not yield an inch in Ladakh

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NK News: Will South Korea’s president ever stop pushing for diplomacy with the North?

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