Asia Pacific Revisited:U.S. geopolitical interests

Posted in Other | 09-Mar-06 | Author: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Andrea K Riemer

"A coherent China has to be in the interest of the U.S."
"A coherent China has to be in the interest of the U.S."
‘9/11’ marked a multifold watershed, not only for the US, but also for other players, such as India and China. Particularly India as the largest democracy received much more prominence than in the 1990s. The ‘capstone’ of the recent developments was the remarkable Nuclear Cooperation Agreement signed by U.S. President Bush and his Indian counterpart Prime Minister Singh during Bush’s Asia Tour. The days before arriving at this Agreement clearly showed India’s new self-consciousness. Finally, the U.S. accepted India as nuclear power – something unthinkable some 5 years ago. Certainly, the U.S. recognized India as an important partner, despite the still close relations to Russia.

The most important finding on an analysis of U.S. interests in Asia-Pacific is the fact of interwovenness and intertwinedness. U.S.-India relations need to be embedded into a whole network of interests and relations. The time of zero-sum assessments has passed. A new look will be required in regional strategic estimations. Asia-Pacific and U.S. interests is a good point to start with such a new strategic look on the map.

Between Strategy and Interests

The attacks of September 11 energized America’s Asian alliances. Australia invoked the ANZUS Treaty to declare the September 11 was an attack on Australia itself, following that historic decision with the dispatch of some of the world’s finest combat forces for Operation Enduring Freedom. Japan and the Republic of Korea provided unprecedented levels of military logistical support within weeks of the terrorist attack. We have deepened cooperation on counterterrorism with our alliance partners in Thailand and the Philippines and received invaluable assistance from close friends like Singapore and New Zealand. The war against terrorism has proven that America’s alliances in Asia not only underpin regional peace and stability, but are flexible and ready to deal with new challenges. To enhance our Asian alliances and friendships, we will:

  • Look to Japan to continue forging a leading role in regional and global affairs based on our common interests, our common values, and our close defense and diplomatic cooperation;
  • work with South Korea to maintain vigilance towards the North while preparing our alliance to make contributions to the broader stability of the region over the longer term;
  • build on 50 years of U.S.-Australian alliance cooperation as we continue working together to resolve regional and global problems—as we have so many times from the Battle of the Coral Sea to Tora Bora;
  • maintain forces in the region that reflect our commitments to our allies, our requirements, our technological advances, and the strategic environment; and
  • build on stability provided by these alliances, as well as with institutions such as ASEAN and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, to develop a mix of regional and bilateral strategies to manage change in this dynamic region.

We are attentive to the possible renewal of old patterns of great power competition. Several potential great powers are now in the midst of internal transition—most importantly Russia, India, and China. In all three cases, recent developments have encouraged our hope that a truly global consensus about basic principles is slowly taking shape. (National Security Strategy of the United States, Sep. 2002).

The latest NSS (2006) emphasized the importance of the region. China and India received particular attention in the updated NSS. China is encouraged to proceed its path to an open society and a free market economy. India, which has been more in backdrop, received a rather prominent position in the new strategy paper (which is more a security account report than a strategy paper in the very narrow understanding).

U.S. geopolitics in Asia at the beginning of the 21st century: Beyond déjà vues

Dr. Andrea Riemer is Senior Researcher at the Austrian Defense Academy: "China plays a vital role in U.S.geopolitical consideration"
Dr. Andrea Riemer is Senior Researcher at the Austrian Defense Academy: "China plays a vital role in U.S.geopolitical consideration"
Asia gained currency in the U.S. rather from the start of President Bush’s first term. The bombing of Chinese embassy in Belgrade (1999) and the plane incident in Hainan (2001) caused a shift in U.S. policy towards China, which is considered the key player in Asia. India that leaned towards the Soviet Union and Russian until late 2001 became another new regional cooperation partner. Relations with other players such as Singapore, the Philippines and Australia received a new twist. Much was done under the label of the Global War on Terrorism.

The NSS 2002 dedicates a considerable chapter to U.S.-Asia-Pacific relations. Some of the issues indicated have been already settled. A number are still pending; nevertheless, it is obvious that Asia has received a new drive of importance in U.S. geopolitics. This does not mean that it lost importance, but quality has change – not only since the events of ‘9/11’. Looking into the current list of U.S. strategic interests, the following ones seem at hand (as listed in the Commission on National Interest Report 2000, which is still the agenda guideline):

Vital interests

  • That the U.S. establish productive relations with China, America’s major potential strategic adversary in East Asia.
  • That South Korea and Japan survive as free and independent states, and cooperate actively with the U.S. to resolve important global and regional problems.

Extremely Important

  • That peace be maintained in the Taiwan Strait and on the Korean Peninsula.
  • That China and Japan achieve lasting reconciliation under terms that benefit America.

Important interests

  • That the East Asian countries, including China, continue on the path toward democracy and free markets.
  • That East Asian markets grow more open to U.S. goods, services, and investment.
  • That a peaceful solution is reached to secondary territorial disputes such as those in the South China Sea or Senkaku Islands.

Certainly, China plays a key role in U.S. geopolitical considerations. The latest developments during the session of the National People’s Congress in early March 2006 provided another guideline for the importance of Asia in general and China in particular. In his national address, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao pointed to several crucial issues, such as decreasing the welfare gap and settling some of the most burning regional conflicts; additional economic growth will dampen to prevent the social gap from increasing even further. China has come on a remarkable rise and is about to enter into a crucial phase. The U.S. will have to observe these crucial moments (which, of course, will last several years) with scrutiny. A coherent China, which can deal with its internal challenges, has to be in the interest of the U.S.

India has received new prominence, because of the multidimensional power the country exerts. Despite the fact that India was not explicitly mentioned in the Commission Report 2000, it gained a revised position. One reason behind this change is the Indian nuclear threat. Only recently, President Bush could sign an agreement with India on nuclear issues. The agreement was assessed as a key break-through in U.S.-India relations, less than a decade after the two were heavily divided over India’s nuclear attempts and ambitions. The seal of the nuclear deal can be seen as a signal for fundamental changes on the bilateral level. Power patterns have changed particularly after September 11, 2001. So did the U.S. role in the region, their changed potentials for actions and geopolitical interests.

Another rather new partner is Pakistan. The recent Asia visit of U.S. President Bush showed the increased importance, though it received a different meaning in the U.S. perception. Pakistan has gained crucial importance in the Global War on Terrorism. It is a nuclear power, a weak state that has been held together by a strict military government. Still, Pakistan is in an iffy condition and it will take some considerable time until it will prove to be a stable partner for the U.S.

Japan and Australia have been decade-lasting partners in the region. Long-lasting historical ties prove the basis for solid cooperations and for accountability.

Taiwan und the two Koreas mark problematic partners within the regional framework. Conflicts among those players are still pending and rather far away from settlement. Recent events in both cases have sparked the development towards more up heated moments.

A key to U.S. success in Asia is the strength of its alliance system. The emergence of a new hegemon in Asia would threaten this still advantageous position. The main issue for the whole region is the level of interlinkage. Hardly one of the key players is out of the linkage chain. For reason, pulling one string makes the whole situation moving. Sometimes, those moves cause unintended consequences.

The article will have a look on current developments and geopolitical implications of the United States’ relations with China, India, Korea, Japan and Australia. Russia will not be discussed in details, but will be mentioned in relation to some specific issues.

The Asia-Pacific region - the new "Great Game".
The Asia-Pacific region - the new "Great Game".
U.S.-Sino relations

The traditional underpinnings of international relations in Asia are undergoing profound change, and the rise of China is the principal cause. Other causes include the relative decline of U.S. influence and authority in Asia, the expanding normative influence of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the growth of regional multilateral institutions, increased technological and economic interdependence throughout the region, and the amelioration of several formerly antagonistic bilateral relationships.1

The General Framework

Sino-U.S.-relations are full of delicacies. Numerous issues of cooperations such as the common objective of a nuclear weapons-free Korean Peninsula, the establishment the Six-Party Talks process, and the cooperation on counter-terrorism (including China's joining the U.S. Container Security Initiative) are countered by a number of unresolved topics.

  1. Through the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade and the Joint Economic Committee, senior economic policy officials are trying to manage bilateral trade, advance the goals established when China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO), and deal with such issues as China's compliance with Intellectual Property Rights standards.
  2. The United States and China have agreed to a new, periodic senior dialogue on global issues of mutual concern that will begin this summer.
  3. In military-to-military relationship, the two states have expanded exchanges, including high-level visits and contacts between our military academies.

Nonetheless, a number of questions still remain about China’s future and the choices Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders will make as China becomes a more powerful and influential regional and global actor. These choices will have significant implications – not only for the United States, but also for China, the Asia-Pacific region, and the world.

Military engagement: Both Sides are popping up

By maintaining approximately 100,000 troops in the region, the United States retains low-cost influence that stands in sharp contrast to the Cold War, when it lost nearly 100,000 troops in two major conflicts. China’s rise to power, though indisputable, is happening at a manageable pace. Maintaining the U.S. military presence in East Asia—both through alliances and unilaterally with the Seventh Fleet—is thus critical for long-run stability. Any unilateral reduction of the U.S. military would likely be the opening bell in a new round of competition between China and Japan for dominance in the area. Japan has demonstrated a desire to become a ‘normal’ country with a defense and foreign policy more independent of the United States.

The PLA has modernized its forces, thereby emphasizing preparations to fight and win short-duration, high-intensity conflicts along China’s periphery. PLA modernization has gained acceleration since the mid-to-late 1990s. This was a response to central leadership demands to develop military options for Taiwan scenarios. In the course of the latest meeting of the National People’s Congress in early March 2006, the defense budget for 2006 was increased by some € 30 Billion. This was due to necessary improvements of combat-ready units for emergency cases, improvements in defense capabilities and salary increases. As compared to the defense budget of the U.S., Great Britain, France and Japan the amount is still rather small. The increase will be used for some structural developments and to relieve some outdated technologies. China has recently acquired advanced fighter planes, warships, and anti-ship missiles from Russia. In addition, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is testing a new generation of solid-fueled, road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles. Still, there is no evidence that Beijing is moving away from its traditional nuclear doctrine of minimal deterrence. Most disturbingly for the U.S., China is boosting its deployment of short-range ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan. While China is not emerging as a new Soviet-scale threat, it is gaining a greater ability to challenge America and its allies in areas close to China’s shores.

White House: "A cooperative approach with China is indispensable"
White House: "A cooperative approach with China is indispensable"
In the short term, China seems to be focused on preventing Taiwan independence or trying to compel Taiwan to negotiate a settlement on Beijing’s terms. China still deploys its most advanced systems to the military regions opposite the Taiwanese coastline. These new weapon systems represent significant improvements. To realize the potential in the technologically advanced equipment, China’s armed forces are attempting to integrate the systems into the force structure, develop modern doctrine and tactics, and improve training and exercises (see

  • Ballistic Missiles. China has deployed some 650-730 mobile CSS-6 and CSS-7 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) opposite Taiwan. Deployment of these systems is increasing by some 100 missiles per year. Newer versions of these missiles display improved range and accuracy. Additionally, China is modernizing its longer-range ballistic missile force. It replaced older systems with newer, more survivable missiles. Over the next several years, China will begin to bring into service a new road-mobile, solid propellant, intercontinental-range ballistic missile (ICBM) and a new submarine-launched ballistic missile.
  • Air Power. China possesses more than 700 aircraft within un-refueled operational range of Taiwan. The state of technology is to at the current level. New acquisitions improve and enhance previous deliveries of Su-27 fighter aircraft. Moreover, China produces its own version of the Su-27SK, the F-11, under a licensed co-production agreement with Moscow. Improvements to the FB-7 fighter program will enable this older aircraft to perform nighttime maritime strike operations. China has several programs underway to deploy new standoff escort jammers on bombers, transports, tactical aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicle platforms. Additionally, China is acquiring from abroad or developing advanced precision strike munitions, including cruise missiles and air-to-air, air-to-surface, and anti-radiation munitions. The PLA seems to be interested in unmanned combat aerial vehicles. Finally, China has numerous of older fighters that could be converted for this purpose.
  • Air Defense. In 2004, China received the final shipment from Russia of four S-300PMU-1/SA-20 surface-to-air missile (SAM) battalions. China has also agreed to purchase follow-on S-300PMU-2, the first battalion of which is expected to arrive in 2006. With an advertised intercept range of 200 km, the S-300PMU-2 provides increased lethality against tactical ballistic missiles and more effective electronic counter-counter measures.
  • Ground Forces. China has 375,000 ground forces personnel stationed in the three military regions opposite the Taiwanese coastline. China has been modernizing and upgrading these units with amphibious armor and other vehicles (tanks, armored personnel carriers). The PLA downsized by some 200.000 its troops at the end of 2005. Officially, the size of the PLA is about 2.3 million. In the 2004 Defense White Paper China claims that can also draw upon more than 10 million organized militia members.
  • Naval Power. China’s naval forces’ development is of highest priority. Those forces include 64 major surface combatants, some 55 attack submarines, more than 40 medium and heavy amphibious lift vessels, and approximately 50 coastal missile patrol craft. Two-thirds of these assets are located in the East and South Sea fleets. China deployed its first two Russian-made guided missile destroyers (DDG) to the East Sea Fleet. An additional two DDGs are under contract for delivery. The DDGs are fitted with advanced anti-ship cruise missiles and ship-borne air defense systems. China’s SONG-class diesel electric submarine has entered serial production.

A second set of objectives includes building counters to third party, including potential U.S. intervention in cross-Strait crises. PLA preparations come against the background of a policy toward Taiwan that foster ‘peaceful reunification’. China has not renounced the use of force, however. On the contrary, recent developments in February 2006 in Taiwan (termination of the national unification council by the Taiwanese head of the state Chen Shui-bian) forced China to react adequately. The National People’s Congress offered a platform to do so. The termination clearly showed that pressure from Washington to check Chen’s path for formal independence would not be enough to balance and stabilize the situation.

Resources: Considerations and Concerns

China has shown a considerably grown appetite for resources in past 10 years. The demand covers energy, but also metals, ore, cement, steel, copper, platinum, aluminum etc.

In the current discussion, oil and gas are on top of the global agenda. China still relies on coal for some two-thirds of its energy. The demand for coal – mainly from domestic sources – will increase as China’s economy expands. China became the world’s second largest consumer and third largest importer of oil in 2003. Currently, China imports over 40 percent of its oil. By 2025, this figure could rise to even 80 percent. Nuclear power and natural gas account for smaller, but growing, shares of energy.

As China’s energy and resource needs continue to up-pace, Beijing has come to grips that special economic or foreign policy relationships in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America are required. They will bring China closer to problematic countries such as Iran, Sudan, and Venezuela. Resources played a vital role in increased Sino-Japanese tensions over the disputed East China Sea. A growing economy will foster Chinas desire for markets and natural resources (e.g., metals and fossil fuels). Consequently, strategic patterns will follow the increase appetite for resources.

In 2004, China began to construct a strategic petroleum reserve (SPR). By 2015, Beijing plans to build the SPR to the International Energy Agency standard of 90 days’ supply. Poor logistics and transportation networks suggest this may still prove inadequate. For the near future, China will continue to rely on overseas sources for oil and other strategic resources. A smooth transport will be of utmost importance. For reason, China is looking for alternative transport roots. This is an additional driver to get control of the Pacific as far as possible. Additionally, Beijing is expanding and improving its relations with Angola, Central Asia, Indonesia, the Middle East (including Iran), Russia, Mexico, Sudan, Saudi Arabia (only recently in February 2006!) and Venezuela. The key target is to pursue long-term supply agreements. Additionally, those countries are located at key geostrategic chokepoints. Well-working relations do not only secure the access to resources but secure passages, too. For reason, enhancement and improvement of a blue-water capable fleet is one of the strategic targets until 2050. This will include a more activist military presence abroad.

Deals with Mexico (a bilateral trade agreement signed in September 2005) on ore and oil opened up the U.S. backyard in Latin America. Mexico is only one example of Chinese engagement in the traditional U.S. sphere of influence. Additionally, a number of traditional U.S. enterprises switched their production facilities to China (such as United Technologies, BP, Coca Cola, General Motors, Ford Motor, General Electrics or Motorola) Those companies appreciate the Chinese frame for their activities and human resource mobility. Chinese enterprises gained enormous profit in terms of management skills, networking and human resource management. It offers them a chance for global brandings. Market entrances and branding introduction costs can be saved. For reason, it is easier to produce at far lower costs.

One of the key developments is the rising gap between demand and supply in general. This is not only a phenomenon in the current account, but also on the domestic stage. China has been confronted with an ever-widening welfare gap. This gap is present between cities and the rural areas, and between North and South (“water gap”, i.e. 4/5 of the water are located in the South, whereas 2/3 of the agrarian activities are done in the North). For reason, the National People’s Congress was almost forced to do something quickly. The candidness and openness by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao at the National People’s Congress were remarkable.

Continued economic growth and reform are vital to PLA modernization and to China as a whole. Broad-based growth and modernization also enhances economic capacities in industry, technology, and human resources. It enables China’s leaders to push for military modernization in relative terms. If China is able to sustain past growth rates – a challenge due to projected demographic changes, maturation of the industrial and technology base, and persistent financial inefficiencies – its economy could expand to almost $6.4 trillion by 2025. For comparison purposes, in 2025 Russia’s GDP is projected to be $1.5 trillion, Japan’s $6.3 trillion, and the U.S., $22.3 trillion.

A stable China definitely is the U.S.’s interest. Apart from military activities in the Pacific, one of the concerns of the U.S. would a slowly, but steadily collapsing China from within.

China-Taiwan: "The Taiwan Strait issue has become more dangerous again."
China-Taiwan: "The Taiwan Strait issue has become more dangerous again."
The Taiwan Issue: Latest developments and implications

Recently, the Taiwan Strait issue has become more dangerous again. Even as Taiwan and China have expanded their economic ties, the cross-Strait political relationship has grown steadily worse. Though Taipei and Beijing express a desire for political talks, they remain stuck over the ‘one China principle and fundamental sovereignty issues. The difficulty of the situation emerged in February 2006 when the Taiwanese head of the state Chen Shui-bian terminated the national reunification council.

Meanwhile, both sides are accelerating their purchases of advanced weaponry to prepare for a possible conflict. Taiwan’s absorption into the PRC by force would present a failure of U.S. leadership. Additionally, it would question Washington’s reliability as an ally and undermine America’s crucial bilateral alliances. While taking no position on what Taiwan’s ultimate status should be, the U.S. must continue to provide the island with defensive arms and implicit military backup.

Taiwan’s separation, which the PRC blames on the United States, is heightening China’s discomfort with American dominance. Chinese leaders point to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan; Washington’s intends to deploy a regional missile defense system. Additionally, the intensified security alliance between the U.S. and Japan runs counter to China’s vision of a multipolar world. China’s opposition to the perceived U.S. position is mainly of rhetoric nature. In concrete actions, China wants to boost its power and prestige within the current international system rather than pushing for radical change. China’s efforts to join the World Trade Organization and its signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty are consistent with a trend. It goes back to the late 1970s, when the gradual adoption the norms of international economic and political behavior started. However, this trend toward greater integration could be endangered if China remains frustrated in its quest to reintegrate Taiwan.

Looking at the security situation in the Taiwan Strait, the following issues seem evident:

  • The 2004 Defense White Paper characterized the cross-Strait situation as “grim”. It elevated Taiwan and sovereignty concerns to top priority for China’s armed forces.
  • China’s National People’s Congress passed an “anti-secession law” in March 2005 as a means to pressure the Taiwan leadership, build a legal foundation to justify a use of force, and form a rhetorical counter to the U.S. Taiwan Relations Act.
  • China held two large-scale amphibious exercises in 2004 (division to group-army level in size), one of which explicitly dealt with a Taiwan scenario, bringing the total number of amphibious exercises to ten over the past five years.
  • China used diplomatic pressures and verbal warnings.
  • China continued to stick to its policy of peaceful unification under the ‘one country, two systems’ framework that offers Taiwan limited autonomy in exchange for Taiwan’s integration with the mainland.
  • China did not change its policy of no direct negotiations with the leadership of Taiwan’s democratically elected government.
  • Beijing continues to see the threat and possible use of force as integral to its policy of dissuading Taiwan from pursuing independence and moving Taiwan ultimately to unite with the mainland.

Recent developments have highlighted the volatility and fragility of the situation around Taiwan. Still Beijing has not come about to set actions, which go beyond verbal warnings. Still, it performs a strategy of persuasion and coercion. Its current approach to prevent Taiwan’s independence links diplomatic, economic, legal, psychological, and military instruments. This combination convinced Taipei that the price of declaring independence is excessively high. This strategy combines the credible threat to use military force with the economic and cultural tools that China has at its disposal. That does not mean that limited military actions are completely out of reach and deterrence is the only answer to be given.

A view ahead

From the U.S. point of view, three strands for future developments seem at hand:

  • The region is of rather large scope and should offer for both players enough room to maneuver.
  • Power projections and considerations have developed beyond the zero-sum-game assumption.
  • Monocausal assessments are not applicable, but it is indispensable to consider other players of the two.

The current relative power gain of China seems to be due to the policy of the current U.S. administration, which is rather hardheaded on the nuclear issue in North Korea, on sticking to the alliance with Japan, on the position in the Taiwan issue and the almost fanatic focus on the Global War on Terrorism. It is an amalgam of reasons why China could get a relative upper hand.

Some of the long-term differences can be foreseen: The military support for Taiwan; China’s approach to Myanmar, to Russian and South Korea. Additionally, China’s intensive diplomatic engagement in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Asian Regional Forum is not in the U.S.’s interest.

Thinking really in geopolitical term, no major conflict between the two big players could be in anybody’s interest.

U.S.-Indian relation

“India and the United States have historically embraced very different conceptions of the global order. During the Cold War, the United States wanted to enlist as many states as possible in its war against communism, often in a formal strategic alliance. America’s support to Pakistan on the Kashmir issue in the United Nations beginning in 1948 and the creation of military ties in 1954 cast an irrevocable shadow on the relationship. India viewed the logic of American alliances as directly contravening its own interests. The United States for its part saw India’s policy of nonalignment as little more than a sanctimonious cloak for interests, which contradicted those of the United States. India’s neutrality was less than neutral, as belied by the country’s silence over the Soviet invasion of Hungary and Czechoslovakia in 1968. …. The end of the Cold War eased the pressure on the relationship. First and foremost, the United States became the single dominant power. One of the irritants of Indo-U.S. relations, India’s perceived closeness to the Soviet Union, simply ceased to be a factor.” (

The events of ‘9/11’ brought another twist into the bilateral relations. This broadening of the canvas has opened up the India-U.S. relationship to enlarged possibilities of cooperation.

New Delhi: "India has gained currency in U.S. strategic consideration"
New Delhi: "India has gained currency in U.S. strategic consideration"
The latest approach towards each other was marked in early March 2006. During President Bush’s visit in India at the beginning of March 2006, an agreement that would provide U.S. nuclear power assistance to India. India will be permitted to substantially step up its nuclear weapons production The Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, which marked a considerable break from decades of U.S. nuclear policy, highlighted the increasingly close relationship between the world's two largest democracies. The deal was much debated and some observers did not believe in a solution. During very intensive talks before Bush’s visit, the limbo was detangled. The Nuclear Cooperation Agreement is the key pillar of a comprehensive, multitopic bilateral strategic agreement.

Under the agreement, India will have to separate its civilian and military nuclear programs over the next eight years. It will receive U.S. expertise and nuclear fuel to meet its rapidly rising energy demands. India's civilian facilities would be subject for the first time to permanent international inspections by IAEA. The agreement does not require oversight of India's prototype fast-breeder reactors, which can produce significant portions of super-grade plutonium in case of full operation.

The deal must clear two large hurdles before it can take effect. President Bush has to overcome concerns by lawmakers in both parties that the United States is rewarding one of only three countries that did not sign the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. President Bush defended his step and said that India had done remarkable and adequate measures to ensure against the risks of proliferation.

The approach between the two states marks a turning point in overcoming one of the two strategic differences, the nuclear issue.

For the United States, good relations with India are desirable but not essential. For India, they remain rather essential. Asymmetry is an illusion, which has been sustained by a myth that the United States can go it alone and can run a world order in its own plan. The Indian point of view is that the world can be more stable and managed better only through a network of alliances.

While India may remain unwilling to join a formal security system in Asia, the ad hoc alliance between India, Australia, Japan and the United States to manage emergency assistance following the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami disaster can be read as a sign that India and the United States are able join forces to work together to deal with specific regional crises. This ad hoc cooperation marks an important precedent for future India-U.S..-cooperation in the region.

Apart from the nuclear deal, a strategic partnership has been agreed upon. It covers

  • civil nuclear cooperation (it is considered to be the key pillar of the strategic accord);
  • expanding economic freedom and democracy (e.g. by promoting global economic growth, development and prosperity; building on common values and interests; investment, agriculture)
  • energy and environmental issues (e.g. FutureGen; International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor; Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate);
  • security questions (e.g. maritime security cooperations, counterterrorism, defense trade, military logistic support, non-proliferation);
  • innovative and advanced technologies (e.g. intellectual property rights, science and space);
  • public health (e.g. avian influence, HIV/AIDS

This is a huge and rather strategic agenda the two states have taken into account. It is much different to what bound the two players together some 5 years ago. Despite the fact that India is still more hesitating than the U.S. are, bilateral relations may truly enter into a new era.

The second parting point, India’s preoccupation with its two neighbors, Pakistan and China, is still pending. The U.S. are – from New Delhi’s point of view – still not enough sensitive to the challenges they posed to India’s interests. An indication of change may be seen in President Bush’s remark during his visit in Pakistan in early March 2006 (as part of his Asia tour which led him to India, Pakistan and Afghanistan) that Islamabad will not receive any U.S. support in regard to the nuclear issue. India could interpret this as grist on its mill.

Certainly, India has gained currency in U.S. strategic consideration. By force of population, market potentials, innovative and technological potentials it presents a true regional key player with global ambitions.

U.S.-North Korea

The greatest immediate threat to the United States is not that much a hegemonic China, but rather the potential outbreak of localized wars in either the Taiwan Strait or Korea. Famine in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Kim Jongil’s apparent consolidation of power, and Seoul’s “sunshine policy” has helped reduce tensions on the peninsula somewhat since the nuclear crisis of 1994. However, North Korea’s ballistic missile program, including an August 1998 Tae-po Dong launch over Japan, shows that Pyongyang is still a threat to stability. China’s cooperation in moderating the DPRK’s behavior is of great importance.

At the end of 2005, the six parties’ talks were again interrupted. Hopes that the talks will be resumed in the near future may be existing and have a realist core. A solution in terms of a suspension of military and civil nuclear activities cannot be hoped for.

The U.S. have only very few means to put pressure on North Korea. China, on the other hand, has numerous trump cards, such as preventing refugee streams from the provinces Jilin and Laoning to float into China. Additionally, China is in the closest possible vicinity of North Korea. It is not interested in a ‘nuclear neighbor’.

So far, China made pressure on North Korea behind the diplomatic curtains; South Korea offered carrots and the U.S. used the stick. None of them was successful. North Korea presents a strategic dilemma.

Actions against it are mainly felt by the population and not by the government. Non-actions are counterproductive, too, since political steps have gone already rather far. It is too late to draw back. Each back draw would be lead to loosing face. For reason, one was forced to negotiate, even though one knew of the ‘zero-result’ already in advance.

Korea presents a historic pillar in U.S. strategic interest. China has particular relations to North Korea. It is one of the most active states in proliferation of WMD and nuclear material. Many of those things were floated to North Korea. Additionally, China has excellent contacts to Pakistan and Iran. This triangle with China at its center has to alert the U.S. For reason, North Korea is of strategic importance for the U.S. Still, a satisfying settlement is far away.

Tokyo: "Japan-U.S. security cooperation has been deepened."
Tokyo: "Japan-U.S. security cooperation has been deepened."

The Basic Framework

Relationships between Japan and the United States began in 1853 with the arrival in Uraga of the black ships commanded by Commodore Matthew Perry. The signing of the Japan-U.S. Treaty of Peace and Amity in 1854 followed suit. From those initial encounters to the present, Japan and the United States have overcome various trials and deepened exchange in a broad range of fields, including politics, economics and culture, while forging the excellent friendly and cooperative ties that exist today. On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of this relationship, an important milestone in history, it is hoped that the two countries will be able to further deepen mutual understanding and friendship between their peoples through lively implementation of various exchange projects and build an even more productive relationship for the future.

The Japan-U.S. Security Arrangements are based on the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty signed in 1951. Both provided the basis for peace and prosperity in Japan and the Far East. Additionally, they functioned as a fundamental framework for stability and development in the Asia-Pacific region. The forward deployment of the U.S. forces is a critical deterring component for the region. Japan spends roughly $6 billion per year in the stationing costs of U.S. Forces in Japan (‘host nation support’). Japan and the United States have undertaken a number of efforts to boost the credibility of their security arrangements. At the Japan-U.S. Summit meeting in 1996, the then Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and President Bill Clinton launched the “Japan-U.S. Joint Declaration on Security Alliance for the 21st Century". It forms the basis for the future posture towards the Japan-U.S. alliance. In 1997, Japan and the United States revised the Guidelines for U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation.

In June 2002, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and U.S.-President George W. Bush agreed on strengthening the security dialogue between the two countries.

Since December 1998, Japan and the United States have conducted joint research on ballistic missile defense (BMD). In December 2003, Japan's cabinet decided to equip Japan with a multi-tiered ballistic missile defense system, including the Aegis BMD System and the Patriot PAC-3 system. The decision was undertaken in the light of the events of ‘9/11’.

Japan-U.S. security cooperation was deepened by support and cooperation under the provisions of the “Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law.” Japan sent destroyers and supply ships to the Indian Ocean, mainly to provide at-sea refueling for U.S. and British naval vessels that conducted anti-terrorism operations. The Air Self-Defense Force of Japan has also provided airlift support to the U.S.-forces.

In November 2003, President Bush announced that the U.S. would review the global military posture in light of the new security environment. He wished to strengthen the consultative dialogue on foreign military posture with the U.S. Congress, allies, and friendly countries. Japan and the United States have taken advantage of a number of opportunities for consultations for the ongoing review of global posture of U.S. troops. The U.S.-Japan alliance and the American nuclear umbrella give Japan maneuvering room in dealing with its militarily more powerful neighbors. The alliance and access to bases in Japan also facilitates the forward deployment of U.S. military forces in the Asia-Pacific, thereby undergirding U.S. national security strategy.

In economic terms, the two countries have become increasingly interdependent: the United States is by far Japan’s most important foreign market, while Japan is one of the largest U.S. markets and sources of foreign investment in the United States (including portfolio, direct, and other investment). Additionally, Japan is the largest trading partner of the United States among all the non-NAFTA member nations and the largest importer of the U.S. farm products. As the two largest economies in the world, which share approximately 46% of the world GDP, Japan and the United States have a number of crucial responsibilities for the growth and stability of the global economy. Given these factors, Japan and the United States launched the “U.S.-Japan Economic Partnership for Growth” in June 2001.

Additionally, the United States and Japan have closely collaborated on a vast array of global issues such as AIDS, population problems, and children’s health. The two countries launched the “Common Agenda for Cooperation in Global Perspective” (the Common Agenda) in July 1993 to jointly seek solutions to global problems such as increasingly pressing environmental degradation, overpopulation, and damage from both natural and man-made disasters. The Common Agenda consists of four pillars: promoting health and human development; responding to challenges to global stability; protecting the global environment; and advancing science and technology. Under these four pillars, approximately 100 projects in 18 specific areas have been conducted to date.

U.S.-Japan-Chinese Relations as the delicate point between Tokyo and Washington

Of particular importance are U.S.-Japan-China Relations. Tokyo has watched with unease the course of U.S.-China relations, but its own relations with Beijing have been anything but smooth, and at present Japan seems to view China’s rising power with deepening concern. Japanese officials grow uncomfortable when U.S.-China relations are too close, and when they deteriorate – as at present.

Japan’s own relations with China have been increasingly strained in recent years because of conflicting claims to disputed islands and related Chinese intrusions into what Japan considers its 200-mile economic zone and Japan’s concerns about China’s rising power and influence. Sino-Japanese relations took an upturn because of Prime Minister Koizumi’s visit to Beijing on October 8, 2001. The agenda included a visit by Koizumi to the Marco Polo Bridge, near Beijing, the site of a manufactured incident that triggered Japan’s 1937 invasion of China. During the visit, Koizumi conveyed the fullest apology for past wrongs ever delivered by a Japanese Prime Minister. Relations remain strained over military issues, including Japanese concern about fast rising Chinese defense budgets and Chinese objections to the rising profile of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. In late December 2001, acting under revised rules of engagement, Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces ships chased into the East China Sea, a presumed North Korean spy boat that had penetrated into Japanese coastal waters. As the Japanese ships closed in, the crew of the mystery ship reportedly fired hand-held weapons at the Japanese before scuttling and sinking their own vessel.

Every now and then, debates on a number of unsettled historical issues re-emerge (think of the hot debate on the schoolbooks, of historical distortions and unsettled bilateral history between Japan and China or the Prime Ministers annual visits of the Yasukuni shrine, which is considered a monument of militarism and of Japanese militarism in particular).

Differing Issues

The United States and Japan share the same broad objectives regarding the unstable Korean Peninsula, but Japanese officials frequently have expressed a feeling of being left out of U.S. decision-making. Japanese policymakers appear torn between a desire to move slowly and deliberately on normalizing relations with North Korea, and worry about becoming isolated from U.S.-South Korea-North Korea diplomacy. Japan has tried in part to compensate for sometimes feeling “left out” of U.S.-policymaking towards the Korean Peninsula by itself drawing closer to the South Korean government headed by President Kim Dae Jung.


In Mid-March 2006, U.S.-Secretary Rice held the first ministerial-level Trilateral Strategic Dialogue with Australia and Japan in Sydney. This meeting can be seen as indicator for a shift of importance in U.S. interests.

Particularly Australia is a special case. Because Australia had always perceived itself as part of the British Empire more than an independent state, which relies on its own strength. When Britain left Australia to its own means in the Pacific War of World War Two, Australia felt the need to turn immediately to the protection of the U.S.. Some believe that the development of the bilateral relationships have much more to do with the more strategically placed Asia than with Australia itself.

Australia has diversified into stronger relations with Indonesia, China, ASEAN nations and other Asian nations. None of those relations has the level and the intensity of the relations with United States. In 2004-2005, Australia concluded a Free Trade Agreement with the United States.

Australia was one of the first countries to respond after the September 11 attacks. Canberra stood with the U.S. in Afghanistan. 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. It is strongly engaged in Iraq reconstruction efforts. Additionally, Australia played an important role 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.

For the U.S., Australia proved to be another reliable and stable alliance partner in Asia-Pacific. Given the sometimes difficult and strained bilateral relations between traditional adversaries, U.S.-Australian relations are as stable as U.S.-British relations are. Australia has become an important stronghold for the U.S. in a region under transition.

Other important regional Partners

The U.S. has a number of other strategically important allied countries in the region, such as the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore. Many of time received much more attention and support after the events of ‘9/11’. Shared interests and shared challenges (such as the threat by fundamentalists and religious radicals) form the basis of cooperation.

Conclusions and Outlook

Strategic developments in the Asia Pacific change the region security architecture. Important strategic implications for the U.S. and the global community may follow suit.

Currently, the U.S. is focused still on fighting the Global War on Terrorism, on stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan, while the region has been undergoing profound transformation. This transformation has been driven mainly by China, its dynamic economy and its active diplomacy.

For reason, the U.S. ‘hubs-and-spokes’ approach requires revision.

  • A cooperative approach towards China is indispensable. Both have to abandon their zero-sum attitude, because the U.S. would not only alienate China but also its regional allies. It is not only the Taiwan issue of importance. Economic questions and military issues, proliferation and nuclear issues are of utmost importance, too.
  • Japan has altered its defense position remarkably. This should allow Japan to be a better strategic partner for the U.S..
  • The Korea question needs to be tackled in parallel. The North has to be brought to abandon its nuclear program; the South has to be supported; U.S. military presence has to be decreased step-by-step. More contacts to the ‘next political generation’ need to be established to remain a strategic partner.
  • In the case of the Taiwan issue the U.S. need to restrain Taipei and Beijing. Washington must prevent both to undertake unilateral steps to change the status quo in ways that might provoke the other side. The ‘One-China-Framework’ enables the U.S. not to make hard choices. For reason, it has served all parties well. However, in the end this policy might have to be revised – particularly under the current circumstances of creeping efforts towards Taiwanese independence.
  • In Southeast Asia, numerous security issues deserve attention: Islamic extremisms and militancy, separatist movements, transnational security threats (narcotics trafficking, small arms proliferation, refugee flows, lax border controls and reluctant information sharing) form new hotbeds for crises.

For reason, the U.S. has to make use of all alliances possible to keep its role and to possibly develop it further. The region is under transition. The one who does not participate in this transition will be – eventually - out of the game.

1 Shambough, David: China Engages Asia. Reshaping the Regional Order, International Security, Vol. 29, No. 3 (Winter 2004/05), pp. 64-99, p. 64.