- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Congressional Research Service has waved a red flag in front of the new Congress, warning that America risks costly conflicts if it does not pay closer attention to the rise of China and other troubles in Asia.

A preoccupation with Iraq and the Middle East means the United States “is not sufficiently focused on the Asia-Pacific at a critical point in the evolution of what may prove to be a new era,” says the report from the CRS, an arm of the Library of Congress.

The report says a failure to attend to a less than peaceful rise of China, tensions over Taiwan, and conflict on the Korean Peninsula “has the potential to embroil the United States in a large-scale war that could be very costly in terms of lives, wealth, power, and prestige.”

Moreover, terrorist groups in Southeast and South Asia are “a key source of instability, a threat to U.S. forces and interests, and could serve as a catalyst for inter-state conflict,” the document says.

The CRS, which describes itself as “the public policy research arm of the United States Congress,” provides nonpartisan research and analysis on critical issues and works primarily for members of Congress and their staffs.

Its report echoes comments made last summer in a seminar at the East-West Center, a research and educational institute in Honolulu, where Asians and Americans alike criticized the Bush administration for neglecting Asia.

James Kelly, the assistant secretary who headed the East Asia division of the State Department during President Bush’s first term, said: “There is an insufficient realization that Asia has become the center of gravity,” meaning the focal point of political, economic and military power. “Policy and strategy toward East Asia,” he said, “are not easy to discern.”

Similarly, Stephen Bosworth, a former U.S. ambassador to the Philippines and South Korea, said that by 2009 when the next president takes office, power in Asia “will have shifted while we were not paying attention.”

Other voices have cautioned that potentially damaging trends in Asia, especially in China, are being overlooked in the United States. Fred Bergsten, an economist and former senior Treasury official, said China’s undervalued currency “could have a devastating impact on the global trading system.”

“It is obvious that China is extremely reluctant to make the needed changes in its currency policy,” he told a House committee two weeks ago. “It is equally obviously that U.S. efforts on the issue over the past three years … have borne little fruit to date. A new U.S. policy is clearly needed.”

The CRS study, written by analyst Bruce Vaughn, says: “The relative lack of attention to Asia comes at a time when the correlates of power are shifting not only with regard to China but elsewhere in Asia.”

Therefore, it says, some Asian nations “are beginning to hedge against what they perceive as an increasingly distracted and insufficiently engaged American power.”

“This perceived American vulnerability and uncertainty about America’s future role in Asia is leading some Asian analysts to predict that the United States will enter into a ‘new phase of inner absorption, if not increasing isolationism,’ ” the report says, quoting Singaporean scholar Eric Teo Chow Cheow.

The congressional researcher said Japan and Australia are seen as solid U.S. allies while the United States has “key strategic relationships” with Singapore, India, Taiwan and Indonesia.

Elsewhere, however, the United States and South Korea “are drifting apart” and Thailand prefers “equidistance” between the United States and China, it says. New Zealand has dropped out of its alliance with the United States and relations are tenuous with the Philippines, which is struggling with an Islamist insurgency in its south.

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