- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2000

George W. Bush plans a major overhaul of U.S. policy in Asia if elected president, which would include elevating the role of Japan as the key regional U.S. ally and abandoning President Clinton's "strategic partnership" with China, top advisers said yesterday.

Mr. Bush would commit American troops to the region for the long haul and extend a proposed missile shield to protect both U.S. troops and allies.

In addition, the Republican presidential candidate would ease labor and environmental restrictions in trade pacts and beef up links to nations such as Thailand and Indonesia, which have long-standing security ties with the United States.

The immediate threat of war in Europe is gone, said Richard L. Armitage, a former assistant secretary of defense, but he cited four war threats in Asia: the Korean Peninsula, a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, a Pakistan-India nuclear conflict and the collapse of Indonesia.

"The United States should not try to manage these problems alone that's George Bush's view," Mr. Armitage told the Asia Society yesterday.

Japan is the key to U.S. strategic interests in Asia, Mr. Armitage said. "Without the use of [Japanese] bases we cannot be what we need to be in Asia," he said.

He warned that any attempt to withdraw the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against war with North Korea would probably lead to Japanese public pressure for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Japan as well.

"There is a need for a robust U.S. military presence in Asia. What counts is military clout," he said.

Robert B. Zoellick, another top adviser to the Bush campaign, said the Clinton administration had mishandled the plan to build a national missile defense, leading to concern among allies as well as potential adversaries such as Russia and China.

"Governor Bush has said we need [the anti-missile system] to protect our allies, U.S. troops overseas and the United States," Mr. Zoellick said.

"We're not worried about a sudden launch. We worry about a repeat of Iraq" in 1990-91, when the Bush administration had to land troops in Saudi Arabia and build a coalition of allies to thwart Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.

"How does it improve our relationship with our allies if they are more vulnerable" to a missile attack? Mr. Zoellick asked.

He suggested repackaging the concept of a national missile defense as an "allied missile defense."

The Clinton administration failed to show respect and loyalty to allies who had backed the United States throughout the Cold War, both Bush advisers said.

Even the financial backing to cope with the Asian economic crisis, which began in Thailand in 1997 and decimated East Asia, was seen as "grudging," Mr. Zoellick said.

The Clinton administration also shocked Asian partners by linking labor and environmental protection to trade an issue seen as protectionist by Asian allies after unions and others attacked free trade policies at a Seattle meeting of the World Trade Organization last November.

"After Seattle, Asians think U.S. trade policy is designed to keep them down," Mr. Zoellick said.

The Bush advisers were cautious on China, welcoming progress toward democracy and free markets.

"China is not the new enemy," Mr. Zoellick said.

But he warned China that threats against Taiwan "will not succeed."

And he rejected the Clinton administration policy of "strategic partnership" with China.

In addition, Mr. Zoellick emphasized the need to raise Japan's status as the American linchpin in East Asia.

Mr. Zoellick, who served Mr. Bush's father as deputy White House chief of staff and undersecretary of state, said that after 50 years of a "peace constitution" barring foreign military involvement, Japan is ready for a greater security role and for greater political clout commensurate with its economic contribution.

"There will be a more independent Japan," Mr. Zoellick said.

On the key issue of foreign trade, Mr. Zoellick, who serves on a bipartisan trade panel, said Democratic insistence on adding labor, environment and human rights rules to future pacts is an insurmountable obstacle.

"There will be no new round [in world trade talks]. The Asians are against it," he said.

Asians fear that the additional rules will make their exports less competitive and delay their economic development.

Mr. Armitage also warned that Indonesia was at risk of splitting apart and criticized the Clinton administration for employing a policy that "has been all sticks."

The Clinton administration has been critical of Indonesia over military-backed violence in Timor and the Moluccas.

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