- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2001

TAIPEI, Taiwan A pledge by President Bush to work more closely with traditional U.S. allies and the appointment of seasoned Asia hands to his policy team have convinced Asian policy-makers that the region's interests will fare better under his administration than they did during the Clinton years.
"We don't expect the basic thrust of U.S. policy to change, but we're likely to see a welcome change in emphasis and in implementation," said Jusef Wanandi, director of Indonesia's Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Most significant, according to analysts on both sides of the Pacific, is an anticipated shift away from what many described as the "China-centric" focus of the Clinton administration, a policy carried out at the expense of Japan, Taiwan and other less strategically important nations.
"On the security side, we expect to see a lot more attention to Japan, to restoring balance to the strategic triangle of the U.S., China and Japan," said Mr. Wanandi, a respected voice in the region who is close to his government's thinking on foreign-policy issues.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, at his confirmation hearings, promised just such a shift, saying relationships with American allies, particularly Japan, would be the bedrock of Bush policy in the Asia-Pacific region.
"Weaken those relationships and we weaken ourselves," he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "All else in the Pacific and East Asia flows from those strong relationships."
But analysts such as Edward J. Lincoln, a Japan specialist at the Brookings Institution, were uncertain whether the new policy will be "more rhetorical than an actual commitment."
Japan's shaky domestic political landscape may mean that Asia's biggest economy isn't quite ready to carry its full share of responsibility in the region, he said.
The more difficult issues with Japan are likely to be economic rather than security-related. And those issues never have been easy to resolve.
Any real shift toward Japan will be less than welcome in Beijing, where leaders already are troubled by the enthusiasm Mr. Bush has shown for a National Missile Defense program.
There also is anxiety in Beijing over how open the new president will be to requests for new weapons from Taiwan, which the communist giant considers a renegade province.
"China is a competitor and a potential regional rival, but also a trading partner willing to cooperate in areas where our strategic interests overlap," Mr. Powell has said. "China is not an enemy, and our challenge is to keep it that way."
Mr. Powell has reaffirmed the administration's commitment to a "one China" policy but said Washington would insist on a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan issue. "We will treat China as she merits," he has promised.
Beyond China, the Bush administration needs to review the shaky agreement with North Korea to halt a missile program that threatens Japan and potentially the U.S. mainland and has provided rockets and technology to nations including Iran and Pakistan.
Mr. Bush has said he will adopt a more cautious approach to North Korea than that of his predecessor. He has said he wants further evidence the North Koreans are "upholding their end of the bargain" on halting their nuclear weapons and missile programs before moving forward with the relationship.
"There needs to be a more realistic position in dealing with North Korea," said Roh Jae-won, a former South Korean deputy foreign minister and his country's first ambassador to Beijing.
"The Clinton administration listened to Pyongyang and then gave it what it wanted. There needs to be reciprocity, and it seems Bush will insist on that."
Beyond the major powers and the hot spots China, Japan, North Korea and Taiwan Asia's policy-makers are worried about being forgotten.
"Smaller nations like the Philippines probably won't get much attention beyond trade issues," said Alex Magno, a noted political scientist in Manila.
"We'll be watching policy formulation in Washington, but we can't kid ourselves into thinking we'll have much input."
While the initial soundings from Mr. Bush have resonated in Asia, leaders here are keenly aware of his lack of foreign-policy experience and his limited exposure to the region.
The 54-year-old president visited the region just once, a quarter-century ago, when his father was the U.S. representative in Beijing.
But the appointment of several old Asia hands to senior posts has won the praise of Asian policy-makers already heartened by the presence of heavyweights such as Vice President Richard B. Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Mr. Powell.
"It's often the specialists who drive policy," said Mr. Roh, the former South Korean deputy foreign minister. "And while those appointments are still ongoing, the early choices seem encouraging."
Those choices include names familiar to policy-makers and analysts throughout Asia. Paul Wolfowitz, who was named to be deputy defense secretary, was a popular and effective ambassador to Indonesia from 1986 to 1989. He also has served as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and in a senior role at the Defense Department.
Richard Armitage, nominated as the new deputy secretary of state, has held senior trouble-shooting positions at the departments of State and Defense. A West Point graduate who served four tours of duty in Vietnam, he is considered close to Mr. Powell.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick, a former White House and Treasury Department official, has been particularly critical of the Clinton administration for favoring China at Japan's expense.
James A. Kelly, a former Navy captain with broad contacts in Asia, is the likely choice to be assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. He served as the National Security Council's senior director for Asian affairs in the late 1980s.
Regardless of the experience of the new appointees and the intentions of Mr. Bush, there are likely to be forces beyond the control of the new president as he shapes his Asia policy.
"There will be intervening factors, such as Congress and Asia itself," said Catharin E. Dalpino, a former assistant secretary of state and now an Asia scholar at the Brookings Institution.
"Congress can affect the administration's ability to move. Even the senior Bush had difficulty dealing with China after Tiananmen Square because of the uproar in Congress."

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