- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

United States in AsiaThe SARS outbreak has replaced Iraq in headlines in Asian newspapers, but Asian countries are well-aware that the war established the United States as the world’s supreme power, Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said last night.”America is unlikely to be seriously challenged by any other country or group of countries for a very long time,” he said in the keynote address at the annual Asia Society dinner in Washington.Mr. Goh spoke to the society after he and President Bush signed a free-trade agreement.Mr. Goh said U.S. responsibilities in East Asia are also clear.”The U.S. remains vital to East Asian peace, stability and prosperity,” he said, adding that U.S.-Chinese relations are the most important in the region.”China is an immense opportunity and a great competitive challenge,” he said. “A prosperous and globally integrated China is in all our interests. A poor and isolated China will pose challenges without opportunities. It will be like North Korea 60 times over.”Mr. Goh urged the United States to continue working to improve the United Nations, which he recognized was damaged by its refusal to support the liberation of Iraq.”The world needs the U.N.,” he said. “But leadership backed by power is needed to construct and sustain strong international institutions.”When the Security Council failed to support the pre-eminent world power in a matter that was of vital interest to its security, multilateralism and the U.N. were the losers.”Mr. Goh warned of the threat of Islamic extremism in several countries in the region, especially in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. While Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Australia were among U.S. supporters, many nations opposed the war in Iraq, in some cases to appease restless Muslim mobs.”We saw it as a defining moment of history and supported the U.S.,” he said.”Southeast Asians were stunned by the swift U.S. victory in Iraq and sobered by the jubilation of many Iraqis at the fall of Saddam Hussein,” Mr. Goh added.”This helped contain protests. The confidence of terrorists and extremists was also seriously dented [while] the confidence of those fighting terrorism and extremism was boosted.”Mr. Goh said Asia is working hard to contain severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and is bracing for the expected economic blow from the loss of tourism and other commerce. The disease also has awakened the region to the threat of biological terrorism.”SARS is only a small foretaste of the impact of a biological attack on East Asia,” he said.Lebanon discovers plotThe Lebanese army discovered a plot to assassinate U.S. Ambassador Vincent Battle after arresting suspects in a series of bombings at fast-food restaurants.They planned to kill the ambassador using a rocket-propelled grenade when he visited Tripoli late last year, news reports from Beirut said yesterday.The army issued a statement saying the group’s leader, Khaled Mohammed Ali, revealed a plot to kill “the ambassador of a great power.” Unidentified officials told reporters that Ali, during questioning after his arrest Saturday, confessed that Mr. Battle was the target.The army has been arresting suspected members of the terrorist network, which was not identified, since an April 5 attack on a McDonald’s restaurant in Beirut.Priority No. 1Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez yesterday said terrorism is the top priority in U.S.-Mexican relations, despite Mexico’s desire to get legal status for about 3.5 million illegal Mexican immigrants in the United States.”After the September 11 attacks, it became clear for everyone — for each and every nation, and in particular for Mexico and the United States — the priority number one in our relations is the fight against terrorism,” he told the Center for Strategic and International Studies.Mr. Derbez also hopes to begin repairing the damage to U.S.-Mexican relations from Mexico’s opposition to the war in Iraq.”It is a little bit sad that perceptions will be shaped by this image … that Mexico and the United States had one difference, but no one is saying how many agreements we are facing,” he said.

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