A world power necessarily has interests that conflict with each
other. That is ever more the case in a world of many camps. The resulting
dilemmas have been on display in the past week as Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice toured the major capitals of Asia.
Rice's visits were seen as a welcome
effort to restore Asia to a central place in a U.S. foreign policy dominated
since the Sept. 11 attacks by the Middle East, "terror" and Europe. But they
also suggested that the United States has too many agendas to be able to fulfill
any of them satisfactorily. Sharper focus is especially needed given the inroads
that Beijing has been making into U.S. influence as a result of China's economic
growth and its diplomacy in search of resources - in Africa and Latin America as
well as Asia - while Washington's attention has been elsewhere.
During Rice's visit to New Delhi it was
apparent that America's obsession with Iran's nuclear program - which many in
Asia see as driven by Israel - is a major obstacle to the much closer relations
that appear to be in the long-term interests of the United States and India,
which is a beacon of secularism and democracy.
India not only needs Iranian gas but has
always seen Iran as a natural ally. A gas pipeline from Iran to India across
Pakistan would also be a symbol of Indian-Pakistani rapprochement, to which the
United States has contributed much.
America's proposed sale of fighter jets
to Pakistan, meanwhile, may buy support for the U.S. agenda on Iran and
Afghanistan but irritates India and could slow the improvement in
During Rice's visits to Seoul and Beijing
it was apparent that America's obsession with the North Korean nuclear issue is
getting in the way of other agendas. It has long puzzled East Asia that the
United States places more importance on the North Korean threat than the
neighbors who would seem the most threatened. Rice made the issue the focus of
her Beijing trip even though the United States remains at odds with Seoul and to
a lesser extent with Tokyo on how to handle Pyongyang. China, meanwhile, uses
North Korea as a handy diversion.
The central "other issue" is China's own
growing military power, which is again worrying Washington and Tokyo. This is by
far the most important issue for America's role in the world, and in Asia in
particular. The United States has a strong case to make that Europe's
determination to sell advanced weapons to China is dangerous to East Asian
stability. It links directly to the security of Japan and Taiwan at a time when
Chinese nationalism is rising and Taiwan has again been pushed higher up
Yet America's ability to influence the
Europeans - latecomers to the siren call of trade with China - and to find
common ground with Asian allies, has been diluted by the Korean and Iranian
nuclear issues and the so-called war on terror. The United States has not been
able to capitalize on the fact that many countries in Asia are wary of China
even as they embrace it for economic reasons or because they view it as the next
hegemon. America's influence will be weak if it delivers its agenda as a
doctrine from Washington rather than listening to the needs and interests of the
Asians who are its natural allies.
The proposed appointment of Paul
Wolfowitz to the World Bank also irritates developing Asia as much as Europe.
Wolfowitz is competent but represents a caste of mind inappropriate given the
current rise in importance of non-Western economic power and current U.S. debt
levels, caused by America's assumed right to enjoy both guns and butter.
That appointment reflects a broader
disconnect between U.S. foreign and economic policies. In the medium term, U.S.
relations with Asia, and China in particular, will be determined more by
management of economic and trade issues than of nuclear issues. Asia's trade
surpluses and their cause, the abysmal U.S. savings rate, are equally
unsustainable. Rice has no experience in this area and the Treasury Department
Having led the world into a dollar-based
globalization, the United States now appears to have scant idea of an
overarching policy that reconciles its political and economic interests. China,
meanwhile, has exploited liberal U.S. trade policies to build its domestic
economy and its global reach. The end of prodigal U.S. consumption and deficits
would soon remind Asia, and China in particular, of their dependence on the
United States. But current policies exacerbate U.S. vulnerabilities.
Rice may prove a quick learner and her
deputy, Robert Zoellick, will bring an economic and trade dimension to U.S.
policies. But her trip, while welcome, has highlighted U.S. dilemmas, not
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