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December 13, 2005

Odd Man Out in Asia
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

This is an interesting but disturbing piece about the consolidation and integration underway in Asia which, for the first time since WWII is creating an alliance that expressly excludes the US.

The first-ever East Asia Summit convenes Wednesday and will involve 16 nations including China, India, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Idonesia, Australia and New Zealand.  This is the first regional grouping to include both China and India, who have opted to deliberately leave us out.

Those who have had the mindshare for anything apart from the fight against terror and WMD have been talking about the pressing need for the US to deepen its alliances with India and others in order to secure our foothold in a rapidly changing Asia, and create forums for joint action with those that share our cautiousness about China's rapid rise.  But Bush's most recent visit to the region was a breather from the relentless pressures in Iraq more than anything else.

The perception among some commentators in the region is that the Administration's single-minded focus on terrorism has come at the expense of Asian priorities, leaving a power vaccuum that China has filled.   This seems right to me.   We may look back on the last 5 years as a period in which we dropped the ball, overlooking critical realignments that may leave American power fundamentally weaker for reasons having little to do with terrorism and WMD.   

Chinese military and economic power and its appetite for resouces are growing exponentially.   Our values, our culture, and our political system are potentially formidable factors that should shore up America's global influence.   But the persuasive power of our values, culture, etc. have been fundamentally eroded over the last 5 years, and China has taken advantage of the gap we've left.   If we're not careful, we may look back on the convening of the East Asian Summit as a milestone along the road to diminished US influence in Asia and around the globe.


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In several other recent reports on the East Asian Summit, the main theme seems to be the recent growth in US influence, since the summit was first conceived by Mahathir Mohammed. China and the Asia-only camp have apparently been
by Japan to give the summit a decidedly broader, more pro-western and less Asia-centric outlook. The Asean + 3 formula has become a broader Asean + 3 + 3 grouping.

Whether the exclusion of the United States is or is not causally connected to US neglect or lack of interest in the region is an open question. Some of the participants have mentioned that allged neglect as a justification for the exclusion, but that may just be a pretext for a process that would be going forward in any case.

But taking a longer view, the continuation of the trend toward consolidation in Asia and declining US influence in the region is probably inevitable. The United States cannot simply choose to have whatever level of global influence it wishes to have, simply by virtue of a triumph of the will. The decline of US power in relative terms is due to global economic developments that are only minimally within US control. Asean has been around for four decades. But there is no way we can expect the US to maintain the same level of influence it had in Asia during the 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's, in the wake of the dynamic growth that has occurred in the region. Isn't it inevitable that as Asian countries to grow in economic strength, they will gradually draw together economically, and assume more of the burden of providing for their own security? And couldn't this be a good thing for the US in the long run? So long as we work to maintain solid relations with the Asian nations, it might be a good thing to be relieved of the costly burden of projecting power halfway across the world, and in sufficient levels to influence or dominate half the world's population.

And is the interest of the people of the region best served by keeping the states there divided, playing them off against each other, and preventing them from achieving their full economic potential in order to maintain US power at any price? Must we view Asian integration as "disturbing"? Is it really so bad for us if we are not invited to every Asian party?

Are you concerned with continuing the spread of democratic values or US power?

China is modernizing politically as a result of its economic advancement, just as the West did. To imagine otherwise -that we are necessary- is merely the presumption of strong. It's very modern to imagine oneself outside of history, or as its inventor. It's the biggest intellectual error of the 20th century. We can be helpful but not more.
If you're simply a nationalist that's fine; but confusing the issue only leads to justifiable accusations of hypocisy

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This is a good,common sense article.Very helpful to one who is just finding the resouces about this part.It will certainly help educate me.

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