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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs > Releases > Remarks > 2002 East Asian and Pacific Affairs Remarks, Testimony, and Speeches

Issues in U.S.-East Asia Policies

James A. Kelly, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Remarks before the Asia Society
Washington, DC
April 4, 2002

I want to thank you for the opportunity to make this address from the podium of the Asia Society, which has had such a long and distinguished history of involvement with Asian issues, culture, and people. I would like to thank Judy ((Sloan)), Director of the Asia Society's Washington Center, in particular for her kind invitation to appear here today.

The Society makes an invaluable contribution to helping Americans and Asians understand one another. Its work is more relevant today than ever, as the nations of the world seek to work together to confront the challenge of international terrorism.

The President in Asia

Last October, as the United States was working intensely to build the international counterterrorism (CT) coalition and to launch Operation Enduring Freedom, President Bush broke away and flew to Shanghai to attend the annual APEC leaders' meeting. The trip at that critical time was an indication of the importance of Asia to the United States. The APEC meeting became a forum for regional CT awareness and coordination. President Bush had to postpone planned visits to Tokyo, Seoul, and Beijing, but he returned to Asia at the first opportunity in February.

On his second trip, President Bush had an opportunity to visit these three Asian capitals to renew and to deepen his personal relationships -- in which he places great importance -- with Prime Minister Koizumi, President Kim Dae-Jung, and with President Jiang Zemin. He also met with Premier Zhu and Vice President Hu while in Beijing.

The President thanked each leader for the excellent counterterrorism cooperation that we have received. But in a highly visible way, the President's trip reinforced our larger foreign policy strategy for Asia. The trip demonstrated our enduring core alliance relationships with Japan and South Korea and it reflected our desire to set a positive course for our complex and ever changing relationship with China. The importance of these countries to the United States can hardly be overstated. They are essential to our efforts to preserve East Asian peace and security, to encourage the growth of democracy and civil society, and to promote economic development, reform, and transparency.

The President's visit underscored the progress we are making in these areas. For example, China is now a WTO member and increasingly a part of the global economy. Japan, under the courageous leadership of Prime Minister Koizumi, is addressing economic reform issues. And, in South Korea, beyond returning to economic health, democracy will again be celebrated in national elections later this year.

Unfortunately, I don't have the time to address all the themes that the President raised in Asia, or that interest us all, but I would like to share with you my thoughts on some salient U.S. policy issues in East Asia on which we are focusing our attention -- counterterrorism, the Korean Peninsula, transnational threats, and the potential for greater cooperation in Southeast Asia.

Post September 11

The response of East Asian nations to the tragedy of September 11 and their cooperation in the international coalition against terrorism has been truly exceptional. Our ever-dependable treaty allies in the region responded quickly. Australia led the way as Prime Minister Howard was visiting Washington when the Pentagon was attacked. We received an unprecedented level of support -- Japan, South Korea, and Australia, in particular, providing invaluable response. The Philippines has worked closely with our forces to halt terrorist groups within its borders. Singapore and Thailand have been exceptionally helpful. New Zealand has sent combat troops to Afghanistan, and we were very happy to see Prime Minister Clark receive thanks from the President last week here. China's response has been very encouraging, helping to establish a new spirit of cooperation with the United States that we hope to build on in the future. Other Asian friends are contributing generously as well, notably Malaysia with its recent police action against terrorists within its borders, and others that have offered landing and overflight rights.

As a result of the President's highly successful trip, the Administration is poised to engage East Asia more fully than ever. We want to expand on the cooperation that we have built with East Asian nations in the CT coalition and use this cooperation to address the whole range of challenges that face all of our nations in the new century.

Cooperation with East Asia

East Asia is developing rapidly, and security threats increasingly stem from non-state organizations with ties in many states. These threats include -- obviously -- terrorists, but also narcotics, small arms trafficking, environmental degradation, HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, and trafficking in persons. Then there is growing disparity in economic and political development and quality of life among some in the region. For example, infectious diseases are already a major problem and are likely to become an epidemic in our region. Another clear example is trafficking in women and children, with three ASEAN members ranked among the most serious violators in last year's inaugural Trafficking in Persons Report.

As history demonstrates, the United States has played a leadership role in both economic development and military security in the region. South Korea, for example, has transformed from one of the world's least developed countries, a country ravaged by a succession of brutal wars and violent conflicts and hobbled by a peasant economy of subsistence agriculture, into a modern state with a large middle class and stable political and economic institutions. Koreans have earned the credit for all of this extraordinary change, but some of it can be attributed to South Korea's enduring security, economic, and political alliance with the United States. While the Korean miracle cannot be exactly duplicated, there is much to learn from South Korea's experience.

At the Department, my colleagues and I in the East Asian Bureau are asking how the U.S. stabilizing influence can promote change of such magnitude in other countries in the region, particularly those of the dynamic, but now lagging, Southeast Asian region. Let us look first at the distance Korea has traveled over the last 40 years.

South Korea has developed from an undeveloped economy into a high-tech powerhouse that competes successfully in the international marketplace and is a highly valued trade and investment partner of the United States. It survived a presidency with an executive tolerating little dissent, to become a multi-party democracy with an independent judiciary and a powerful National Assembly.

Korean democracy evolved with the removal of the military from political life in the early 1990s, engineered by President Roh Tae-Woo, himself a former general. He took advantage of a great Olympics to open Seoul's diplomatic options, too. President Kim Dae-Jung and his predecessor, Kim Yong-Sam, deserve great credit for their extraordinary sacrifices and personal risks taken along the road to South Korean democracy. In solidifying the evolution of democracy in South Korea and guiding his country through the perils of financial upheaval, not to mention his bold "Sunshine" policy reaching out to North Korea, Kim Dae-Jung has secured a place in the history of his country and the world. When he steps down in ten months at the end of his 5-year term, he will leave behind a strong and vibrant South Korean democracy.

The Republic of Korea is now taking the democratization process a step further by reaching out beyond its borders and contributing to international efforts to strengthen democratic institutions in other countries. It will host the next international meeting of the Community of Democracies in November of this year, it sent peacekeeping troops to East Timor last year, and it is assuming a higher profile role in the United Nations. And, with Japan, it will host Asia's first World Cup.

While Korea has rich cultural traditions and has had historical periods of great regional power, its modern political and economic institutions are almost unrecognizable compared with just two decades ago. How did this transformation occur? I would argue that the U.S. stabilizing presence in South Korea allowed South Korea to write its own success story. America's commitment to Korea's independence and territorial integrity meant stationing U.S. troops -- now some 37,000 -- in South Korea to help defend an ally committed to democracy, peace, and prosperity. But it was not our troop presence that forced change on the R.O.K.; rather, our presence has given South Korea the security "space" to develop its own modern institutions, resulting in South Korean institutions created by and for South Koreans. It is increasingly clear that the R.O.K. represents the real future of the Korean Peninsula.

Just as the December elections will both confirm and strengthen democracy in Korea, their outcome will reflect the nation's changing moods. As President Kim Dae-Jung steps off the national stage, a new generation of leaders with new visions for Korea's future are coming forward. As a rule, democracy develops unpredictably, and we need to remind ourselves that Korea's next leadership may seek to redefine the nation's relationship with the United States in ways that may challenge our traditional role in Korea. We will be watching the election campaign closely and, whatever the outcome, we look forward to working closely with the next Korean Administration.

The changes in the South make North Korea look sterile and stagnant in comparison. Pyongyang has strangled its own economic development and starved its people to build a massive military force and to arm it with missiles and weapons of mass destruction that pose a grave threat to South Korea and to the United States. This situation has placed South Korea under a constant military threat, one of the last states in East Asia at risk of attack by another state.

We believe the North should live up to its basic agreements with the South -- for example, to complete rebuilding and to reopen the rail link to the South. We think that the North should cease the dangerous practice of exporting ballistic missiles to rogue states. We also want to help the North alleviate the human suffering that it has created in its own backyard while devoting its scarce resources to building a vast military machine. Further, we believe that the North should respond positively to Kim Dae-Jung's "Sunshine" policy of greater interaction between North and South. And, we hope the recent announcement of the North's willingness to recommence interaction with the South and with Japan, will improve the security situation on the peninsula.

As the President made clear in Seoul, we have no desire for hostilities with the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (D.P.R.K.), and we certainly have no intention of invading the North. But, as the President also stated at the DMZ, "we cannot permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most dangerous weapons."

We are firm toward the North; but, we are also cautiously encouraged. In our routine contacts with North at the UN, we have seen greater receptivity and greater interest in expanding the dialogue. We are pleased that envoys from Japan and South Korea, our TCOG partners, are traveling to North Korea and we hope that new contacts between North Korea and the United States may also be possible. I will be leaving for Tokyo the day after tomorrow to continue the TCOG coordination process with our second such meeting of this year.

Meanwhile, we are honoring the Agreed Framework, the 1994 D.P.R.K.-U.S. agreement about nuclear facilities and power, and in spite of the difficulties in dealing with North Korea, we are convinced of the correctness of our approach. We are prepared to engage in dialogue with the North Koreans anytime, anywhere, and any place, without conditions, and we urge the North to respond in a positive manner. We hope that the recently announced South-North initiatives develop into a productive dialogue leading to an improved situation on the peninsula and to enhanced contact between a tragically divided people.

Let me turn to the southern side East Asia -- the 1- nations of Southeast Asia and their Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). With a combined population of over 500 million, ASEAN has the talent and resources to be a major actor on the world stage. However, for a number of reasons -- the Asian financial crisis; differing economic and political development levels of its members; and the preoccupation of ASEAN's largest member, Indonesia, with domestic concerns -- ASEAN is not living up to its potential.

ASEAN's raison d'etre is regional stability. And, indeed, Southeast Asia has come a long way from the unstable, often chaotic, region of four decades ago. ASEAN, by its very existence, has dramatically altered and improved the security of Southeast Asia to become a region of nations largely at peace with one another. Nevertheless, ASEAN faces a litany of transnational threats -- from terrorism, narcotics, human trafficking, and piracy to HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, and environmental degradation. An integrated, healthy, and powerful ASEAN would have the institutional strength to deal with these transnational threats. If ASEAN does not harness its collective political will to address these threats, it will fall short of advancing regional stability.

To assist ASEAN to develop positively, the United States needs to engage more with ASEAN members and with the organization, and we will. What we can offer first and foremost is a stabilizing U.S. presence in the region. It is clear to me that ASEAN nations recognize and appreciate American presence as beneficial to the region and supportive of the unprecedented security the region enjoys today. We need to build on this good will to strengthen ASEAN institutions so that the organization can promote change for the better.

Americans have always been strong supporters of ASEAN, but now the time is ripe to do more. Other nations are. For example, China is taking an increasingly active role in expanding its commercial ties with ASEAN countries. Moreover, China's commercial activity signals confidence in the region's future. As foreign entities working in ASEAN, Chinese companies have as legitimate a right to participate in trade and investment opportunities as American companies do. Americans must realize that ASEAN countries have options -- one big one being China -- and to maintain our influence in the development of commerce and industry in ASEAN, we must participate to the fullest extent at every opportunity.

Commerce is already a cornerstone of our relations with the ASEAN region. ASEAN is our third-largest overseas market after NAFTA and Japan. Americans shipped exports worth $43 billion to ASEAN countries last year and imported $76 billion worth of goods. As the ASEAN nations develop, there is still vast potential for expanded commercial relations with the U.S. and U.S. companies. Full implementation of the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) would attract commercial activity to that part of Asia, encourage economic reform, reinforce U.S. commercial presence, and help balance trade and investment flows to Asia so that one country does not use its growing economic prowess to dominate the region.

A stronger ASEAN would have the economic muscle to determine its own future and for that reason the United States fully supports ASEAN's plan for AFTA. Separately, we are already negotiating a free trade agreement with one ASEAN member, Singapore, and are looking at other ways to encourage increased trade in the rest of the region.

ASEAN also shares our concerns about terrorism and promises to be a very useful forum for crafting a regional CT strategy. ASEAN members were quick to respond to efforts to build an international CT coalition against al-Qaeda. They need to be on continued alert to identify and to eliminate terrorist cells that may be present or may try to put down roots in their countries. We are encouraged that ASEAN members are increasingly sharing CT intelligence information. It is through greater coordination on CT that ASEAN states on the front lines of the war on terrorism will be able to win this battle.

In addition to our CT concerns, we recognize that ASEAN has the potential to become the conduit through which we channel mutual concerns about the trafficking of humans, illicit drugs and small arms, and other issues that threaten regional stability.

We have no interest in establishing new formal alliances beyond those that we already enjoy with individual ASEAN countries. Just as our alliance with South Korea remains only one facet of an extraordinary relationship, so too do we hope that our relations with ASEAN and individual ASEAN nations develop along the lines that can lead to mutually beneficial regional and individual partnerships.

Finally, we have serious human rights concerns with some ASEAN member countries, as the State Department annual Human Rights Report and the new Trafficking in Persons Report, convey. Heretofore, human rights have not been a major ASEAN agenda item, in part because of concerns about interference in members' internal affairs. Other regional organizations have created human rights mechanisms to assist their members to address these difficult issues. We support ASEAN's continuing efforts to create an ASEAN Human Rights Commission and we have asked the Asia Foundation to pursue this mechanism with ASEAN. Respect for the basic universal standards of individual human rights is not only an integral part of United States foreign policy; it also benefits all citizens of the global community.

As we look forward to the challenge of assisting ASEAN reach its full potential, we have continuing bilateral issues with a number of governments within the region that require prompt attention and resolution.

Our most significant concerns in ASEAN are with Burma, one of ASEAN's newest and least developed members. Burma's problems increasingly spill across its borders, especially into Thailand, and are a destabilizing force in this sub-region. Burmese narcotics production and trafficking, particularly the flow of methamphetamines, destroys lives and attacks the social fabric of neighboring Thailand. Continued Burmese harassment of ethnic minorities creates refugee flows into Thailand, India, and Bangladesh, and has sparked a crisis of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) inside Burma. The Burmese Government's reluctance to address widespread and documented forced labor violations and to agree to the mandates of the International Labor Organization (ILO) are major human rights concerns.

We were encouraged last year when the Burmese regime initiated talks with the democratic opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy. These contacts led to the release of several hundred political prisoners and reopening of some National League of Democracy offices, but, after almost 18 months, have yet to move beyond the confidence-building stage to substantive improvements. It is time to see some real results in Rangoon.

UN Special Envoy for Burma Ambassador Razali, who has done an excellent job, was scheduled to visit Burma on March 19. The visit was postponed, for reasons that are not fully clear to us. There appears to be some decidedly non-transparent issues of political power in Burma and it now appears that Ambassador Razali's trip will be rescheduled. However, this unexplained holdup is troubling and many of us are upset at the slow pace of reconciliation. Burma needs to move ahead faster.

Ambassador Razali's visit will be an opportunity for the Burmese to show the international community their sincerity about reform and national reconciliation, and to take some of the actions that they have been hinting at -- such as the release of Aung San Suu Kyi -- for some time.

Other Countries

There are other concerns that also need to be addressed.

Vietnam needs to move ahead promptly with economic and financial reforms. Foreign investors need assurances that the nation's legal and regulatory regime will protect their investments. Our Bilateral Trade Agreement has turned a new page in our relations with Vietnam. It is my hope that both nations can take advantage of this Agreement to develop new and stronger commercial ties. Most Americans, especially our large community of Vietnamese-Americans, are ready to put history behind us and move forward. Dealing in a constructive manner with POW/MIA concerns would also further this process. We hope that Vietnam will increasingly become integrated into the international community and observant of international norms, including conventions on human rights and the treatment of refugees.

In the Philippines, our essential partner in the war on terrorism, we are resuming intensive military cooperation with its armed forces after a lapse following the closure of military bases in 1992. For our relationship to reach its full potential, these highly positive developments need to be matched by progress in the area of economic reform. I am very pleased with President Macapagal-Arroyo's determination to make economic reform and good governance a priority. I applaud her efforts and I encourage her to move ahead.

Finally, our relationship with Cambodia was shaken by the events of 1997, but has seen recent improvement. Cambodia has concluded a novel trade agreement with the U.S. that protects human rights. It has chosen the right course in discharging its obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention. We need to encourage the process of democratic evolution in Cambodia and we urge the United Nations and the government of Cambodia to resume talks aimed at creating an effective and credible Khmer Rouge Tribunal.Conclusion

These difficult issues are indicative of the long and painful process of integration that lies ahead for ASEAN. The United States is ready as a partner in its development. We can play an important role in helping this process move forward toward economic development and prosperity, and the development of responsive and democratic political institutions.

As in Northeast Asia, the stability that the United States brings to Southeast Asia is not just one of balance and status quo. Rather, the stability that we can build together is one that values creativity, productivity, and freedom. This is a dynamic model -- much like we see in South Korea.

Ultimately, I am confident that this process within ASEAN will create a polity that addresses the critical internal needs of these ten nations, projects its interests externally in international fora, and establishes a large and stable space in Southeast Asia that was envisioned at ASEAN's founding 34 years ago. Thank you.


ASEAN Country Issues


The Northern Half of the Peninsula

South Korea: It's Come a Long Way

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