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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs > Releases > Remarks > 2005 East Asian and Pacific Affairs Remarks, Testimony, and Speeches

U.S.-Asia Relations: The Next Four Years

Ambassador Marie T. Huhtala, Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Remarks to the Asia Society/Texas Annual Ambassadors Forum
Houston, Texas
February 11, 2005

Thank you for this opportunity to assess for you the challenges and opportunities for U.S.-Asian relations over the next four years. If there is one constant in our dynamic part of the world, it is rapid change. We can expect this trend to continue -- and possibly accelerate -- over the next 4 years.

Without question, the most cataclysmic of recent events was the horrific tsunami that roared ashore in South and Southeast Asia, as well as in East Africa, on December 26 of last year. The death toll from this tragedy may yet approach 300,000 overall. Millions of survivors have lost not only family and friends, but their livelihoods and homes as well. The physical destruction wrought by this event was among the worst we have seen in our lifetimes. I myself was astounded by the extent of the damage I saw when I traveled to Aceh and Sri Lanka in mid-January. Damage estimates are in the billions of dollars. It will take years to rebuild.

Faced with this tragedy, the international community has risen to the challenge, and the United States led the way. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, the U.S. pulled together a core group of donor countries -- with Japan, Australia, India, and the United Nations -- who immediately began to move and mobilize military forces, aid workers, and financial assets to help. On December 31, President Bush committed $350 million toward earthquake and tsunami relief efforts. Yesterday the Administration announced we will seek a supplemental appropriation of $950 million for tsunami relief and reconstruction, $600 million of which is new money.

The President eloquently set the tone for the U.S. response and for our commitment to relief and rebuilding when he said: "As the people of this devastated region struggle to recover, we offer our love and compassion, and our assurance that America will be there to help."

Besides U.S. Government assistance, American charitable organizations have raised at least $800 million from individuals, private foundations and our private sector for tsunami relief efforts. Underscoring the strong multi-dimensional American response to the tragedy, President Bush has asked former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton to lead an effort with the U.S. private sector to raise additional relief funds. These two Presidents will soon be traveling to the region to see the damage and reconstruction efforts first-hand.

The State Department has played a lead role throughout this crisis, working closely and seamlessly with our military and USAID in affected regions. An unprecedented disaster required an unprecedented response. Over 15,000 U.S. military personnel have been involved in providing relief support in affected areas. The U.S. military has delivered some 10 million tons of relief supplies, including water, food, medicine and other items, to the people of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and other affected nations. Our military’s role is now winding down as relief efforts have now shifted to a focus on longer term rehabilitation and reconstruction, but the United States is still doing much through our Embassies, USAID, and through U.S. NGOs and the private sector. Our determination to stay the course to help those in need is firm. As President Bush said, "the Government of the United States is committed to helping the people who suffer. We’re committed today and we will be committed tomorrow."

After taking the initial lead in coordinating the first stages of the international response, the U.S. and other key nations have passed these coordinating functions to the United Nations. The U.S. is working closely with the international community and those affected not only to rebuild what was lost, but just as importantly, to build the foundation for a better future. To help achieve these goals, we will work together in the coming years to address key developmental challenges, such as poverty alleviation, environmental stewardship, good governance, sustained economic growth, and reduction of civil strife (where we have seen encouraging moves towards peace between the parties in conflict in Indonesia and Sri Lanka). Finally, the Administration supports creating a global tsunami warning system to ensure that a disaster like this does not wreak the same human toll in the future.

The U.S. commitment to a long-term engagement in the relief and reconstruction process in Southeast Asia has been well received in the region, which sees it as emblematic of a positive dimension of U.S. foreign policy. Our selfless response to the tsunami crisis has cast the U.S. in a new light in important nations such as Indonesia and Malaysia. Without question, America’s generous response to this disaster has thus had an important unintended consequence in the region.

Looking more broadly at the East Asia/Pacific area, America’s traditional foreign policy priorities of security, stability, democratization, free markets, and human rights serve as anchors for our engagement with the region. A central focus as we look at the region is our desire to maintain a candid, constructive and cooperative relationship with China. All of us were reminded again of China’s growth and potential when it recently supplanted the U.S. as Japan’s main trading partner, at least temporarily. The U.S. continues to work hard to improve and enhance our relationship with the P.R.C. in ways that allow us to address common challenges, while communicating candidly about areas of disagreement.

One such challenge is our mutual dedication to a Korean peninsula that is free from the threat of nuclear weapons. The long-standing tension on the Korean peninsula continues to pose a potential threat to regional stability. In the multilateral framework of the Six-Party Talks that bring both Koreas, Japan, Russia, China, and the U.S. to the negotiating table, the P.R.C. has played a valuable role. We continue to encourage China to take an even more active stance in persuading North Korean that its security and prosperity are best assured by casting its nuclear ambitions aside and ending its nuclear weapons programs.

The North Koreans have remained unwilling to deliver on the commitment they made last June to return to the Six-Party Talks. Our position is that we are prepared to return to the negotiating table at any time without preconditions. The U.S. remains committed to the Six-Party diplomatic process as the best way forward for North Korea to address the concerns of the international community about its nuclear program and to end its international isolation. Pyongyang’s continued intransigence can only increase that isolation.

On the economic front, China is undertaking important measures to liberalize capital flows, to restructure its banks, and to develop a currency derivative market. While China clearly needs to do more, these are all steps in the right direction.

Another challenge we face in dealing with the P.R.C. is the continuing tension across the Taiwan Strait. We continue to stress to both sides the importance of dialogue so they can reach a peaceful resolution of their differences. We also continue to discourage unilateral moves by either side that threaten the status quo. We have been encouraged by positive moves by both parties, such as the recent start of direct cross-Strait flights during the Lunar New Year holiday period. We will also continue to make our positions clearly known to the Chinese on the issues of Hong Kong, human rights, religious practice, and the encouraging of a dialogue with the Dalai Lama.

Strengthening our alliances with our five treaty allies in the region -- Japan, Australia, South Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand -- remains a central foreign policy priority for the U.S. It is no exaggeration to say that U.S. relations with Japan are the best they’ve ever been. Japan has become an even more vital and active partner with the U.S., both in the region and worldwide. Japan has been a major player in rebuilding Afghanistan and Iraq, and we increasingly coordinate assistance efforts between us -- the two largest providers of governmental foreign assistance programs worldwide. Japanese Self-Defense Forces are deployed in Iraq providing humanitarian and reconstruction assistance, Japan’s first such overseas deployment in the post-WWII era, and were involved in Asian tsunami relief, as well. We cooperate with Japan in the Six-Party Talks on North Korea, in which Japan has a major stake. Beyond these issues, the Japanese people are increasingly supportive of their country’s need to play an enhanced role in regional and global affairs. Finally, we are working on challenging trade issues with our Japanese partners in a spirit of cooperation, and we are working hard to resolve the issue of Japan’s ban on U.S. beef imports brought on by fears of BSE-mad cow disease.

Already vigorous relations with Australia have advanced to a new level, having been enhanced by stronger defense, non-proliferation and counterterrorism ties, as well as by broadened intelligence cooperation. Australia has dispatched troops to both Afghanistan and Iraq. The recent historic Free Trade Agreement has diminished barriers to trade.

We are strengthening our strategic alliance with South Korea, working to anchor bilateral relations more deeply and on a more equal basis. Perhaps no other country in the region has made such tremendous strides in the last few years in strengthening democratic government and advancing economic development. As a new generation of leaders emerges which has no direct experience of the Korean War and which is often suspicious of U.S. motives, we are reaching out to younger Koreans, establishing new friendships and invigorating our public diplomacy. We appreciate South Korea’s sizeable contribution to the Coalition effort in Iraq and its central role working with us in the Six-Party on North Korea. By stressing the many shared interests we have to the younger generation of South Korean leaders and opinion-makers, we can strengthen the foundations of our future relations with this strategic partner.

The Philippines was one of the first Coalition partners to send forces to Iraq, and in 2003 the U.S. named that country a Major Non-NATO Ally. While we were disappointed at the sudden withdrawal of their troops from Iraq following the kidnapping of a Filipino citizen last year, our alliance remains strong and we continue to cooperate well on a broad array of issues.

Our alliance relationship with Thailand has steadily strengthened over the years. We are grateful that Thailand allowed the U.S., the UN and the international community to use Utapao Naval Air Base as a regional hub for humanitarian assistance to areas affected by the tsunami. Whether in Afghanistan, Iraq or in the War on Terror, Thailand has been a staunch partner and ally. Recognizing the strength of the alliance, President Bush designated Thailand as a Major Non-NATO Ally in 2003. Thai leadership at the 2003 APEC Forum was instrumental in ensuring that key security issues were addressed in conjunction with trade and economic concerns.

Increased cooperation continues between the U.S and many of the countries in the region, as we are limited to working with our formal allies. On counterterrorism, governments throughout the region have worked to freeze terrorist assets, and Malaysia has established a regional counter-terrorism training center for which the U.S. has provided several courses. After Indonesia suffered a devastating bomb attack in Bali in October 2002, in which almost 200 people died, that government has taken major steps to combat terrorism, arresting terrorist operatives, putting them on trial, and convicting them.

The United States and others, notably Australia, have provided assistance to Indonesia in its campaign against terror. Our cooperation has added to the vitality of our relationship with this burgeoning democracy and contributed in no small measure to the safety and security of the entire region. As we look to the future, we should remind ourselves that the coming months will offer America an unprecedented opportunity to forge an even closer partnership with the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation and one of the world’s most dynamic and growing democracies. Our success in forging such a relationship will send a profound message to the region and the world.

The economic dimension of our engagement in the region is an important element of our overall foreign policy approach. Our trade with the region totals over $600 billion a year -- exceeding our trade with the EU -- and its volume is increasing at a rapid rate. The region is home to almost 30% of the world’s population; it accounts for over a quarter of global production and nearly a quarter of world trade. All these figures are growing rapidly, too. The region imports 40% of U.S. agricultural exports and supports, directly and indirectly, millions of American jobs.

For all these reasons, our economic policy has four major goals: opening markets for U.S. goods and services, improving the region’s overall business climate, maintaining a stable economic environment favoring free trade and sustainable growth, and encouraging regional cooperation. To open markets for our goods and services, we have worked to put the Doha Round of the WTO negotiations back on track. Trade barriers have been reduced through new Free Trade Agreements with Singapore and Australia; we have also opened FTA talks with Thailand. In addition, the U.S. has Trade and Investment Framework Agreements with a number of Southeast Asian partners.

China has been a major Administration focus in this area. Although China has made some strides in opening its markets since its WTO accession, we continue to have serious concerns, especially regarding IPR enforcement, standards, transparency and services. Encouraged by pledges by the Chinese leadership to honor their market-access commitments, we will remain deeply engaged with the Chinese until they implement all their WTO commitments.

To make the business environment in the region more favorable for the business community, we have made progress developing transportation links, opening up Asian civil aviation and telecommunications industries, combating corruption, and in engaging countries in dialogue on business climate reform. Working through the International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Maritime Organization, we have helped make air and maritime services more secure for both passengers and cargo. The U.S. Container Security Initiative now includes many ports in Asia. Although we have achieved some good results improving intellectual property rights protection, we will need to continue combating the piracy and counterfeiting still found in far too many parts of the region.

To ensure a stable macroeconomic climate, we have successfully encouraged our Asian partners to adopt more prudent and sustainable fiscal policies, monetary policies focused on price stability, and to increase openness to international trade and capital flows. The results have been lowered interest rates, no major foreign exchange or balance of payments crises, and among those economies with flexible exchange rates, decreased volatility. We are encouraged by the strong signs of economic recovery in Japan, and note that China is maintaining a robust economic growth rate. The financial crisis of 1997-1998 seems long ago.

We strongly support regional organizations that seek to address the economic, political and security challenges facing the region. Working with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, the Administration has provided active leadership in its ASEAN Regional Forum, and has supported confidence-building measures and cooperative work in such vital areas as enhancing the security of Southeast Asia’s strategic waterways, non-proliferation, and counterterrorism. The United States participates actively in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, or APEC. APEC provides a unique opportunity for leaders from around the region to meet annually, and President Bush participated at the last gathering in Chile in November of last year. We note that there has been a growing trend by our Asian partners to establish more regional organizations among themselves. We welcome them as they offer additional fora to engage on a multilateral level to address issues we are unable to resolve through bilateral approaches. That said, we will never say no to a seat at the table, or at least in the room!

The Administration has strongly supported and been encouraged by the strengthening of democracy in the region, particularly in Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Hong Kong. In Indonesia’s most recent elections, 117 million people voted, one million more than voted in the U.S. November
elections last year, even though we have a larger population than Indonesia. In the February 6 parliamentary elections in Thailand, over 70% of eligible voters went to the polls. Throughout this period of democratic awakening, the United States has stood by the emerging democracies in the region, providing assistance and support for the strengthening of democratic institutions.

We continue to closely monitor developments in Burma and remain deeply concerned about the safety and welfare of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners. We will continue to press Burma’s leaders to engage in dialogue with the democratic opposition and ethnic minorities, to release all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally, and to take steps to allow the free expression of the fundamental human rights of the people of Burma.

The United States will continue to lead the way in alleviating human misery by fighting global scourges such as human trafficking, the spread of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, narcotics trafficking, and international crime, and by promoting human rights. Far more attention and resources are being devoted to these issues than in the past. President Bush has committed an unprecedented $15 billion over 5 years to combat HIV/AIDS. Also under the President’s leadership, Vietnam was added as the 15th country to receive funds under his Emergency Plan for AIDS relief. The President has also created the Millennium Challenge Account to demonstrate American leadership in international development. The MCA is a bold initiative that will provide the greatest level of foreign development assistance since the Marshall Plan. Through the MCA, the U.S. provides development assistance to nations with proven track records of good governance, investing in their people, encouraging economic freedom, and combating corruption. Congress approved $1 billion in start-up funding last year, and we hope to increase this to $5 billion annually by next year. Of the 16 poor countries selected initially to participate in the program, two are in our region: Mongolia and Vanuatu. In addition, the Philippines and East Timor have been designated MCD Threshold countries.

I hope I have given you a brief but reasonable overview of some of the future trends, together with our foreign policy priorities, in the region. Although most of the region is at peace, and democracy and economic development are advancing, many problems and challenges remain. Besides those I have already mentioned, there are two additional security issues I should note. One is maritime security. Half of the world’s oil flows to markets in the region and beyond through the Strait of Malacca. We are working closely with nations that border the Strait and which have sovereign responsibility for its security to enhance their capabilities and increase their cooperation in order to prevent a range of transnational maritime crime, including smuggling, trafficking and potential acts of terrorism.

We remain concerned about proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by state to state transfer, but we also realize the danger of WMD falling into the hands of terrorist organizations. For this reason we have initiated the Proliferation Security Initiative to stop the transit in these deadly weapons. Our allies Australia and Japan are core participants in this Initiative, along with Singapore.

America’s engagement with the nations of East Asia and the Pacific region is robust, and can only grow more so. Our foreign policy record and priorities demonstrate an intensifying American involvement. We will play a key and sustained role in tsunami reconstruction. The United States is an Asia-Pacific country, not only by geography, but also by our openness to free trade, our support for democratic government, our interest in global security and stability, and the close ties of millions of Americans of Asian origin. We are, and will remain, an essential and engaged power in the region. Thank you.

Released on February 28, 2005

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