Getting Realism: U.S. Asia (and China) Policy Reconceived

Getting Realism: U.S. Asia (and China) Policy Reconceived

Mini Teaser: True realism about Asia transcends the Bush Administration's narrow focus on geopolitics and China.

by Author(s): George J. GilboyEric Heginbotham

Third, the United States should intensify, not reduce, military-to-military contact, including officer exchanges and regularized military communication with key nations, including China. But military ties should not be the central focus of America's relationship with any country in Asia. And exchanges should be structured to reinforce the position of technical officers and central military authorities vis-a-vis line officers (who, in many Asian states, represent the greatest threat to liberal consolidation). If designed properly, these exchanges can support the process of professionalizing Asian militaries, remind potential adversaries of America's enormous lead in relative military capabilities, and reduce the image of a threatening America. All of this can help curb the tendency of Asian reactionaries, whether of the authoritarian conservative or the communist sort, to advocate confrontation.

Fourth, the United States should support the development of regional trade and political institutions. It must ensure, however, that these groups develop in ways that are consistent with long-term American interests. America's inflexible stance on some multilateral financial issues has given rise to proposals for alternative regional economic institutions, several of which seek to fend off American participation and influence. Washington must recognize that there is a free market for ideas on economic organization in Asia, and if the United States does not compete in this market for ideas and institutions, it cannot win. Using its voice in APEC more flexibly and creatively is one way to proceed. Tacit cooperation may also be a useful strategy at times. For example, engaging China through Asian economic institutions shuch as ASEAN+3 and the Asian Development Bank serves to "de-Americanize" the image of market economics and liberalization, and makes these ideas more palatable in some Asian environments.

Fifth, American security policy in Asia should also be re-balanced. Security policy should revive inclusive, multilateral means as the norm; unilateral action should be reserved as a last resort. The United States can pursue more than one multilateral track at a time, and it can build flexible coalitions to pursue common interests on a case by case basis. Washington must recognize that most states in Asia have their own concepts of security; at least some of these views must be accommodated for coalition building to work. For example, although Japan appears unwilling to play a full partnership role in American political-military strategies, Tokyo has proved willing and able to help integrate China into liberal regional institutions, including trade groupings and security dialogues.

MUCH HAS BEEN gained in Asia's liberal transformation. Peace, prosperity and democracy have all increased. Yet throughout Asia, liberal trends that support American interests are unconsolidated and often fragile. Threats to these achievements are multiple and complex, and America must recast its engagement with Asia in a broadly pragmatic mold in order to meet them. Such a policy will enhance America's short-term military security, but more importantly, it will promote a self-sustaining cycle of liberalization in Asia, thus furthering the prospects for long-term prosperity and peace in the region.

George Gilboy and Eric Heginbotham are doctoral candidates in the political science department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Essay Types: Essay