After 9/11, many observers depicted the Bush administration as simply ignoring Northeast Asia. The emphasis on alliances announced at the start of the term was seen as totally subordinated to the Global War on Terrorism, Afghanistan and, eventually, Iraq. Now, as we enter the final two years of Mr. Bush’s term, the policy balance seems once again to be shifting-although not in as dramatic a fashion,
However, as the pendulum makes this modest swing back, it is worth noting that the character of many U.S. relationships with the region has changed. China, once held at arms length, is now perhaps the most evident success story in terms of a new set of cooperative relations. Taiwan, which found great comfort in George Bush’s April 2001 pledge to do “whatever it took” to protect it, today finds itself more tolerated than embraced. The principal American allies, Japan and South Korea, while still mainstays of shared U.S. interests and values, are experiencing some tension in ties with Washington. And North Korea, initially shunned as a negotiating partner and currently no more beloved than before, has become the object of potentially serious negotiations that are shaping much of U.S. policy throughout the area.
Some would question whether the United States really has a “policy” for Northeast Asia, arguing that what passes for policy is merely the agglomeration of a set of specific country-focused relationships, with ad hoc linkages. This is not a frivolous or unimportant question and the answer is not immediately clear. For the moment, the answer would still seem to lean more toward the side of specific relationships joined by necessity. Nonetheless, in addition to the broader implications of China’s rise, there does seem to be a growing interconnectedness among the US policy concerns in the region, many of them revolving at least in part around the question of North Korea.
The publication of this article was made possible by the support from the Korea Foundation.