US ‘is still vital’ for growth of Asia-Pacific

THE United States still had a vital role to play in the Asia-Pacific despite its reduced economic power and military presence in the region, the head of an Indonesian think-tank said yesterday.

“Pax Americana for the last 50 years made the region relatively peaceful, stable and dynamic. US presence is still vital for the region’s dynamism,” said Mr Jusuf Wanandi of the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

Speaking at a luncheon talk organised by the Foreign Correspondents Association, Mr Wanandi said the US was crucial to the region for economic and strategic reasons.

Economically, he noted that the US was still the biggest market in the world despite what critics said about its weakened economy.

On the security front, it was a “balancer” against China and a “guarantor” for Japan and other Asian countries, he told the 60 journalists and diplomats who attended the talk at Raffles Hotel.

Since World War II, security in the Asia-Pacific has been based primarily on a series of bilateral relationships with the US.

Washington has described itself as the hub, its separate treaties with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand radiating out like the spokes of a wheel.

While this had secured peace and stability in the region, the post-Cold War environment required that the Clinton administration complement its bilateral alliances with a multilateral approach to regional problems.

The Clinton administration, unlike its predecessors, has embraced this approach.

But even then, he noted that US policies in Bosnia, Somalia and Haiti still indicated a preference for unilateralism and bilateralism.

“It is not easy to change overnight,” he said.

He noted that US-Asian relations had recently been infected with disputes over human rights, trade and other concerns.

While the tug-of-war with China over human rights was resolved, there were still trade disputes with Japan, disagreements with Taiwan and problems over workers’ rights with Indonesia.

“It is self-defeating,” he said, for Asian countries to engage in US bashing, as it could reduce Washington’s political will to be committed to the region.

But Asian countries would eventually have to learn to deal with problems on their own instead of expecting the US to step in from time to time.

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