By rushing to the defense of Taiwan, the Clinton Administration has signaled a major new commitment to maintaining stability in East Asia. But who will pay? And how can America leverage this military role to achieve economic gains in Asia?
It will be a difficult task, but the U.S. can use the newly expanded security umbrella to advance a broader U.S. agenda. It's essential, for instance, to reach a new burden-sharing understanding with Japan. President Clinton is visiting in April and should put this high on his list. Japan pays a hefty percentage of the cost of stationing U.S. troops in Japan--why not a percentage of the cost of safeguarding its sea lanes, some of which have been closed for Chinese military exercises? The Administration should quietly but forcefully also ask other Asian countries to share part of the expense of our military presence.
In the absence of U.S. bases in the Philippines, America should expand on the privileges the U.S. Navy has quietly obtained in Singapore and win more access to Indonesian ports as well. Pressing for new bases may be unrealistic--Vietnam, for example, says it will be a decade before the U.S. is "allowed back" to Cam Ranh Bay. But if these countries want the Seventh Fleet to be around to protect them, there has to be a quid pro quo.
On the commercial front, Americans can't expect dramatic market openings, but they can expect to be at the table when crucial discussions are held about the shape of Southeast Asia's economic future. The fact remains that most Asian nations deny access to many U.S. products and services, while the U.S. market is relatively open to them.
The voice of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad, the leading prophet of Asia-for-the-Asians-only, has been conspicuously silent in recent weeks. The reason: It's clear that America is vital to the stability and prosperity of Asia. The U.S., which lost credibility in Asia over the past few decades, now has an opportunity to reestablish a broader role. It should be done carefully, with sensitivity to Asian realities, but it's time for America to seek more cooperation in return for safeguarding Pacific prosperity.