Student protesters killed in Indonesia. Riots in Korea. Plunging economies in Thailand and Malaysia. Capital flight from Japan. Rising pressure to devalue the yuan in China. And now India, setting off five underground nuclear explosions to test warheads for missiles that will target China and Pakistan. Social unrest, economic disaster, and political instability are the new face of Asia, a region once so promising that the next 100 years were said to be the Pacific Century.
Asia today is poised on the brink. Decisions made by policymakers in the weeks ahead can return the Pacific Rim to a track of peace, growth, and prosperity or send it down a path of instability and stagnation, or worse. China, which has shown remarkable economic restraint in maintaining the stability of its currency, must show similar political and military restraint in the face of India's provocations. It must continue to hold the yuan steady as well. Japan too must demonstrate discipline. If it continues to try to export itself out of recession and allows the yen to fall to 150, Korea and much of Southeast Asia will be devastated. Indonesia must also reverse course. Its economy is collapsing, anti-Chinese looting is worsening, and students are being killed by the military. Suharto must step aside if peace and prosperity are to return.
Then there is India, jealous of China. The new ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has confused economic strength with nuclear bluster. The U.S., Europe, and Asia paid more attention to Beijing because of China's markets for investments and trade, not because of its missiles.
The U.S. must begin to apply sanctions. The one decision that offers hope is for India to quickly sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, now that its tests have succeeded. This could head off sanctions.
Fast decisions are needed to avert catastrophe in Asia.