Top Stories from the Editorial/Opionion pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Friday, February 28, 1997

To Succeed in Asia, U.S. Should Recall Its European Lessons

By Gerry Segal International Herald Tribune
LONDON - What is the lesson from Madeleine Albright's recent trip to Europe and Asia? She will no doubt be told by her advisers to remember just how different Asian countries are from Europe, but as she comes to spend more time on Asian issues, she would be better advised to trust her Europe-trained instincts. American foreign policy in Asia can be all the stronger if it recalls its reasons for success in Europe.

The first set of lessons concerns how to deal with dissatisfied powers. American foreign policy in Europe is properly friendly, but also firm, when dealing with a grumpy Russia. Moscow is not given a veto on NATO expansion or the shape of Western countries' relations with central Europeans. Neither will Russia be allowed to join the World Trade Organization until it is able to agree to, and sustain adherence to, WTO rules.

In Asia, there is an inclination to let the dissatisfied regional power, China, set the agenda. In much of the region it is said to be sufficient to have a policy of engagement with China, without imposing constraints on unwanted actions. As Americans learned in their European policies dur-ing the Cold War and be-yond, great powers such as China respect firmness and strength. Engagement with China will work only if it is sustained by a robust defense of American interests.

There are voices in Washington arguing that the American deterrence of Chinese threats in the Taiwan Strait in March 1996 was a mistake because it undermined the engagement strategy. On the contrary: It is only through sustained demonstrations of Am-erican resolve that China will learn to live within international constraints.

Mrs. Albright may also be told that unlike obvious past successes in Europe, a prominent human rights policy will not work in Asia. But such moral relativism is not only illogical, it is counterproductive.

The European lesson was that in the long run we obtained the kind of changes we wanted in Eastern Europe by being firm on all issues at the same time. Likewise the virtue of speaking out against the brutality of authoritarians in China, Indonesia and Burma. An effective human rights policy is directly relevant to both economic and security interests. In the long run it will be hard to ensure that these Asian countries join a transparent, rules-based international system unless they accept the basic features of a domestic civil society.

This nexus of issues comes together in an especially tight knot in the Hong Kong problem. President Bill Clinton has already defined the way in which China handles Hong Kong as a ''litmus test'' of its wider role in international society. If Mrs. Albright does not speak out openly against China's unwinding of Hong Kong's liberal political order, she will damage not only the territory's 6 million people but also the larger struggle by the West to help shape a China that is willing to accept the constraints of interdependence.

Another cluster of lessons concerns how to manage allies. Despite the robust debates between Americans and their European NATO allies, the reality is that the Europeans are the ones that send their troops to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Americans in the world's danger zones. The close cooperation in the current deployment in Bosnia is evidence of how real allies and friends can disagree, debate and yet in the end work very closely together.

America's allies in Asia (with the exception of Australia) are very far from being so supportive. Although good progress has been made in U.S.-Japan relations in the past 12 months, it is striking how thin U.S. alliances in Asia really are. It is a cause of serious concern that in the 1993-94 crisis over North Korea's nuclear program, it was Japan and South Korea that held the Americans back from taking firm action.

The looming crises regarding Taiwan and North Korea are powerful reasons why the challenge of modernizing America's alliances in Asia is far more urgent than modernizing its alliances in Europe. Both South Korea and Japan need to bear greater burdens and to be greater net contributors to international security. Until that happens, it should come as no surprise that the Americans will continue to feel they have ''associates'' rather than allies or friends in Asia.

The European allies go to war alongside American troops. The Europeans, not the Asians, have been the main partners in forcing major progress in the WTO agenda on information technology, telecommunications and other key sectors of the service economy. Not surprisingly, Europeans, more than Asians, get to share American military intelligence.

America may not be able to deal with foes in Asia unless it develops some real friends.

The writer, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London and director of Britain's Pacific Asia Program, contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.