Top Stories from the Editorial/Opinion pages of the International
Tuesday, December 2, 1997
Asians Could Thank Uncle Sam
By Gerald Segal
LONDON - The United States is being asked to do too much, with
insufficient assistance and even less gratitude. The result may be a United
States less committed to defending the global order, and therefore a poorer
and more dangerous East Asia.
Many of those Southeast Asians who used to deride the Americans
and Europeans as powers in decline now complain that Westerners are not
doing enough to assist them.
When help is offered, it is quixotically sneered at because it
is not an ''Asian solution to Asian problems.''
The unpalatable truth is that the region increasingly relies on
the United States to maintain order, all the while complaining about the
When it came time to restrain North Korea's nuclear weapons program
or to deter China from attacking Taiwan, only the Americans were up to
the challenge. Most other Asians wanted the jobs done but did not want
to help, get in harm's way or even publicly applaud.
The Americans (with their European allies) are also the key defenders
of the open global economy that makes economic growth in East Asia possible.
The United States and Europe drive forward the effort to liberalize trade
in financial services and information technology, providing an open market
that will be crucial to sustained East Asian growth.
And, of course, it is the Americans and Europeans who provide
open markets for East Asian exports.
Washington does all this in part because such behavior is in America's
interest, and in part because it has grown used to leadership. But there
is a limitto how much the Americans will do when they get little support,
credit or thanks.
Americans are right to ask where the Japanese (or the Eu-ropeans)
might be when crises arise in South Korea or Taiwan. The moaners in Southeast
Asia are the most infuriating - the biggest free-riders on American deterrence
of China and defense of the global economy, and yet the quickest to carp.
The challenge for the Asians is to find a way to keep the Americans
honestly engaged in the defense of the open and multilateral global order.
The United States will certainly be wary of defending Asians against a
rising China or rogue North Korea if it has to do allthe heavy lifting
A good place to make a fresh start is with the American insistence
that China can join the World Trade Organization only if it meets tough
conditions like opening domestic markets and cutting state subsidies. This
is in the interest of other Asian countries, and they should say so.
They would certainly be the first to suffer if China could get
the benefits of WTO membership while still being able to undercut their
Asians should also thank President Bill Clinton for keeping the
U.S. market open and the dollar strong, even as the American trade deficit
Expressing gratitude may not always be appealing, but Asians have
a lot to be grateful for. If they don't say so, they should not be surprised
if Americans draw the natural conclusion.
The writer is director of studies at the International Institute
for Strategic Studies. This comment is adapted from an article in Newsweek.