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Cohen Delivers Partnership Message to Worried Asians

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Jan. 13, 1998 – In the midst of the escalating financial crisis that's rocking world stock markets, Defense Secretary William Cohen called his visits to seven countries important to security and stability of East Asia.

Even though Cohen is visiting the area to review and solidify U.S. security matters, he said the current financial crisis is on everyone's mind and can't be separated from defense concerns.

"Anytime you have an economic crisis, it will have implications for a variety of programs, including security," Cohen said. "Each nation still has to have a security program. They are going to be looking for ways in which they can maintain their security programs even as they are going through this economic difficulty."

Cohen said it's in U.S. interest to help stabilize and return prosperity to the region. "One of the purposes of my trip is to reinforce the sincere and strong idea that we are here to stay, and to be a responsible player in their security and ours," he said.

Although Cohen will discuss U.S. financial support to the region, he cautioned that direct military aid isn't under consideration. He said DoD and U.S. manufacturers are exploring ways to restructure contracts in East Asia to ensure security needs are met and weapons purchases and modernization programs can continue.

The secretary will meet with the leaders of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, China, Japan and South Korea. He and regional political and military leaders also will discuss ways to continue using the area for military training and exercises. He said he will try to expand bilateral relationships into multilateral relationships.

Cohen joined 63 Asia-Pacific political leaders attending the fourth Pacific Dialogue here Jan. 11-13. He said the United States has "strong relations with the Malaysian government and people, and we hope to build on that."

Most of the nations in the region desire smooth relations with China, Cohen said. Due to the U.S. presence here, he said, none of the nations really fear confrontation with their giant neighbor.

"There's no dominant power," he said. "By virtue of the United States being present, we provide a stabilizing influence so you don't have the kind of rivalry between the countries or worry about whether China or any other country will seek to dominate them. That's the reason that we're here, and we think that it is a beneficial result for everyone, including China."

The secretary's visit to China follows Chinese President Jiang Zemin's earlier visit to Washington and serves as a prelude to President Clinton's scheduled visit to China later this year. "Our policy is to engage China and help their entry into the international community," he said. "I think all of the countries here see it as very important that we have a positive and very solid relationship with China."

Cohen said he doesn't believe the region's current economic conditions will undermine civilian rule in some of the worst-affected nations. "Every country has an interest in seeing to it that their country is stable and that they deal with the economic crisis in a responsible fashion," he said. "That's precisely the reason that the United States is seeking to provide that kind of confidence to the countries and to the people."

Cohen called the 12-day visit -- his longest as defense secretary -- an opportunity to "convey and reinforce to the peoples of the region that the United States is a friend and a solid ally in good times and in bad. We are here to stay and to play on the level of political and economic and security fields. I want to send that message very strongly to the region to point out that we are in fact a reliable partner to deal with their security and ours."

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