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Cohen Committed to Asian-Pacific Stability

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29, 2000 – The United States is committed to the Asia-Pacific region and will remain engaged in helping solve the region's problems, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen told Pacific allies during his recent nine-day trip to the region.

Cohen broached the idea of more multilateral exercises in the region, saying the exercises would not take away from bilateral ties. Cohen spoke about the trip to members of the Japanese Diet Sept. 22.

During a stop in Jakarta, Indonesia, Cohen also delivered a strong message to the countrys leaders to disarm and disband militias terrorizing the island of Timor. He also visited the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Korea.

At the center of Cohens trip was the idea he called the "virtuous circle."

Where there is security and stability, then investment flows, he said to the lawmakers. If we have investment flowing in, then we have a chance to produce prosperity. Prosperity in turn promotes more security and further democracy. The moment there is an area of insecurity, investment flows out. Then you have all the social problems that are attendant to that.

U.S. presence in the region helps guarantee the virtuous circle will work. Cohen said political, economic and security ties bind the United States to the region. These will remain steadfast for the foreseeable future, he said. On political engagement, the simple fact is that the United States is a Pacific nation. Our national interests in the region are great and they are growing.

One practical implication of our interest is clear: A peaceful constructive engagement with China is necessary for China to become a responsible member of the international community.

Part of Cohens mission to the Pacific was to lay to rest the notion that the United States, in working with the other nations in the region, is somehow trying to contain China.

Everyone should understand that China cannot be contained, he said. That is not our policy. Our goal is to engage China as it grows, as it becomes more open, and to encourage it to play a constructive role in regional stability.

Cohen emphasized that the basis for U.S. engagement with China is a sound relationship with Japan. Even as we seek better relationships with China, that in no way will result in the reduction of our relationship with Japan, he said. Our security relationship is anchored with Japan. A strong U.S.-Japan relationship also gives both Japan and the United States leverage in establishing a strong relationship with China, he remarked.

Cohen said U.S. engagement with China is back on track following the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, during Operation Allied Force last year. He said military-to-military contacts have been revived and that Chinese and American ship visits have restarted.

Indonesia poses another major concern for the United States and all Asians. Indonesia is a strategically important country with the fourth largest population in the world. It is the worlds largest Muslim country and sits astride vital sea lines linking the Pacific and Indian oceans.

Indonesia is a nation that has taken huge steps in the last two years to democratize, but it still faces major political, economic and security problems, Cohen said. He told the lawmakers of his meetings with Indonesian leaders. He said he expressed U.S. support for the transition to democratic rule in Indonesia. The United States does not want to see Indonesia break up.

Of most concern to us is what is taking place in East Timor, he said. He said militias possibly supported by elements in the active or retired Indonesian military come from West Timor to wage conflict in East Timor. This cannot be allowed to continue, particularly after the Indonesian government had given a security guarantee to U.N. staff workers bringing humanitarian aid to East Timor, he said.

A militia force killed three U.N. aid workers Sept. 6. That is the reason the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution calling on the Indonesian government to disarm and disband the militias and bring (the killers) to justice, Cohen said. The international community could react to perceived Indonesian indolence by cutting off economic aid and military-to-military contacts, he warned.

U.S. force levels in the region will probably remain constant for the time being, Cohen said. We will continue to be a stabilizing force in the region, he said. Several nations with large militaries and histories of regional conflict and rivalry mandate that we have such a presence. Thats why our presence is so vital not only in Japan, but on the Korean Peninsula.

In Korea, Cohen met with South Korean President Kim Dae- jung. Kim met with North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-il in June and started a process that might lessen tensions on the peninsula. In some quarters, this has led to a call for fewer U.S. troops in Korea.

[Kim] is fully aware that the United States must maintain a presence on the Korean Peninsula even if there is some reconciliation, Cohen said. He said Kim Jong-il in North Korea also agreed that would be the case.

If the United States were to reduce or remove its presence, then someone would want to fill the vacuum. And soon you would have some nation vying to be the new power source in the region, which would probably mean an arms race. There would probably be more tension, and there could be in fact the prospect of conflict.

Cohen said all the countries he visited want the United States to maintain its presence in the region. He cited Singapore's building a huge pier at Changi Naval Base to accommodate U.S. aircraft carriers and the good bilateral relations the United States has with the Philippines and with Thailand.

We are committed to a forward-deployed posture to the extent that our host countries want, he said. We are here at your sufferance. We do not go anywhere we are not wanted. Fortunately, the leadership of the countries understand we are not seeking territory; we have not come to conquer anyone. We are trying to create an environment of stability.

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