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U.S. Shapes Far East Ties

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 12, 1997 – The United States will remain a Pacific power by maintaining a strong military presence in the region and by engaging more Asia-Pacific nations, according to Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.

Speaking at the Asia Society here June 11, Cohen said the United States will engage not only Tokyo and Seoul, but Hanoi, Jakarta and Beijing as well. This will lead to a future of fair trade, economic growth, more freedom and cooperation, and less confrontation, he said.

Quoting U.S. diplomat John Hay's turn-of-the-century prediction, Cohen said, "The Mediterranean is the ocean of the past. The Atlantic is the ocean of the present, and the Pacific is the ocean of the future."

Maintaining peace in the Asia-Pacific region is a vital U.S. economic and security interest, Cohen said. U.S. trade in the region is more than $400 billion and supports about 3 million American jobs. Past conflict in the region cost the United States a heavy toll. More than 100,000 Americans lost their lives during three wars -- World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

The threat of further conflict remains today, Cohen said. During an April trip to the region, he said he "witnessed the danger."

"Just two hours before I visited the [demilitarized zone] in Korea and looked out across the Bridge of No Return, soldiers from North and South exchanged warning shots."

The Korean Peninsula is "one of the most dangerous places on earth -- a true hot spot, where large forces remain on hair-trigger alert," Cohen said. "That is why we are maintaining strong, ready and vigilant forces on the peninsula -- ready for any contingency."

U.S. officials hope to see the Korean Peninsula united in peace, security and democracy. They are encouraged by North Korea's acceptance of four-party peace talks with the United States, South Korea and China, but obtaining peace, he said, is "like running a marathon."

"It is a long, hard and arduous journey," he said. "But while we are confident of the final outcome of the race, we must be prepared for the last miles to follow any of several potential routes -- from soft landing to other more challenging positions."

To this end, the United States is committed to keeping 100,000 troops forward-deployed in the region, Cohen said. As part of U.S. efforts to ensure stability in the region, defense officials are also revitalizing established regional alliances.

U.S. and Japanese officials are reviewing guidelines for military cooperation. Last revised in 1978, Cohen said, the guidelines were prepared by another generation for a different strategy and a different threat.

"Our ongoing review will ensure they can meet the needs of the current and the next generation," he said.

Officials are looking at ways U.S. and Japanese forces can plan and work together for future challenges requiring greater flexibility. This includes providing humanitarian relief, supporting peacekeeping missions and developing confidence-building measures with other militaries in the region.

The United States is committed to defending Japan and other regional allies, Cohen said. "If there is a crisis in areas surrounding Japan, we may have to turn to Japan for the use of military facilities to help supply and support our troops."

The U.S.-Japan alliance is "a natural partnership of two of the world's strongest democracies and strongest economies," Cohen said. It has preserved stability underlying the Asian economic miracle, which has benefited people throughout the Pacific and the United States, he said.

Engaging more Asia-Pacific nations is another way to ensure regional stability, Cohen said. While Thailand, a long-time treaty ally, has quietly and reliably helped support U.S. forward presence in the region, other nations "hardly register on the U.S. radar screen," Cohen said.

Indonesia, for example, which has the world's fourth largest population and controls key strategic waterways, is one Southeast Asian nation that benefits from, but does not support, America's forward presence, he said.

"In the coming years, it will be in our mutual interest for Southeast Asia to take additional concrete steps to facilitate our military presence," he said.

Opportunities now exist for the United States to engage China as it emerges from the greatest transition in the region, Cohen said. "One of the most important and difficult challenges in the coming years will be to integrate China ... into the security architecture of the region."

U.S. officials want China to resolve disputes peacefully, to be more open about military affairs and plans, and to stop technology transfers to unfriendly Persian Gulf nations, he said. They also hope to see a peaceful transition when China regains control of Hong Kong July 1.

Establishing constructive relations with China is the way to achieve these ends, Cohen said. "Our engagement strategy says, 'We will work with China where we can' -- such as on the Korean Peninsula -- 'and we will disagree where we must' -- as we do with Chinese arms sales and other dealings with Iran."

This strategy recognizes China is "an emerging power, poised to either contribute to, or detract from, the tides of economic dynamism, cooperation and trust that are filling the Pacific Basin," he said.

Military cooperation with China is one area where progress in being made. "The [People's Liberation Army] is a key player on key issues we care about: military transparency, regional security cooperation, proliferation," Cohen said. "We seek to both understand and influence the PLA. We seek to increase mutual confidence and decrease miscalculation."

Growing military ties include exchanging military personnel, working out U.S. Navy port calls to Hong Kong after it returns to Chinese control and pursuing rules for ships operating in the same seas. Also, Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently met with Chinese military counterparts in Beijing to further military cooperation.

Overall, U.S. defense leaders aim to create new regional security structures to confront common challenges of the future, Cohen said. "As President Clinton noted, these arrangements are like overlapping plates of security armor, working individually and together to protect our mutual interests and reinforce peace."

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