I first traveled to East Asia a quarter century ago and since the early 1990s have visited the region several times each year. In recent years, my trips even those separated by only a few months have inevitably brought to mind Heraclitus' observation that you cannot step twice in the same river. You cannot travel twice in the same Asia.
The pace of change is dramatic. The buildings rising, the businesses booming, the bustle of economic prosperity obvious in the city streets. But more than the exchange of money has been the change of mindsets of how the peoples of the region view themselves and their relationships to each other and to the West, and of how we view these matters, as well.
One purpose of my April trip to Northeast Asia was to ensure that in the security arena our mindset is open to change; to ensure that while we continue to deal effectively with the security challenges of today, that we also build the foundation for preserving security well into the next century.
On that visit, I saw the political cooperation. In Tokyo and Seoul, from the conference rooms to the ceremonial halls, I could feel the warmth borne of long friendship between the United States and our two old allies.
I witnessed the danger. Just two hours before I visited the DMZ in Korea and looked out across the Bridge of No Return, soldiers from North and South exchanged warning shots.
But I also felt the quiet confidence of the Asia Pacific region -- a confidence secured by America's stabilizing presence represented by the capability of 100,000 US forces forward-deployed at sea and ashore. I met some of these troops. I was reassured by their readiness. And I was gratified by the good relations they have built with their hosts.
I also knew what was at stake in the region. I knew America's economy is at stake -- with some $400 billion worth of trade in the region each year, supporting three million American jobs. And I knew that America's security is also at stake -- after three wars in the region in this century claiming over 100,000 American lives, it is stating the obvious that peace in the Pacific is a vital national interest.
By the end of my trip, I knew for certain that US diplomat John Hay's prediction at the turn of this century had finally come to pass. Hay 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."
The question is, what kind of future? And how do we get there?
The Department of Defense has been spending a lot of time thinking about these kinds of questions in our Quadrennial Defense Review. We looked at the world not only today but two decades out and developed a defense strategy to protect and to promote our interests.
As we looked at the Asia Pacific, we saw that the United States has a choice between different strategies -- which, in essence, reflects a choice between two different futures.
Under one strategy, America heeds the siren call of those who say, "come home," where we withdraw our troops and decide on an Asia Pacific security strategy that ends on the shores of California or Hawaii or Alaska.
We have rejected this strategy, for it would lead to a frightful future -- a future in which the Asia Pacific would be known for its perils, not its promise; where economic competition devolves into military conflict; where would-be aggressors are left at liberty to threaten their neighbors, and terrorists obtain and threaten to use terrifying weapons; where America can no longer claim to be a Pacific power -- and loses its influence to shape its destiny.
Such a strategy and future are unacceptable. We have chosen to remain a Pacific power; to maintain a solid US military presence of about 100,000 troops, forward deployed in the region, and to extend America's engagement in the region not just to Tokyo and Seoul, but to Hanoi, Jakarta, and Beijing. We have chosen this course because it leads to the future we want -- a future of fair trade and fantastic economic growth, of more freedom both political and economic, of more cooperation, and less confrontation.
Having framed the future we want, what are its elements? What does it look like? And how do we get there?
First and foremost, we see a future in which our engagement and presence is guaranteed by strong, revitalized alliances across the region.
No relationship has been more successful or important than the US-Japan alliance. It is a natural partnership of two of the world's strongest democracies and strongest economies. During the "long twilight struggle" of the Cold War and the transitional phase of the post-Cold War
period, our alliance has preserved the stability that underlies the Asian economic miracle and that has benefited peoples throughout the Pacific Basin, including our people throughout America.
And as we move into a new era and a new century, it would be an act of folly to squander this global asset. The US-Japan alliance is a calming force for peace and stability, a cornerstone for the new era. It was with this conviction that President Clinton and Prime Minister Hashimoto reassured the region by reaffirming our mutual commitment to the alliance -- and launched a process to retool and revitalize our alliance by reviewing the Guidelines for US-Japan Defense Cooperation.
These Guidelines were last revised in 1978 by a different generation, for a different strategy, for different threats. Our ongoing review will ensure they can meet the needs of the current and the next generation.
The review is being conducted within the context of the Japanese Constitution. But within this context we are looking at how we can best work and plan together to be ready for the types of challenges we will face in the future, not because these new challenges require more forces, but because they require more flexibility.
We have peacetime challenges: How can we best cooperate in providing humanitarian relief? How can we best work together on peacekeeping missions? How can we implement confidence-building mechanisms with other militaries in the region?
We have the challenge of responding to regional crises that affect Japan's security. 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, for sea and air patrols in the waters in and around Japan, or for cooperation in intelligence sharing.
And, of course, if we have to be ready to defend Japan itself, we need to examine how we can improve our joint readiness and interoperability.
It is important to emphasize that the review is not directed against anyone and that we are doing it in a transparent, out-in-the-open fashion. That is why this past weekend, we issued an interim report on the progress we have made, and why we are now briefing this interim report to governments throughout the region. A final report will be issued in the fall, and again we will act with full transparency and provide full briefings to countries in the region.
The future we want also includes a Korean Peninsula that is united in peace, security and democracy. Reaching this future Korean Peninsula is like running a marathon -- it is a long, hard and arduous journey. 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 possibilities. We must plan for each possible path, and for the day after.
And that, indeed, is what the United States and South Korea are doing. We are encouraged by the North's acceptance, in principle, of the US and South Korean proposal of
four-party peace talks with South Korea, the United States and China -- whose constructive role in this process is also encouraging. We also are moving forward with the 1994 Framework Agreement for freezing and eventually dismantling their nuclear weapons program. And South Korea and the United States are offering food to alleviate starvation in the North -- not for political reasons, but for humanitarian reasons.
But the fact remains that the Peninsula is still one of the most dangerous places on earth -- a true hotspot, where large forces remain on hair-trigger alert, and where the situation in the North is raising the tension still further. That is why we are maintaining strong, ready and vigilant forces on the Peninsula -- ready for any contingency.
During my trip we also looked out further into the future, and agreed that the presence of US forces in Korea will remain an important element of stability even after unification. This reflects the broad consensus among the United States and all of our regional allies that our presence in the region is not directed at any single foe, nor keyed to any single threat or scenario. Rather, our presence is directed toward enhancing stability and shaping the overall strategic environment. As the environment changes, the United States is always open to examining the implications for our strategy and our force structure, but only in close consultation with our allies, and only with the assurance that our decisions reinforce confidence and forestall uncertainty during an era of transition.
The greatest transition now in progress in the region is the emergence of China. We want a future where China is not only a great economic actor, but a great contributor to regional and world stability, where China has preserved its unique cultural heritage, but is more open about security matters, more open in its markets, and more respectful of the rule of law and human rights.
No nation has benefited more from the regional stability provided by America's engagement in the Asia Pacific than has China, and, thus, none should have a greater interest in our sustaining and revitalizing those security structures that are the basis for the stability that underlies the region's economic dynamism. One of the most important and difficult challenges in the coming years will be to integrate China not only into the world economy, but also into the security architecture of the region.
This integration has just begun, and there are still areas where the United States and China's neighbors should expect more from China's leadership.
We look for China to resolve disputes peacefully in accordance with international norms; to be more transparent and open about military affairs; to stop the transfer of dangerous technologies to unfriendly nations in the Gulf. China has gone from being a net oil exporter in 1994 to a net importer today, and its reliance on oil imports, especially from the Gulf, is expected to rise rapidly. This gives China a strong interest in stability in the Gulf, and there are signs that Chinese officials increasingly recognize this.
We also support China's membership in the World Trade Organization based on commercially meaningful terms and on the WTO's principles; a transition in Hong Kong that preserves Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy, prosperity and civil liberties in accord with the Sino-UK Joint Declaration; and an institutionalization of the rule of law that enhances the freedom of China's citizens, the vitality of China's economy, and the constructiveness of China's diplomacy.
The United States also understands that these goals are best achieved by constructive relations with China. That is why today the United States is pursuing a strategy of engagement with China. 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 arm sales and other dealings with Iran." This strategy of engagement recognizes China for what it 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.
As part of our overall engagement strategy, we are building a relationship with China's military. The PLA is a key player on key issues that we care about: military transparency, regional security cooperation, proliferation. We seek to both understand and influence the PLA. We seek to increase mutual confidence and decrease miscalculation. That is why we are exchanging military personnel, working out procedures for US Navy ship port calls to Hong Kong after reversion, and pursuing "rules of the road" for our ships as they operate in the same seas. That is also why we are engaging in high-level strategic discussions. General Shalikashvili visited Beijing last month to meet with his counterparts. And I hope to go in the fall.
It is in this overall strategic context that we must view Most Favored Nation trading status for China. MFN is not a favor to China or any other nation -- it is simply a recognition of normal trading relations. Denying MFN would undermine the essential effort to encourage China to be a responsible member of the international community. It would obviously hurt our economic interests.
But from my seat as Secretary of Defense, it is equally obvious that it would damage our strategic influence and interests. Our friends and allies throughout Asia would question our ability to carry out a coherent policy toward China and thus toward the region as a whole. And it would play into the hands of those who might wish to see US power in the region displaced.
The United States and China each have a choice: we can work together toward our common interests, or we can work against each other in a zero-sum game, driving our relationship into a spiral of confrontation. As the world's most powerful, dynamic nation, the United States will succeed in either world. But it is the first course that promises the greatest advances for our security and prosperity, as well as China's and the region's as a whole; while the second course would be not only harder but more dangerous, without so much as the saving grace of being necessary. It is China's choice to make.
One thing that is necessary for the future that we seek is expanded US engagement throughout the region.
More specifically, we want a future where the nations of Southeast Asia have assumed a place in our security thinking commensurate with their importance to the world economy and their contribution to regional stability. Today, ASEAN is our third largest overseas market after the European Union and Japan, and is our fastest growing market in the world. We need to do more to deepen our cooperation with these strategically important nations, which are destined to play an increasingly important role in shaping Asia Pacific stability.
We are already doing this with Thailand -- a long time treaty ally that has quietly and reliably helped support our forward presence in the region. But other nations in the region -- such as Indonesia, which has the world's fourth largest population and is home to key strategic waterways -- hardly register on the US radar screen, and seldom do we see the whole picture.
For decades, the nations in Southeast Asia have benefited from the stability provided by America's forward-presence and engagement and we have benefited from their stability. In the coming years, it will be in our mutual interest for Southeast Asia to take additional concrete steps to facilitate our military presence.
ASEAN is also playing a positive key role in building greater security dialogue throughout the region. Today, the ASEAN Regional Forum is the most significant multilateral security forum in the Asia Pacific region. For the first time ever in Asia, we are seeing serious multilateral dialogue on security issues -- everything from proliferation on the Korean Peninsula to conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea. The Forum is also introducing greater confidence-building and transparency to the region, facilitating the regional exchange of defense white papers, and fostering cooperation on issues such as peacekeeping and search and rescue.
Through these and other efforts we are creating new regional security structures to confront common challenges. 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.
The future that we seek for the Asia Pacific region will not fall fortuitously into our laps. Building it will involve hard work and heavy lifting, and some of the hardest work ahead of us in our own minds.
More than a century ago, John Nevius began his classic portrait of China by noting that, "Seldom have two parties been suddenly brought together who so thoroughly misunderstood each other as have we and the Chinese. Their ignorance of other countries is truly remarkable, but hardly more so than [our ignorance of them]." Nevius blamed Chinese and American mutual misperceptions on the "want of reliable information."
Today, our quest to build on President Clinton's call for a Pacific community based on "shared efforts, shared benefits and shared destiny" faces a different challenge. It is the challenge not so much of reliable information but what we do with it.
For technology has miniaturized the globe, reducing our vast Pacific Ocean to a mere pond. Our voices and our thoughts travel at the speed of light, our bodies at the speed of sound. And information pours into our Western minds, filling in what Yeats called the "vague immensities" of Asia. Our task is to comprehend this information. For the bullet trains of photons that race across the Pacific on the rail lines of modern telecommunications still pass through the tunnel of cultural prejudice, and more and more shared information can lead to less and less understanding, leaving us with T.S. Eliot's question: "Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the understanding we have lost in information?"
In Nevius' day, such misunderstanding represented a loss of opportunity, but in today's miniaturized world much more is at stake. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that our mutual peace and prosperity depend on us being able to minimize the risk of misperception, misinterpretation and miscalculation. Our job is to shrink the vast cultural ocean separating the peoples of the Pacific. And if we do so, we can and will build a Pacific future as great as the ocean that links our shores, and whose waves reverberate well beyond: from Tokyo to Tacoma; from Bangkok to Baltimore; and from Kuala Lumpur to Cleveland for in the new era and the new century, the security and prosperity of the Asia Pacific region is central to the security and prosperity of all Americans.