The East-West Center
(The East-West Center is an education and research organization established to strengthen understanding and relations between the United States and the countries of the Asia Pacific region. The Center carries out its mission through programs of cooperative study, training and research. The center is supported by the U.S. government and the governments of nine Asia Pacific nations.)
HONOLULU -- Sept. 11 has lasting impact in Asia
The impact of Sept. 11 on Asian countries ranges from subtle to significant to potentially devastating. While emboldening Japan, it did little in China. It brought North Korea back to the table and Indonesia back to the good graces of the U.S. government, but South Asian countries closer to war. And in the Philippines it slowed down a kidnapping ring.
East-West Center specialists say, however, that it's far too early to tell how these developments will play out in the year to come.
"The attacks were widely seen as an attack on the state system, which is the basis of international order, and governments almost unanimously acted to condemn them," said East-West Center President Charles E. Morrison. "But Americans should understand that much of the support is in principle or against specific groups and does not necessarily extend to other U.S. foreign policy and security tactics. While no Asia-Pacific government wants to be associated in any way with 911, some are also concerned not to be associated with aspects of the U.S. response."
Morrison and six other East-West Center experts give their opinions below on Japan, China, the Korean Peninsula, South Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines and the region generally.
-- Charles E. Morrison on the Asia-Pacific region:
Governments have worked together to strengthen the state system against future attacks through increased police and intelligence exchange, and through greatly enhanced cooperation against identified terrorist groups and their means of transferring money and moving personnel. While much of this cooperation does not receive publicity, ministers and leaders have actively emphasized multilateral cooperation in regional organizations such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.
The Sept. 11 attacks have also affected Asia and Pacific bilateral relations with the United States. Countries understood immediately that U.S. vital interests were affected and U.S. foreign policy priorities were reordered, and virtually all pledged cooperation against terrorists. Some like Malaysia and Russia used this to strategically reorient their bilateral relationships. Others like Japan, Korea and Singapore worked closely with the United States in the fight against al Qaida.
"In general, Asia-Pacific countries find it far easier to work with the United States when the emphasis is on combating terrorism than when it is on human rights or economic issues," Morrison said.
Domestic politics in several countries have also been affected, especially in those with large or majority Muslim populations. In general, domestic terrorist or militant groups have been weakened. In Sri Lanka, Sept. 11 caused the separatist Tamil Elam Tigers to distance themselves from past terrorist tactics, opening new and positive avenues of dialogue with the government.
While Sept. 11 had an important impact on domestic and international politics in the Asia-Pacific, it is too early to say whether it has had a long-term "transformational" impact.
"The key issues in the region from the Korean Peninsula to Taiwan to Kashmir predated 9/11 and remain after 911. The Sept. 11 attacks added to an already daunting list of regional challenges."
-- Sheila Smith on Japan:
The Sept. 11 attacks have given Japan the momentum to prove itself a bolder U.S. ally and to more aggressively pursue its own security strategies.
Ever since Japan was roundly criticized abroad as a "checkbook power" during the Gulf War, political leaders have wanted their country to play a more active global role but have faced public opposition.
"Japan has been criticized by U.S. policymakers as a hesitant and reluctant ally incapable of acting in a crisis," said Smith, noting that there is no commitment in the U.S.-Japan military alliance for Japan to help in the case of an attack on the United States. "When the crisis actually came, those fears were displaced. Japan reacted relatively quickly, dispatching forces to support U.S. combat."
Smith noted that the alliance dialogue had often focused on the expectation that political action within Japan would make it impossible for the alliance to function in a crisis, but the events in Tokyo in the weeks after Sept. 11 proved this prediction wrong.
There is also a growing sense of vulnerability among the Japanese, convincing them they must take their security policy more seriously. "The public now understands that what happened overseas can affect them and that they need to act in concert with not only the United States but others to address global security issues."
Smith said Prime Minister Koichi Koizumi's visit to North Korea represents a breakthrough that might not have been possible before Sept. 11. North Korean missiles, incursions into Japanese waters, and alleged abductions of Japanese citizens will be on the summit table.
"There is an intensification in the response to North Korea," Smith said. "The challenge that lies ahead for Japan is how to discriminate between the kind of security problems that can be negotiated and what kinds require a more focused military response. This is a new debate for Japan. This came out of post-911."
Another example of Japan's more aggressive response: the government shut down organizations that send money to North Korea. With the war on terrorism's fight against the financing of terrorist organizations, and with North Korea included in the "axis of evil," the political climate has changed.
"The politically sensitive aspects of interaction with North Korea are right out front. It's something that couldn't have happened before. The question is whether or not Koizumi can eradicate the perception that Pyongyang is indifferent to -- or even hostile to -- Japan's concerns."
-- Chris McNally on China:
While the war on terrorism has provided a way to improve U.S.-China relations, China's moves have been so subtle that it may be passing up opportunities.
"The movement has been very slight," McNally said. "The U.S. often says the Chinese are unwilling to share intelligence information and have not been forthcoming enough. From the U.S. point of view, it is up to China to make substantial moves to increase intelligence and defense cooperation."
While military relations have improved since last year's spy-plane incident, McNally says China is still unsure about how much it can trust the U.S. military due to U.S. support for Taiwan. Some Chinese analysts have even expressed a fear of a U.S. "encirclement strategy" because U.S. troops are now stationed in Central Asia.
However, McNally pointed out that so far Chinese defense officials have not openly voiced concern over the U.S. presence to its west. Furthermore, the United States has included some Muslim groups in Central Asia on its terrorist list, making it easier for China to clamp down on radical movements in its western autonomous region of Xinjiang.
"The atmosphere has improved but there has been little substantial movement toward a more trusting relationship."
-- Choong Nam Kim on the Korean Peninsula:
With North Korea a possible target of the war on terrorism, the reclusive regime has recently started a flurry of dialogues with South Korea, the United States and Japan after having broken off talks following President George Bush's election.
"It is too early to predict whether the current North Korean moves reflect a genuine change," Kim said. "But it appears that North Korean leaders realize the changing security environment after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. As long as North Korea has become a possible target of the international anti-terrorist war, North Korea's tactic of brinkmanship -- its principal bargaining chip -- has become very risky."
After Sept. 11, the U.S. policy toward North Korea gained new importance since the United States considers Pyongyang a sponsor of terrorism, and Bush included North Korea in the "axis of evil." In addition, Kim noted that tighter monitoring of illegal financial transactions, drug trafficking, smuggling and arms trades has obviously made it difficult for North Korea to be involved in such behavior.
"Almost a decade of soft-line policy toward Pyongyang did not produce the expected results," Kim said, referring to South Korean President Kim Dae Jung's "Sunshine Policy" of reconciliation with the North. "One wonders whether a cold wind rather than sunshine is changing North Korea."
Despite the positive developments on the Korean Peninsula, many South Koreans dislike what they consider a "unilateral and arrogant American approach," Kim said. "It is time for the United States and South Korea to re-strengthen their alliance."
-- Arun Swamy on South Asia:
The impact of Sept. 11 on South Asia has been more momentous than anywhere else in the Asia Pacific with potentially disastrous consequences that would dwarf the terrorist attacks on the United States. It has also revealed fundamental contradictions in U.S. foreign policy that have caught American diplomacy between two critical allies in the war against terrorism.
"If New York was Ground Zero for the terrorist attack that began the war on terrorism, South Asia has become Ground Zero for the war itself," Swamy said.
The U.S. decision to take the war directly to al Qaida's Taliban hosts in Afghanistan has led to the overthrow of the Taliban regime and its replacement with an unstable coalition of regional warlords. The U.S. decision forced Pakistan, the Taliban's principal patron and a former U.S. ally, to abandon a central plank of its foreign policy. Pakistan has also risked considerable domestic turmoil by supporting U.S. operations against the Taliban and cracking down on Islamist groups in Pakistan itself.
Partly in order to reduce this domestic pressure, Pakistan began to allow, even encourage the redeployment of many Islamic militants to Indian's portion of the disputed province of Kashmir, where Pakistan has long supported an insurgency against Indian rule. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf even suggested publicly that the United States had promised support for Pakistani claims to Kashmir in exchange for support against the
India was among the first countries to announce complete support for a U.S.-led war on terrorism, and Indian intelligence has played an important role in identifying militant Islamist groups. But India charged the United States with practicing a double standard on terrorism, demanding world support when the victims were Americans, while ignoring and virtually abetting terrorism against India. A pair of high profile terrorist attacks on the state assembly of Indian Kashmir and then on the Indian parliament led India to mobilize militarily along its border with Pakistan.
"The concern that this could escalate to a full-scale war between two nuclear-armed adversaries has led the U.S. to engage in a continuous diplomatic effort to prevent hostilities from breaking out," Swamy said. "In short, the impact of 9/11 on South Asia has potential consequences that would be more disastrous than any suffered by the United States and last well after the United States decides to declare victory and go home.
Conversely, the impact of South Asia on U.S. policy after 9/11 has been to rob that policy of the clarity of moral vision President Bush articulated at the outset of the war."
-- Richard Baker on Indonesia:
Indonesia qualifies as one of the collateral victims of the Sept. 11 tragedy. The terrorist attacks and the U.S. response further complicated a difficult domestic situation and increased the delicacy of an already rocky U.S.-Indonesian relationship that was strained over human rights.
While the most recent developments between the two countries are positive, the prospects for both the relationship and domestic stability remain highly uncertain. "A major new turn of events -- particularly an American attack on Iraq -- could easily throw both Indonesian politics and U.S.-Indonesian relations into a new crisis," Baker said.
The war on terrorism caused new problems for Indonesia, still reeling from the 1997 economic crisis. International attention and resources devoted to Indonesia shrunk. The focus on terrorism also exacerbated political tensions between President Megawati Sukarnoputri, a secular nationalist figure, and strong Islamist elements in Indonesian politics.
The week after the Sept. 11 attacks, in a meeting with President George Bush, Megawati condemned terrorism and expressed solidarity with the United States. However, at home she faced mixed views within her own government as well as strident anti-American agitation from a relatively small but vocal group of Islamic radicals.
Terrorism issues have also roiled Indonesia's relations with its closest neighbors. The discovery of terrorist cells with Indonesian connections in Singapore and Malaysia in December was met with denials and temporizing by Indonesian intelligence and police officials.
Reports in the U.S. media early this year quoting unnamed officials saying that Indonesia might be the next target for U.S. counterterrorism strikes predictably offended staunch Indonesian nationalism. Subsequent disclaimers by senior U.S. officials could not undo the damage. But the Indonesian government continued to provide strong security protection to the American Embassy and quietly cooperated in the deportation of two non-Indonesians suspected of involvement in terrorist activities.
A series of recent developments such as the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and his announcement of $50 million in counterterrorism assistance have smoothed out the relationship. Thus as the first anniversary of Sept. 11 approaches, U.S.-Indonesian counterterrorism cooperation appears to be on the upswing.
"A new balance may have been struck between the American priority of fighting international terrorism and Indonesia's complex domestic politic," Baker said. "This could provide a basis for expanded collaboration not only between Indonesia and the United States but also with its regional neighbors."
However, war with Iraq could easily destabilize the country and its relationships. "The underlying situation in Indonesia remains delicate, and there continues to be strong suspicion of American motives and actions within parts of the Indonesian Islamic community."
-- Gerard Finin on the Philippines:
The U.S. military operation in the Southern Philippines was successful to the extent that it temporarily disrupted the Abu Sayaf, a notorious kidnap-for-profit bandit organization. However, the larger and as yet unanswered question is what the operation did to permanently crush terrorist groups and their sympathizers in the region.
This type of piracy has long been an important source of local revenue and prestige in Southeast Asia. "While Abu Sayaf really had nothing to do directly with international terrorism, it is likely that once American forces leave, these old patterns of kidnapping and plundering will resume," Finin said.
"The true test of whether the joint-training exercises with the Armed Forces of the Philippines were a success will be if the national government can maintain peace and order in Mindanao."
A second question covers the extent that the U.S. military intervention may have undermined the Philippines' stature as a sovereign and independent nation capable of managing its own internal security.
"From the perspective of other governments in the region, giving the U.S. military access to the Philippines in return for assistance in subduing local bandits may signal a return to the neo-colonial relationship that existed during the Marcos era when U.S. bases greatly influenced the political landscape."