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HOW HE SEES IT Like it or not, fuses are burning in Asia



Published: Mon, April 18, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



By JAMES P. PINKERTON

LONG ISLAND NEWSDAY

Will the 21st century be another "American Century" or will it be the first "Asian Century"? A peaceful -- for now -- struggle has been joined.

For the past few weeks Americans have been focused on news from the Vatican. And for the past few years the bulk of "foreign news" has concerned the Middle East. But in the Far East three huge fuses are burning.

First, the prime minister of China, Wen Jiabao, traveled to India and declared that the two countries would be the "two pagodas" of economic might in the coming hundred years -- the "Asian Century," Wen predicted. Last Monday, Wen and his counterpart, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, signed a "strategic partnership for peace and prosperity," including expanded trade, border security -- even joint space exploration. Singh declared that the Sino-Indian document would "reshape the world order."

Moreover, by opening up a friendly pipeline to and from India, China is also poking yet another hole in the worldwide arms embargo imposed on it by the United States after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Strenuous American lobbying might keep the Europeans from breaking the embargo, at least formally, but American influence is trailing off in Asia.

If the new trans-Himalayan deal matures and deepens, these two pagodas, deeply enmeshed in the high-tech global economy, should have little trouble obtaining the rudiments of just about any kind of weaponry. And since, if present trends continue, both India and China might have economies larger than ours in the 21st century, there's plenty of reason to pay attention to this nascent techno-military alliance.

Second, the historic hostility between China and Japan, a close U.S. ally for 60 years, is bubbling back into violence. Japan has never fully acknowledged its guilt in the death of between 5 million and 15 million Chinese during World War II. Indeed, Japanese textbooks continually whitewash such horrendous atrocities as the 1937 "Rape of Nanking." In addition, Japan has increasingly sided with America, and against China, on sensitive issues, most notably the independent status of Taiwan.

Japanese targets

Two weeks ago, Chinese mobs threw stones and broke windows at various Japanese targets in China, including the embassy in Beijing. Nobody was hurt during these demonstrations, but it's hard to imagine that such crowds could gather in a police state such as China if the government didn't want them to gather. Which is to say, the Chinese were sending the Japanese a not-so-subtle hint about the price Japan might pay for its pro-American, anti-Chinese tilt.

And what sort of price might Japan pay, and maybe, too, the Americans? For an answer, we might consider the latest news from North Korea, the world's latest nuclear power. A veteran American Asia watcher, Selig Harrison, who recently returned from Pyongyang, reports that Kim Jong Il's regime has vowed never to resume negotiations unless the United States first formally recognizes his Communist government.

Such American recognition is not in the cards. The likely next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, has been a vocal proponent of "regime change." So what might the North Koreans do in response? Japan's Kyodo news service says a top North Korean official declared that his country could strike America not only directly, but also indirectly: "The United States should consider the danger that we could transfer nuclear weapons to terrorists."

So what can the United States do against such threats? Not much, it seems. The only country with influence on North Korea seems to be China, and yet the Chinese say that they can't help -- even as Beijing protects North Korea against American military pre-emption.

Thus the three wheels: First, China gets closer to India, as the two nations seek a New Asian Order. Second, China grows more hostile to the United States and Japan. Third, China bolsters nuke-crazy North Korea.

Those are three fuses burning across the Pacific, whether we like it or not -- whether we know it or not.

Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service




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