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Esteem for US rises in Asia May 3, 2008

Posted by tkcollier in Geopolitics.
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Esteem for US rises in Asia | The Australian
The US’s three most important Asian alliances – with Australia, Japan and South Korea – have in his view been strengthened by the Iraq campaign. Each of these nations sent substantial numbers of troops to help the US in Iraq. They did this because they believed in what the US was doing in Iraq, and also because they wanted to use the Iraq campaign as an opportunity to strengthen their alliances with the US.

More generally, in a world supposedly awash in anti-US sentiment, pro-American leaders keep winning elections. Germany’s Angela Merkel is certainly more pro-American than Gerhard Schroeder, whom she replaced. The same is true of France’s Nicolas Sarkozy.

More importantly in terms of Green’s analysis, the same is also true of South Korea’s new President. Lee Myung-bak, elected in a landslide in December, is vastly more pro-American than his predecessor, Roh Moo-hyun.

Even in majority Islamic societies, their populations allegedly radicalised and polarised by Bush’s campaign in Iraq and the global war on terror more generally, election results don’t show any evidence of these trends. In the most recent local elections in Indonesia, and in national elections in Pakistan, the Islamist parties with anti-American rhetoric fared very poorly. Similarly Kevin Rudd was elected as a very pro-American Labor leader, unlike Mark Latham, with his traces of anti-Americanism, who was heavily defeated.

Even with China, the Iraq campaign was not a serious negative for the US. Beijing was far more worried by the earlier US-led NATO intervention into Kosovo because it was based purely on notions of human rights in Kosovo. Such notions could theoretically be used to justify action (not necessarily military action) against China over Taiwan and Tibet. Iraq, on the other hand, was justified on the basis of weapons of mass destruction, a justification with which the Chinese were much more comfortable.

Further, the Chinese co-operated closely with the Americans in the war on terror, especially in tackling what they alleged was extremism among some of the Muslim Uighurs in the vast Xinjiang province.

Similarly, at a time when China developed a massive trade surplus with the US, American foreign policy attention was directed at the Middle East, and far less congressional and public hostility was directed at China than might otherwise have been expected. Green argues that the preoccupation with Iraq may have made it easier for the Bush administration to responsibly and effectively manage US public opinion on China.

Then again, there is the question of soft power. Green was writing before the controversies surrounding Beijing’s actions in Tibet broke out, and before the Olympic torch relay. Yet these have shown the brittleness of China’s much-touted soft power.

Beijing was shocked, not that there might be demonstrations in Tibet, but rather at just how unpopular they were in international civil society, from Hollywood through to liberal politicians such as Hillary Clinton calling for a boycott of the Olympic opening ceremony, to European leaders that China thought it had in its pockets, to all manner of non-government organisations, through to the Asian middle class, through even to the Mandarin-speaking Rudd, who criticised the Chinese to their faces in Beijing.

More generally, it is American values, or more accurately the universal values of democracy to which the US adheres, that are more popular and receive greater adherence in Asia than before, in the politics and civil societies of Asian nations such as Indonesia, India, Japan and many others.

The overall picture is infinitely more complex than the anti-Bush narrative of the Iraq war would suggest.

Green drills down into a lot of public opinion figures and finds even there a big recovery for the US in Asian public opinion in recent years. Public opinion polling on foreign policy is always problematic because the question can so easily shape the response. But the Iraq invasion was unpopular in Japan and seemed to lead, paradoxically, both to a decline in Japanese public faith in US judgment and an increase in Japanese public faith in the US alliance, perhaps because it showed the US would back its commitments with actions.

Similarly, it seems clear that US standing in Japan declined most recently when it softened its position on North Korea, something international liberal opinion universally demanded. However, some other facts are incontrovertible. Japan in 2003 sent 600 troops to Iraq to help the Americans. The Japanese leader who did this, Junichiro Koizumi, was subsequently re-elected in a landslide.

South Korea is even more instructive. Some of the strategic dinosaurs at the Australian National University write as if the US-South Korea alliance is finished and that the day is both inevitable and soon when China will be the dominant power in South Korea. This was always a silly bit of analysis that had a brief vogue six or seven years ago. To hold it now, it is necessary that you never look at what is actually happening in South Korea.

The US’s standing there seems to bear very little relation to Iraq. However, as noted, a pro-US candidate won a record landslide in December. But even the previous president, who did deploy some anti-American rhetoric, sent 3600 troops to Iraq (more than any nation except the US and Britain) and negotiated a free trade agreement with the US. Moreover, as Green describes, there has been a big rise in the positive ratings of the US in South Korea since 2005.

The centrist Joong AngIlbo newspaper’s poll shows the US rising from being the third most popular foreign country in South Korea to becoming, by 2006, the most popular foreign country.

Green cautions that a US failure in Iraq, a retreat and leaving chaos in Iraq behind, would gravely damage US credibility in Asia.

What is clear from Green’s analysis is how different the Asian environment is from the European environment, or even from the US domestic debate.

Australian commentators almost universally mimic the European critique or more often the liberal American critique of the Bush administration and all its works.

What is clear is that they have almost no sense of the Asian context at all. From alleged hardheads such as Hugh White and Paul Dibb, through to the orthodox leftists David Marr and Robert Manne, there is no evidence of any Asian context or consciousness in the assessments of the Bush administration.

Australia’s most progressive voices are almost entirely devoid of any Asian sense. And, as you’d expect, it takes an American to make this sad fact so starkly obvious.

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