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CHAPTER TWO


Asia Pacific
Defining Trends
U.S. Security Interests
Key U.S. Security Policy Issues
The Asia Pacific region presents a paradox. Despite the threat of conflict on the Korean Peninsula, conflicting claims in the South China Sea, and the low boil in Cambodia, the region is more stable and more peaceful than at any time in this century. On the other hand, there is a pervasive sense of uncertainty about the future.

A number of factors contribute to the sense of regional unease. Owing to the collapse of the Cold War framework, regional powers now compete more directly than in the past. (Russia is years away from exerting an influence even approximating that of the former Soviet Union.) Record-setting achievements in national economic development have brought with them a new desire on the part of regional powers to gain the strategic depth required to safeguard their growing prosperity.

More specifically, Beijing's obdurate pressing of its territorial claims in the South China Sea provokes a measure of anxiety, particularly in light of China's growing air and naval power. There is also fear that a halt in China's economic growth or a hitch in the transfer of power after the death of Deng Xiaoping could threaten China's political stability, and with it, the stability of the whole region. The region also faces the prospect of a nuclear-armed North Korea, whose unpredictable leadership sees itself as besieged on all sides.

But the most troubling uncertainty of all concerns the presence and role of the United States. Despite high-level assurances and continued forward deployments, there exists a broad perception in Asia that U.S. power is declining, at least in relative terms, and that the U.S. military presence in Asia is bound to decline as well. This raises doubts about the future of the U.S. role as the region's strategic anchor and balancer. More important, it raises questions about a new regional balance of power.


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