Despite some anti-American sentiments coming from economically troubled Asia, the United States must maintain a strong military presence there, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III said at the U.S. Naval Academy last night.
The grim outlook of bankruptcies and layoffs in many Asian nations is a troubling sign that should keep stability in the area "inextricably linked" to the security provided by a U.S. presence, said Baker, secretary of state under President George Bush.
"Power matters. American power really matters, because economic hardship breeds discontent," said Baker, who also served as President Ronald Reagan's treasury secretary and chief of staff.
Baker's comments came as the Naval Academy wrapped up its annual Foreign Affairs Conference, which since 1960 has drawn hundreds of students from colleges and military academies around the globe.
This year, nearly 200 students from 21 countries attended the four-day conference.
This year's theme was "Asia Rising?"
Academic Dean William C. Miller said the focus was chosen almost a year ago, months before Asia's economic downturn. The original theme had been "Asia Rising." The question mark was added later.
"Now our selected theme appears even more relevant," he said.
U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, speaking to students Tuesday, said that while the economic crisis in Asia is "severe," some of the pessimism and doubt about Asia's future has been "exaggerated."
Barshefsky negotiated the landmark 1996 agreement with China on intellectual property rights in an effort to close factories illegally manufacturing compact discs and software. That negotiation, Barshefsky said, was an example of the role the United States can play in Asia's rescue.
"We face the enormous challenge of finding common ground and building a permanent, stable working relationship with China after the Cold War," Barshefsky said. "What we hope to see in the coming decades is a China fully integrated into the modern world."
Baker said China's likely evolution into a superpower is another reason for a continued U.S. military presence in Asia, "to make certain that rising powers such as China don't get any ideas about engaging in dangerous adventurism."
"The worst thing we could do in this country is make China an enemy," he said.
U.S. must be 'a player'
Adm. Charles R. Larson, academy superintendent, opened the conference Monday with a rare recounting of his experiences as commander in chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific, where he served for four years before coming to Annapolis in 1994. Larson said he regularly visited 28 Asian counties, including China and Russia, and met with their heads of state.
Larson said he learned from his experiences that the U.S. military must be "a player, a partner and a beneficiary" in Asia. But it needs to be wary of any ethnic rivalries, anti-U.S. sentiments and internal conflict that could result from economic unrest.
For example, the flow of illegal Indonesian immigrants searching for jobs in Malaysia could lead to problems in that part of the continent, Larson said.
He said his troops helped evacuate 18,000 people from the Philippines when Mount Pinatubo exploded in 1991 and aided victims of a typhoon in Bangladesh. But residents of many of the countries he visited and assisted often asked, "Are you here to stay?"
"It's important for them to understand that we're not there to collect territory but to support stability in the region," Larson said.
Pub Date: 4/16/98