The Wheatley Institution

As America Pivots: Trends and Opportunities in the Asia-Pacific Region

Ralph A. Cossa
March 14, 2012

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It's great to be back. It's always nice to be welcomed back. I started to let that go to my head for a minute, and then I realized that America is a nation of second chances. What they were trying to do is give me a second chance to get it right. I thank my mentor Dr. Amos Jordan for all that he has done to put this program together and to give me an opportunity to be a part of it.

We have a number of the students, and I've spent the last day listening to them. I'm going to try to gear my remarks primarily to them because this is part of their important learning experience. I try to think back about 150 years ago, when I was in college, and remind myself. I remember having a mentor, someone like Amos Jordan, who used to take us all aside and say, "Focus. Focus. Focus. A man becomes what he thinks about most. You have to be very serious at this stage in your life." I thought about that for a minute, and I said, "If it were really true that a man became what he thought about most, then by the time I was 21 I would have been a woman." So I knew that advice probably wasn't true then. I know this is a much more serious group, so I'm sure in this case, the advice probably holds true.

Unlike all the previous speakers, I am not a West Point graduate. I have to acknowledge that at first. In fact, my Army friends accused me of having joined the Air Force in order to avoid military service. But it's wonderful to see some young fellows in uniform and some instructors here from West Point as well. We owe them all a real debt of gratitude.

I'm very proud to be able to participate in this program which focuses on national security. I've been asked to talk primarily about Asia, and I will do that. I wanted to break my talk into two topics. One is the so-called America pivot toward Asia. Second, we will look at some of the trends and challenges that we face in Asia today.

I think that the term "pivot" came out of Secretary Clinton's speech in Honolulu, where I'm from, back in November during the APEC meeting. She talked about America's pivot away from Afghanistan and Iraq and toward Asia. This became the Obama pivot strategy and was a big focus when he was in Australia speaking about the U.S. deploying some troops to Australia.

President Obama actually never used the term "pivot." The Pentagon hates it—they would rather say "reassess" or "rebalance"—but the press loves it because it's simple. Scholars like me love it because we can tell people they shouldn't use the word "pivot." We like it just because we criticize it. The reality is that the only thing new about the strategy is the term "pivot." The reassessment, the refocus on Asia goes back to the Bush administration—the George H. W. Bush administration in 1989, with the end of the Cold War. It was a recognition that the twenty-first century would be the Asia century, that America had to focus its attention here because of the rising security challenges but also the rising economic and political opportunities, the transformations that were underway in Asia.

This was at a time when China was not even considered a threat. China was still actually our friend in many cases. The Chinese were helping to balance us against the Soviet Union, you will recall, so this wasn't about China. Now when we talk about the pivot, it's all about China, but really, the focus on Asia was based not on concern about China but concern for our own national security interests and the need to move in that direction. This was followed as well by the Clinton administration in their new Pacific community. But as you're aware, and as we have discussed in the last couple days, we get sidetracked from time to time. As we try to swing toward Asia, we keep hitting the Middle East and getting stuck there. Certainly Iraq and Afghanistan have preoccupied a lot of our time, energy, and treasure over the past eight years or so.

Now the administration is trying to once again focus on Asia. The buzzword, which is a very unfortunate one, is America is "back in Asia." I say it's unfortunate because the reality is, we never left. We have always been in Asia; we've always had a very strong presence. The need to stress the pivot, even though it's not new, and stress that America is back is due to concerns in Asia about American commitment and American staying power.

This also is not new. I was stationed in Korea as a young lieutenant in the Air Force in 1969. When we arrived, we were told, "The most important reason that you're here is to reassure the South Koreans that we're here to defend them and that America is here to stay." We're still saying that. You can never have enough reassurance. It's reassure, reassure, reassure. There are a lot of concerns today as Asians and others watch the rise of China, but also as they see the decline of the United States. Not in our military power—we're still second to none. Not even really in our economic power. We still have an economy four times the size of China. The decline is in our political image.

They look and see our politicians unable to get their own act together and concerns about the government shutting down. They're listening to a lot of the silliness that we take for granted or disregard. When we hear politicians during campaigns, we all hope or know that they don't really believe all that they're saying and they're not going to do this. But it's confusing people in Asia. It's confusing people around the world, so we've had to refocus and reassure that we are committed to remaining in Asia.

We talked a little bit today, in an excellent presentation by John Nagl, about the elements of power, quoting a man who is the chairman of the Pacific Forum's Board of Governors, Dr. Joseph Nye. Nye talks about a three-dimensional chessboard of U.S. power: military power, economic power, and (what he coined back in 1990) soft power. Soft power is the value, the power, and the attractiveness of your ideals, your values, and your culture.

There are some countries in Asia that want us there because of our military power. If you're a South Korean and you're faced with the North Korean nuclear weapons, if you're in Japan and you're faced with a rising China with increased assertiveness, then you want to have the U.S. security umbrella. That umbrella is there and it's solid.

Everyone wants us, likes us, or at least tolerates us because of our economic power. China is buying up a lot of natural resources right now. There's a lot of increased economic interaction with China, but they're buying up those resources in order to build products to sell to Americans. If the Americans stop buying, then the Chinese are going to have an awful lot of stuff on their hands with nothing to do with it, and their economy is going to slow down again. We're still the engine, and people understand that.

It's the soft power that's the challenge. Whereas you can point to countries that are the challenge to our hard power or to our economic power, the only challenge to our soft power is us—ourselves. We challenge it by failing to live up to our ideals, by not promoting the right things, and by saying one thing and pursuing another. People expect the United States to promote democracy. It's not what we're doing; it's how we do it that's the problem. We're trying to shove it down your throat if we say, "The American model is the only model that works." We should try to let it evolve as it's evolved in Taiwan, in South Korea, and in the Philippines, Indonesia and others. In some cases, it's a matter of bedside manner more than anything else. People are watching. They're sometimes cautiously optimistic and sometimes cautiously pessimistic. All of this is in the shadow of a rising China. What does it all mean?

Let me talk about trends and challenges. I started making a quick list. I got to about thirty, and I said, "If I try to cover thirty points tonight, not only would you fall asleep, but I'd fall asleep." That's always bad form when the speaker falls asleep while he's speaking. So, I tried to narrow it down to five major trends—the ones that I had talked about here previously. There are some people in the room who were here during that first meeting. I'm hoping that you've forgotten what I said, not because I'm going to repeat it but because I may say something contradictory.

One thing that's wonderful about the United States is that you get all of these talking heads, all of these experts, who can go on day after day and no one ever holds them accountable. You can say things without fear of contradiction. My sarcastic word of advice is, when you hear all of these "experts" talking on T.V., try to think back over the other things that they've told you. Most of them are wrong most of the time, particularly in my area, in the area of dealing with China and particularly in dealing with North Korea.

The reality is, we're all guessing. Some of us have guessed for a long time. Sometimes we're right, sometimes we're wrong, but we're all guessing. We're trained to speak with a great deal of authority on things we're just guessing about. Keep that in mind. I will remind you again at the end, particularly when we talk about North Korea, that it's my best guess, but we're all guessing on this. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either trying to fool you or trying to fool themselves (or sometimes both).

Having given you the warning that this is just my best guess that you're going to hear now, let me talk about the five trends. One is the growing importance of Southeast Asia and ASEAN. The second is building on that and looking at regional cooperation, something the U.S. has been very strong on. The third—a very important trend, particularly with this administration—has been the efforts to move toward a nuclear weapons-free world. The fourth, one of the big issues that I've already mentioned six times, is the rise of China and how we deal with that. Last is the broader cooperation in Northeast Asia and the interaction with our allies. That is the one area that has been consistent in American policy over the last 60 years.

Southeast Asia is an area that is incredibly important to us. We invest three times as much money—direct foreign investment from the United States—in Southeast Asia than we do in China, ten times as much as we do in India. This area, which encompasses Indonesia, Vietnam, and all the other Southeast Asia nations, is very important to us economically as well as politically. The big challenge a couple of years ago is an opportunity today. That's Burma, which we will soon be calling Myanmar. (We're one of the few countries that still call it Burma rather than Myanmar, but I think that's going to change.)

There's actually some remarkable transformation going on. Are they going to become a Jeffersonian democracy? Probably not in my lifetime, and maybe not in yours, but the leaders there have caught on that their own policies are self-destructive. They've watched the Arab Spring. They've watched Eastern Europe. They've also watched the growing influence of China, because they've been their only friend and therefore have become very co-dependent on the Chinese to the point of being very nervous. They've made the decision to try to move forward.

There have also been remarkable changes on the ground. Ten years ago, I had the great pleasure of meeting Aung San Suu Kyi and giving a lecture at her National League for Democracy headquarters. At that time, her view was, "No compromise. You can't trust the government here. I won the last election fair and square, and until they're ready to turn over power to me, we won't compromise." Today, you see her running for office. She will win. She will then probably be named the Minister in the government. That's when we'll start calling it Myanmar because she'll start calling it Myanmar. This is a remarkable, yet still very limited and tentative, first step. But it does show some great progress. It is one of the success stories in our attempt to focus on Southeast Asia and reach a common accord with the countries there.

We then step back one step and look at the broader Asia-Pacific cooperation. ASEAN is just Southeast Asia—just those ten countries. We're part of a broader framework of cooperation within the Asia Pacific community. There are a number of organizations. There's the ASEAN Regional Forum that I'm affiliated with, which brings together a lot of the countries in the region. There's also APEC, an economic gathering that has many, but not all, of the countries in Asia and also some of the Pacific Rim countries in Latin America. It's a very strange combination in some respects. Then you have the new East Asia Summit, which is bringing together all of the countries of Asia along with Australia, New Zealand, India, the United States, and Russia. This will be the real important multilateral setting of the future. We will be working in that direction. President Obama attended his first meeting of the EAS this past year. That's something with some hope.

One of the things that these organizations have been trying to focus on now is the counter-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, something that has been very important and very high on the U.S. agenda. Four years ago, during the presidential elections, the only issue that the two candidates agreed on was that the greatest threat to the United States came from weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of non-state actors. In the next election, once the Republicans have decided who is going to be running against President Obama, the fact that that is a primary threat will be the only thing that they will continue to agree on.

We are now starting to work with these countries multilaterally. The reason they're more cooperative and willing to work with us is because, in almost everyone else's opinion in the world, non-proliferation and disarmament are two sides of the same coin. Until President Obama gave his Prague speech a couple years back, where he committed the U.S. to work with the Russians and to move towards zero, to move toward a nuclear weapon-free world, we had a great deal of difficulty in getting people to cooperate with us in the area of non-proliferation.

I will tell you that I don't believe we're going to get to zero. I don't know how we can get to zero. The challenges involved in that are daunting. We gave a lecture in Japan a couple of months ago on this whole issue. One of the Japanese in the audience raised his hand and said, "When you're down to only one nuclear weapon in the world, who has it?" That is obviously the key question. I asked him, "Who do you think should have it?" He said, "The Japanese, because we're the only ones who have had it used against us." I haven't found any Chinese who are willing to give their last nuclear weapon to the Japanese to hold for safekeeping, so getting to zero is going to be a problem.

But what we've done, and why we've made some progress, is that we haven't let the difficulties of getting to zero stop us from moving toward zero. This has really been the mindset that has changed in the last couple of years. It's important for Asia for a couple of reasons. One is that the U.S. and Russia have been cooperating significantly in bringing our numbers down but have made it very clear that we're not going to get down low enough to encourage the Chinese, the Indians, and others to come up to join us.

At some point in this dialogue of reducing nuclear weapons, you've got to bring the Chinese on board. The Chinese are the key actor. The Chinese have agreed that they have to be part of this dialogue "at the appropriate time." You will never get any Chinese who will tell you when that appropriate time is, but they're all convinced it's not now. But the U.S., Russia, and others have been trying to focus on that.

Here's where we get into the guessing game. The other big challenge is that you can't get to zero by adding. Right now, we're very concerned, as a country, about Iran. I'm grateful every morning when I wake up that I am not working on the Middle East. I used to work on the Middle East years ago. I was very pleased to go back to working on Asia where the solutions may be a little bit more difficult to find, but people will actually follow them. In the Middle East, the solutions are obvious, but no one will ever follow them. You just continue beating your head against the wall.

We, of course, have the problem with North Korea. North Korea without nuclear weapons is the Congo without jewels. It's Albania. It's a completely failed state. The North Koreans are not in a big rush to give up these nuclear weapons. It's their only marketing chip. Without them, they're going to be ignored. They understand they're going to be ignored. So we're in for a really hard battle.

We've talked about, and people have asked about, a change coming on right now since Kim Jong-il, the leader for the last 20 years, has died. His son, a 28-year-old or 29-year-old (we're not even sure how old he is) has taken over. We've suddenly had this "breakthrough" where we're starting to talk with one another. Does this mean that the son is enlightened and is going to move things in the opposite direction? We're all guessing, folks, but my guess is no. The reason why is because what the new regime is doing in North Korea is essentially following the steps that were put in place by the father.

The day the father died was two days before the U.S. and North Korea were supposed to sit down and reach the agreement that we reached two weeks ago. (Everything got delayed because of the death.) If they were going to change policy, it would have taken them six months to a year to consolidate it. Kim Jong-il laid out a game plan, and they're following that right now. What is that game plan? I'm not sure, but I can pretty well guarantee the end of that game plan is not, "We're going to give up our nuclear weapons."

We've got a pretty hard challenge in front of us, dealing with it. Our quid pro quo is to try to open up the North Korean society, to ultimately create an Arab Spring in North Korea, to recreate what happened in Eastern Europe years ago as people became more aware. People are starving in North Korea. Starving people don't overthrow governments. Starving people starve. They die. People that overthrow governments are the rising middle class, the ones that see that things could be and should be better. Those are the people we're starting to reach out to in North Korea. It's going to be a long, difficult process before we get there.

The real key is that we maintain a lockstep between the U.S. and South Korea. We've been able to do that for the last four years, but there are elections coming up—not just in the United States but in South Korea—this fall. The elections in South Korea could have a greater impact on U.S. foreign policy in Northeast Asia than the elections in the United States. I say that because we've had a very bipartisan policy vis-à-vis Asia. For the last 50 years, our alliances have been the key and we've supported that. We've had an engagement policy since Nixon with the Chinese. These are all things that will continue.

In South Korea, the political spectrum goes from way over here to way over there. Right now we're over here, but come December we may be over there again. That gets us out of sync, and we have to deal with that. That's going to be the real challenge. That's one of the downsides, the challenges of democracy, if you will. You can't predict who's going to be in charge, and you have to adjust policies beyond that.

The real problem dealing with North Korea is that the Chinese have had them on life support for a number of years and don't want to pull the plug. The Chinese are very comfortable seeing a buffer state in North Korea that provides that barrier. I would tell you with a great deal of certainty that the day a government in South Korea says, "We're going to renounce our alliance with the United States," the Chinese would probably pull the plug on the North Koreans in a heartbeat and say, "Goodbye." The winner is South Korea, and that's who you really want. But the South Koreans aren't about to do that. The South Koreans have two or three thousand years of history with China. They understand that it's best to have a big friend in your corner when you're dealing with them. That's part of the dynamic.

U.S.-China relations have been very difficult and very sensitive. There is generally a bipartisan view in the United States. John gave some terrific comments on China; I strongly agree with half of what he said, and I'll tell you the part that I disagree with. Maybe tomorrow we can debate it over lunch.

The Obama administration came to power with a unique opportunity to take U.S.-China relations to the next level. Clinton had run against H.W. Bush saying that he was "coddling the butchers of Beijing." During the Clinton administration, we started out in the hole and then had to dig out. George W. Bush ran against Clinton calling China the "strategic competitors." He started in the hole and had to dig out. Then we had the EP3 incident, which you may recall. One of our planes collided with a Chinese MiG. It put us in the hole to start with.

China was not an issue four years ago in the election. As a result, Obama was able to come in to power not in a hole but with an opportunity to raise things to the next level. He made some efforts to do that. Unfortunately, the Chinese were feeling pretty good about themselves. Again, we're all guessing, but in my view, the Chinese interpreted U.S. hospitality, cooperation, and friendship as weakness. I used to tell my Chinese friends, "Beware of premature arrogance." They didn't listen.

2010 was clearly the year of living arrogantly for the Chinese. They pushed in the South China Sea; they pushed in the East China Sea. They pushed with the North Koreans and protected the North Koreans as they were pushing. Guess what happened. We pushed back. The image of 2010 is President Obama bowing toward the emperor of Japan and toward the president of China. The image of 2011 was the George Washington aircraft carrier in the Yellow Sea, reminding the Chinese, the North Koreans, and others that we're not a "has been" yet. We're still around. China, congratulations. You're now a 600 pound gorilla. We're still the 1,600 pound gorilla. And, by the way, we're housebroken. People would rather have us in their back yard or front yard or living room than the Chinese. So, now we've had a readjustment.

China has had remarkable success. The Chinese don't like to acknowledge this, but that success, quite frankly, would not have been possible if we had not been following a policy since the Nixon administration of integrating China, of helping China to build. We had a containment policy toward the Soviet Union. We know how to contain. We didn't invest tens of billions of dollars in the Soviet Union. We let them collapse of their own weight.

We've invested tens of billions in China. The Japanese have invested tens of billions in China. The Chinese miracle is based in part on very hard work and very skillful management by the Chinese, but it's also built on American, Japanese and Western direct foreign investment. It has created an interdependence which gives us mutually assured economic destruction. That's the same tack we took toward Germany and Japan after WWII. It worked, by the way. They're both very close friends and allies. Some of us can remember when that wasn't the case. Ultimately, I believe that will work with China as well.

If you ask most audiences which country has the largest economy today—the United States, Japan, or China—at least one third to one half, sometimes more, will say China. The reality is that China this past year surpassed Japan. It is now the second largest economy in the world—one quarter the size of the economy of the United States. Some are predicting that in gross domestic product, China will surpass the United States in the next five years. I'm not an economist, but I don't understand that math. No matter how fast China goes, unless we start going backwards at 10% a year, it's twenty or thirty years from now before China is able to reach where we are. When they do, per capita income is still going to be one tenth of what ours is.

By the way, Japan is still the third richest nation on earth. When you look at per capita income, if you need a loan, who are you going to go to? The Chinese or the Japanese? Well, the Chinese don't have any money to spare, but Japan, despite some of the tragedies they've been through in the last year, is still one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world. Japan has a reservoir of soft power in terms of being the only country that is dedicated to peaceful solution to problems, that has foresworn the use of military force to solve problems, that is certainly dedicated to moving toward a nuclear-free world, etc.

We shouldn't overestimate the Chinese or underestimate Japan. When I talk about China, I use the Wizard of Oz analogy. If you all remember the Wizard of Oz—everyone cowers behind this great big shadow on the screen. Then the little dog looks behind the screen and sees that it's a little guy casting this great big shadow. That's China today. That guy has grown. He's taller than he used to be, but he's still only about 5'4". He's casting this big shadow and people are reacting to it.

China put out an aircraft carrier out to sea this year to test it. This was a 1984 Soviet Ukrainian platform that was going to be a floating casino in Hong Kong. Now the Chinese are trying to use it as an aircraft carrier. Immediately, people are equating the Chinese Navy with the Seventh Fleet. Preposterous. Absolutely preposterous. The strongest navy in the Pacific by far, outside of the American navy, is still the Japanese navy. If you're choosing up sides for a war game, you're going to choose the Japanese first, you're going to choose the Koreans second, and there are a couple others you might consider before you want to bring the Chinese in on your team.

That's not to say China does not represent a challenge. The biggest threat to China is China. It's dealing with their own youth, dealing with a group of 20- and 30-somethings. I've got two of them that are studying at Pacific Forum today, and I've had a half a dozen who have been at Pacific Forum previously. Five out of those six are still in the United States somewhere. They are the best and the brightest, and they're in no rush to go back to China because they see there are greater opportunities here. They don't like what they're seeing at home. That's the real challenge to China internally—managing this among a generation that has never seen anything but the pie getting bigger every year. As many problems as we have, I would much rather have our problems than China's problems.

I don't lose a lot of sleep, quite frankly, about China surpassing the United States anytime in my lifetime—certainly not economically, certainly not politically, and certainly not in soft power. There may be countries in Asia that say, "Boy, I wish that my government was as rich as the Chinese government," but no one wakes up in the morning and says, "Boy, I wish my government would treat me the way the Chinese treat their people." That's American soft power. That's Japanese and South Korean soft power. That's the real advantage. That's what the 20- and 30-somethings in China are looking at. That's why I don't worry, at the end of the day, about Chinese power, either soft or hard. The Chinese are going to have their hands full just dealing with what they have now.

I've had discussions with the Chinese about the Arab Spring. The Chinese say, "It could never happen in China for three reasons. Number one, in the Middle East, globalization is the enemy. In China, it's our friend. We embrace globalization. We see the value of it." That's very true. "Number two, in the middle east, young people look ahead, and things look hopeless. Unemployment is high, etc. In China, young people look ahead, and the future is bright. The pie is getting bigger every year. There are greater opportunities." They're right. Then they say, "Number three, we understand the power of the internet, and we're taking steps to make sure that it can't be used to undermine the solidity of the government and the Party." You say, "You know what? If number one and two were really true, you wouldn't need to do number three." So there's still a problem there.

I was in China a couple years ago, and I was complaining that my website was being blocked because somebody had written something about Tibet. That upset the Chinese, so they block your website. I complained to a group of Party officials about the website being blocked. This one young Party official came up to me later and said, "There's no problem. We use Yahoo! Navigator. We get around the blocks. There's no problem." I couldn't figure out how to access my website; every young person in China knows how to do it. They know how to get something on the Dalai Lama, and they know how to get something on what's really happening in the world. They look at their government and say, "You must think I'm stupid if you don't think I can figure out how to get around this." That, to me, is the real challenge.

The final point I'll make is on Northeast Asia cooperation. We've been trying to do this ad hoc thing called the Six-Party Talks. It's been aimed primarily at trying to denuclearize North Korea, which, in my view, is not going to happen anytime soon. What we really need to focus on is containing them and opening them up. Hopefully, we'll see the Helsinki Process finally work in North Korea over a number of years.

But all of this is based on the solid foundation of U.S. alliances with Japan, with South Korea, with Australia, and with the Philippines and Thailand. This has been one of our real strengths in Asia and will continue to be one of our real strengths. Every Asia speech by every president during my lifetime has started off by talking about the importance of our Asia alliances, our relationships, and continuing to build and grow those. As long as we continue to do that, I think we're going to be in good shape as far as our relationships with Asia go. I think we're going to see Asia moving in the right direction, which will serve their purposes well and will serve our purposes well in addition.



Question and Answer

Question: I was just wondering if you could share some comments on the U.S. relationship with Thailand and what we have invested with that country.

Cossa: I missed that when I talked about key countries in Southeast Asia. Thailand has been a long-standing ally of the United States. It has also been a country that we've had an up-and-down relationship with. This gives me an opportunity also to make another point, which you probably weren't trying to drive at: One of the wisdoms of our founding fathers was to try to put foreign policy in the hands of the president and not in the legislature. Ever since then, we've had Congresses who have tried to find a way to run foreign policy.

One of the ways we've done that is by essentially establishing rules that say, "We have to break off all relations with any country that has a 'democratic government' that is overthrown by a military coup." Thailand had that situation where they had a "democratic government" that was becoming more and more corrupt. The military essentially forced the issue, and then they returned to another form of democracy. We shot ourselves in the foot and stopped dealing with them.

We had a similar situation in Indonesia where an element of the Indonesian Armed Forces did some fairly nasty things in Timor. Certainly we shouldn't have tolerated that. We should have criticized it, but the Congressional response was to cut off all military training with the Indonesians. Before, we used to get all of the best and the brightest young captains and majors from the Indonesian military to go to Carlisle barracks, to attend West Point, or to go to our various service schools and get a bit of indoctrination on what democracy is all about and what America is all about. We went through an entire generation of military leaders in Indonesia that had no familiarity with the United States and no interaction with us because of this legislation—shooting ourselves in the foot.

We've done that, in some respects, in Thailand. We're now seeing Thailand back on board. Democracy has essentially been restored. There are still some challenges. There are two big challenges in Thailand. One is the politician who was, by all accounts, pretty corrupt. He was expelled, and his sister is now the prime minister. He wants to come back. I think he was assuming his sister would become his proxy. Once she took over, she liked being prime minister of Thailand. She is not necessarily going to listen to everything her brother says. But he's eager to come back. That's going to create some tensions.

The other real tension is that Thailand is a unique nation in that the monarchy still exists. There's great reverence for the king. The king is getting on in years, and there's not that kind of reverence for his son. There is a great deal of reverence for the daughter, but the way things are going, it's more likely the son is going to take over. It's not guaranteed. I think the daughter probably has a food taster now to make sure her brother doesn't slip her something that she doesn't want to eat. We're going to have those kinds of challenges as well.

Thailand has also suffered from a Muslim insurgency in the south that they have not been very effective in dealing with, so there are a lot of challenges there. But Thailand is one of the few countries that have maintained their independence and autonomy over the years. It didn't get conquered by the Japanese; the Chinese never took it over. They're unique, and they're an important ally and partner of the United States. We saw this in 2004 when the tsunami hit in Indonesia and in Thailand. We had very little ability to interact in Indonesia, but because of the alliance structure with Thailand, we were able to bring in massive amounts of assistance, create a headquarters at U-Tapao in Thailand, and operate from there.

If I could go off on a tangent, one other thing that I was going to mention in my remarks is this whole idea about development assistance and emergency assistance. It's something that you all have been talking about here in the last day and a half. We've seen something very interesting in the last couple of years.

What's the difference between Japan and the United States on one hand and Bangladesh and the Philippines on the other? The difference is that Bangladesh and the Philippines have natural disasters that they can't handle. Frequently. As a result, they are very good at accepting foreign aid. They know how to do it. The rules and procedures are in place. When a crisis hits in Bangladesh, in the Philippines, or in many of these other countries, they dial 911 and the Americans and the American military come to the rescue.

When we had Katrina, and when the Japanese had the great tragedy of last March 11—the triple whammy of one of the largest earthquakes in history, a 50-foot tidal wave, and then the nuclear meltdown—people wanted to go to help. Because Japan and the United States are so used to being self-sufficient and handing these things by ourselves, we didn't have a clue how to get people to help us. Taiwan wanted to send rescue teams with dogs to Japan, but how do we get around the quarantine rules? If you had been thinking about these types of things, you would have had a procedure in place.

We had the same problem. There were countries in Europe and elsewhere that wanted to help us, and we didn't know how to bring them in. We didn't have status of forces agreements to help with this and that. Sometimes you can be too powerful. You can be too advanced, and as a result, you're not prepared to let people help you. You don't have those procedures in place. This was a lesson that we kind of learned but haven't fully learned with Katrina and that the Japanese learned in their case.

This whole idea of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief is one of the glues that is binding a lot of multilateral cooperation in Asia today. You can't cooperate in a lot of other different areas, but that's a non-sensitive area. Everybody wants to save people's lives, so it's an area where we can cooperate. But we have to understand that you have to have the procedures in place so that both rich and poor know how to operate in that area.

Question: You mentioned in your most recent article about the "food for freeze" with North Korea, Six-Party Talks that were halted in the last session when the North Koreans pulled the rug out at the last minute. What's the possibility that they'll do that again in this round of talks?

Cossa: We just had this, what I call, "food for freeze" agreement. Incidentally, the U.S. hates to call it that because we insist that we gave the food aid based on humanitarian needs and the North Koreans gave the freeze because they understand that they need to do this in order to cooperate with us. The North Koreans insisted it was a quid pro quo deal, and the U.S. is insisting that it wasn't. As a result, there were two unilateral announcements made and not a joint announcement. This is what you have to do in dealing with the North Koreans.

We had, under the Bush administration, come to a certain point in what I call the repeatable cycle with the North Koreans. The North Koreans create a crisis, they create a bad atmosphere, and then they say, "We'll let you pay us to behave. We'll let you pay us to do what we should have been doing like any other normal nation." Ultimately, we start off by saying that we're not going to reward bad behavior, and then we reward bad behavior. We pay them to try to behave.

We got in that cycle where we gave the North Koreans a million tons of heavy fuel oil in return for them freezing "irreversibly, and with complete transparency," their nuclear program. However, when it got to the point of trying to make it completely transparent by having a verification regime, the North Koreans said, "No. We're not going to go there." They pull the rug out. We're back to zero, back to missile tests and nuclear tests. Now we're back in that cycle for about the fourth time: "We're now willing to behave if you'll pay us." They're not necessarily willing to give up their nuclear weapons. They're just willing to not make things worse.

There's some value in things not getting worse, so don't get me wrong. I'm not against talking with the North Koreans. I'm not against making shameless deals where we give them food for their starving people, and, in return, they stop making things worse. But we need to not delude ourselves into thinking that this means that the North Koreans next Tuesday are going to give up their nuclear weapons.

The North Koreans are going to move through a process until it's "put up or shut up" time. Then they will first shut up, and then start shouting. Then we'll go through this routine again. It's because the people in the Obama administration are the same ones who learned that lesson during the Clinton administration, and then watched the Bush administration learn the lesson two more times during their eight years, that they've been less eager to rejoin that cycle.

North Korea, for the United States and for China, is a part-time job. President Obama wakes up in the morning, and the last thing on his mind is dealing with North Korea. When Kim Jong-un wakes up in the morning, the first thing on his mind is, "How do I survive? How do I play the U.S. against China and against Russia? How do I get the food and everything else?" We're dealing with them on a part-time basis while their full-time job is figuring out how they can play us. They're very good at it.

Then we say, "They're irrational. They're crazy." Any time you hear someone, particularly in the intelligence community, say, "The other guy is irrational," what he's really saying is, "I can't figure out their rationale." If you really look at how well the North Koreans have done in playing everyone against one another and getting what they've wanted, they have been the most rational actor in this game.

We need to understand that the North Korean philosophy has been the suicidal, "Stop, or I'll shoot." Everyone stands there and says, "Oh my, what should we do? Don't pull the trigger." They've managed to turn their weakness into a strength. The fact that we care more about starving North Koreans than they do gives them leverage over us in dealing with humanitarian issues. It's perverse, it's backwards, and it's not the way it's supposed to be, but it's the way it is. That's what we have to deal with.

Question: How long are we going to maintain our troops in South Korea? We have about 40,000 there, and we've done it for 55 or 60 years. My impression is that it's bad for our deficit, it's bad for our balance of payments, and it causes them to be more efficient because we're carrying the cost of looking after them. It seems to me that there ought to be an end to this, and it ought to be sooner rather than later.

Cossa: Well, that's one opinion. I have an opposite opinion. Right now we're down to about 25,000 troops on the ground in South Korea. We've reduced over the years, and they've taken on a broader mission than just security on the Korean peninsula. There may come a day when it is fine for us to bring those forces home.

In my view, today is not day, particularly since it would send a signal to the North Koreans that our commitment is waning. It would send a signal to the Japanese and others that our commitment is waning. It would send a message to the Chinese that the United States is turning its back and reducing its security commitment in Asia. I think we're locked in, at least in the near term, to that.

The good news is that South Koreans are paying for the cost of those forces more and more. They don't pay as much as the Japanese do. What the Japanese are now finding is that the only thing more expensive than having American bases in Japan is getting us out. We're preparing to move some of our marines from Okinawa to Guam, but we've given the Japanese such a horrendous bill to help build up Guam for us to move there that they're finding out it's more expensive to get us to go than to stay. The point is that both Japan and Korea, unlike Europe, have shouldered part of the burden of having U.S. forces on the ground through host nation support. That's a very important element.

But to me, the important thing is the symbol of U.S. commitment that those forces portray. Does it have to be 25,000? I don't think so. We have reduced the numbers. It used to be 35,000 or 37,000, so we've cut it by a third. The concern right now is sending North Korea the wrong message. That is something that, obviously, we're very sensitive to.

The real answer is: As long as the South Korean people and the American people are prepared to have us stay there. It's been very interesting that progressives are campaigning against the conservative government in Seoul on a quasi-anti-American platform. They're going to undo the Free Trade Agreement between the U.S. and South Korea. (Except that now they're saying, "Well, maybe we won't undo it, we'll just renegotiate it.") They said, "We also have to talk about the presence of U.S. forces. Maybe they shouldn't stay after reunification." Even the people who say, "Yankees go home," add, "but not just yet." The first thing the president of the previous government, who ran on an anti-American platform, did when he got reelected was to start working on strengthening the alliance. They understand the importance of it.

I think it's a very delicate balance. We have reduced numbers; we also need to reduce footprint and consolidate those forces. We're trying to do that, both in Japan and in Korea. I think that's very important, but we have to give a symbol of continuing commitment. Having at least some forces on the ground in both of those countries is a very important way that we do that.

We're also talking about deploying some forces in other areas. You may have seen, and I mentioned just very briefly, the marines sent to Darwin, Australia. Again, this is part of our focus on Asia that's been going on for the last 30 years. President Obama announced that we were going to send 250 U.S. marines to train on a temporary basis in Darwin, Australia next year. The Chinese immediately protested. They said, "This is part of the American containment policy, and Australia needs to be careful about being caught in the crossfire."

Darwin, Australia is 2,500 miles from the closest piece of Chinese territory. This would be like trying to contain Washington by sending troops to Provo. It's a pretty big crossfire, but it is part of the fact that Chinese will complain about anything that we're doing. It also means they're getting our attention (or we're getting their attention), and we're demonstrating to them that we are here in Asia.

We're going to do it in a smart way—locations in and out that don't disrupt and destroy relations on the ground—but it's all part of demonstrating that the U.S. remains committed. We understand that some type of a presence in Asia reinforces that commitment and provides people with the necessary confidence to maintain their friendships and alliances with us and to deal with China from a position of strength rather than weakness.

Question: Some public opinion polls indicate that there's an increasing sense of national identity among the Taiwanese. Do you foresee a flare-up in Taiwan over the question of their status? What effect might that have on U.S.-Chinese relations?

Cossa: One of the real success stories of the past 20 years has been the advent and the growth of democracy in Taiwan. It's also a great counter and a reminder to the Chinese. When they say, "Western style democracy doesn't work in Chinese culture," we say, "Take a look at what's happening in Taiwan. They actually are making this work, and they've been very successful at it. They've become one of the strongest economies in the world, despite all the disadvantages."

There are maybe 3-5% of the people in Taiwan that still yearn for reunification with the mainland. There are maybe 20% to 30% in Taiwan that would like to tell the Chinese, "Get out of our life. Leave us alone. We're an independent country; like it or lump it." The problem is that they might have to lump it, and no one's particularly eager. The general mood in Taiwan is, "Let's pretend there's only one China. In the meantime, you leave us alone, we'll leave you alone, and we'll continue with our democratic ways and live happily ever after." That's essentially what's happening.

At some point (I've been predicting this for 20 years; it hasn't happened yet, so I'll just keep predicting it, and maybe one day it will), my prediction is that one day you will have a "one nation, two states"; "one country, two governments," with some type of a shared sovereignty. They'll all pretend there's still only one China, but within that one China, there's a Republic of China and there's a People's Republic of China. Hu Jintao will be the queen, or something like that, and will live happily ever after. There will be a fig leaf of one China.

The idea that Taiwan would want to become a province in mainland China today is nonsense. In fact, even the hard-core Chinese understand that there's no reason for Taiwan to want to integrate with China. China has to get itself up to Taiwan's level. You just need to get another generation or two to pass in order to accept the reality of two separate countries, both claiming to be one China. I think there will ultimately be a "one nation, two state" solution, but it's going to still take some time.

Question: With cyber security becoming an issue, or becoming relevant, in recent years, what can we do to counter Chinese cyber threats and attacks?

Cossa: This is one of the greatest challenges that we're going to face in the twenty-first century. My organization, on behalf of the Defense Department, runs a strategic dialogue with the Chinese where we bring American military and Chinese military to talk about nuclear issues and security issues. The Chinese this past year asked to put cyber on the agenda. We said, "Okay, what do you want to talk about?" What the Chinese wanted to do was try to convince us that China is the victim, not the perpetuator, of cyber-attacks. One went so far as to tell us that it was these Taiwanese tourists that come to China with their laptops. "They get online in the hotel somewhere and start doing these attacks. Woe is us."

We happened to have as the head of our delegation on this past meeting admiral Danny Blair, who used to be the Director of Central Intelligence for the United States. Admiral Blair listened to this for a while, and then finally he said, "Look. I used to be DCI. I know you spy on us. You know we spy on you. The difference is that we try to follow certain rules, and it's done military versus military. We understand that there are things that you can do and things that you can't do. You're doing industrial espionage. You're doing it on behalf of business; you're doing it against civil groups. We've got to get some rules before things get triggered."

We also had very sobering conversations about outer space—attacks against satellites and things like that. (Some of this is sensitive but not classified. We don't do anything that's classified at Pacific Forum.) The Chinese were absolutely shocked when they were told that during the Cold War, if we had taken out Soviet eyes in the sky, or the Soviets had taken out our eyes in the sky, it could have prompted a nuclear exchange. This would have been seen as starting a nuclear war.

See, the Chinese have a no-first-use policy. They believe that they would never use nuclear weapons unless someone else used them. We should have that same policy, and therefore they believe they have a safe competition. They are now starting to learn that there are things they could do to incite warfare, and cyber falls into that category. If there were a cyber-attack against the command and control of U.S. nuclear forces, this could be interpreted as the first sign of an imminent attack. Our response could very well be, "Launch before you can't." You could start a nuclear war this way. It was very sobering.

This is the kind of conversation that we need to have with the Chinese. We're just starting to have them. We're doing it at the Track II level, the non-governmental level. This essentially means we have government officials on both sides in the room, in their private capacities, who can talk candidly to one another with the fig leaf of the Pacific Forum or some other organization. This allows the dialogue to take place because at the governmental level, they're not yet prepared to do that. But these conversations are starting to take place.

It is a very serious problem. It's not just China. I'm not sympathetic to the Chinese argument about a bunch of Taiwanese tourists, but these attacks come from everywhere. South Koreans today raised their communications alert because they're hosting the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul here in another week. They'll have heads of state from 50 different countries, and they're very worried that the North Koreans will be launching some kind of cyber-attacks in order to embarrass the South Koreans and make them look weak in the eyes of the world. So it's not just China. Some of our friends are probably doing this stuff, too. It's a big challenge, and I don't think we've gotten a grasp on it.

Question: Do you think that the spread of Chinese businesses over the world are a security threat or challenge for the U.S.? If so, what can be done?

Cossa: Chinese businessmen are a challenge to U.S. businessmen. Chinese businessmen are starting to learn some of the rules, and we're trying to enforce some of the rules. I think competition is a good thing. I think we need to be able to deal with that. Chinese do take unfair advantage in some areas. Fortunately, by being smart enough to bring them into the WTO, we have a mechanism now for dealing with that. It's not a perfect mechanism, but there are opportunities in place. When you can get the EU, Japan, and the United States pressuring China on a particular issue at the WTO, it's a lot more effective than if we (or anyone else) are trying to do it bilaterally.

There are challenges that the Chinese are also out trying to buy up everything in the world that they can. The Chinese are doing a lot of aid now. It's hypocritical in some ways. They're still insisting that the Japanese give them aid because they're an undeveloped country, and at the same time they're going out and giving aid to others. But when you get Chinese aid, it comes with Chinese attached. I was in Timor-Leste (East Timor) and the question I got repeatedly from different audiences was, "How do we get Chinese aid without all these Chinese? The Chinese are coming in, building buildings for us, and then they're staying."

China is one of the few nations on earth that has 125 men for every 100 women. A lot of these Chinese guys start settling in little villages in Timor, in Indonesia, in Africa, and in other places where they're going. They start essentially taking over these local economies. That's a much bigger concern, quite honestly, than competing one on one with Chinese businessmen in the world. But at the end of the day, it hurts the Chinese because people become much more suspicious of Chinese motives for aid and assistance. It all eventually comes back around. That's part of the challenge.

Question: My question is about the fact that China is maybe trying to get into Latin America stronger (in the same way that the Soviet Union tried during the Cold War). If you see that this could happen, how can it affect American foreign policy, getting the Chinese so close?

Cossa: I think we've got to watch what the Chinese are doing in Latin America, in Africa, and all over the world, just as the Chinese are watching what we're doing in Asia. We can't very well say, "Chinese aren't allowed in Latin America; they shouldn't be investing there or trying to establish good relations there," while at the same time we're in Burma trying to have good relations there.

At the end of the day, the Latin American countries have to make a choice. They have to take a look at who they're getting in bed with. One of the things that the Chinese have to carry around with them is that if you make a list of the world's top ten tyrants, the one thing that they all have in common is that their best friend is China. What does this say about countries that want to become closely involved with the Chinese? What does it say about the people in those countries who are going to be extremely suspicious about the Chinese?

I don't lose a lot of sleep, quite honestly. I'm not naïve. I think China does pose a challenge that we need to be aware of. We need to have faith in our own system, in our own soft power and economic power, and not overreact to the Chinese threat but respond to it sensibly. We need to help educate other countries to respond to it sensitively.

But as the Soviets tried and failed, we've seen the same in the South Pacific. We had what I called "rent-a-country" (we have these in Latin America, too) where the Chinese and Taiwanese went in there for years and tried to buy off who was going to recognize which China. The Chinese and Taiwanese have finally figured out that this is not very effective. They've had a diplomatic truce for the last four years, and all these corrupt governments around the world are saying, "Come on, guys, start fighting again. We want the corruption back." But sooner or later, people figure out that this isn't going to work to their advantage.

Question: Mongolia is another East Asian country that shares a sense of insecurity due to the growing presence of China. It has a small population and a history of losing its territory to China. As we consider these factors, do you see Mongolia becoming another South Korea or Japan that's willing to allow U.S. military bases and become part of the U.S. strategy to deter China?

Cossa: The answer is no. Would the Mongolians like that? They would love that. The Mongolians would love to have the United States provide a greater security presence. How do we get there? You can't get to Mongolia without overflying Russia or China, so it makes it a little bit difficult. What we have done is provide a lot of developmental assistance to the Mongolians. We've given them an option other than becoming reliant on China. We've certainly helped them since they essentially threw the Soviets out at the end of the Cold War. Mongolia was controlled by the Soviet Union, not by China.

From my standpoint as a political scientist, Mongolia has been a wonderful test case. I've been there seven times. I was part of their effort to develop their National Security Council, to lecture their military on the role of a military in democracy, and to move in the area of peacekeeping and all of that. Mongolia has one eye looking at central Asia and one eye looking toward Northeast Asia. They've assumed, quite correctly, that their interests lie more in being part of Northeast Asia even though, from a geography standpoint, they're more part of Central Asia. They understand Central Asia as essentially the Russians and the Chinese trying to tell everyone else what to do, and they don't want to be a part of that.

Our policy toward Mongolia has been helping to promote democracy and providing assistance in development. The country that's actually been the biggest actor in helping to promote this in Mongolia has been South Korea. This is an area where we welcome and encourage the South Korean lead because there's a lot more in common there. I wouldn't want to see us put military bases in Mongolia. It would probably cause more problems than it solved.

Question: I would like to know what possibilities you foresee regarding the internal dynamics of China becoming more democratic and open and how that would affect U.S.-China relations.

Cossa: If you have watched China over the last 20 years, you would be amazed how "democratic and open" China has become. The Chinese have even started having free local elections where non-communist candidates can run against Party candidates and, in many cases, win. What the Chinese do once that guy wins is they immediately invite him to join the Party. They're trying to create democracy within the Communist Party. Will that work? I don't know.

Keep in mind, for 40 years we were touting Japan democracy. It was all different factions of the LDP deciding who was going to become the leader, and people got to choose from that faction. It's going to be a slow process, but the Chinese understand that. More importantly, your generation in China is going to demand it. One of the most popular figures in China today is Ma Ying-jeou, the president of Taiwan. They find him dynamic, attractive, and popular. "By the way, how come we don't have leaders like that?" You hear young Chinese saying that; you see that on the blogs.  That's the internal dynamic that's going to force China to change.

They are going to try to keep the Party in control as long as they possibly can. They're going to try that by internal reform. Every Democrat in the United States would like to be able to keep the Democrats in power forever, and every Republican would like to see the Republicans. But it fortunately doesn't work that way. Ultimately, that's going to evolve in China as well. It will be a democracy "with Chinese characteristics," as the Chinese say. It's going to be slow in coming, but you're already seeing a great deal of liberalization.

When I first started going to China, there was one newspaper. That was all you were getting. I have, in the last year, appeared on CCTV in China about a dozen times via Skype. They call me, I set up my laptop, and I debate. Sometimes the moderator will be tougher on the Chinese guy that I'm talking to than on me. It's marvelous to watch this. You go to China, to the think tanks, you talk to people, and they start arguing amongst themselves. Whereas ten years ago, it was just coincidence, I'm sure, that every Chinese scholar had the same exact opinion on the same exact topics.

There is a transformation underway. The Chinese are trying to do it in a slow, controlled, measured way. The Arab Spring, I think, has frightened them. It has sobered them. But Tiananmen really frightened them and sobered them as well. One wonders where China would be today if the students had peacefully left Tiananmen Square on June 3. That process was underway at that point, and they lost control of it. The process got out of hand, they overreacted to it, and now they're trying to bring it back.

But all of a sudden, a couple hundred Falun Gong practitioners show up in front of the Chinese guest houses and start practicing. The Chinese say, "How did they manage to do this?" It sobers them. It keeps them nervous. They want to move things very slowly, but life is happening to the Chinese. From my standpoint, is it moving fast enough? Absolutely not. Has there been some backsliding in the last couple of years? Yes.

When this backsliding started occurring a couple of years ago, I asked one of our young Chinese fellows who is in residence at Pacific Forum, "Is this a sign of Chinese insecurity, or is this a sign of Chinese overconfidence? Do you feel so confident now that you can shove people down because you don't care about the West complaining, or are you so insecure that you feel like you have to hold people down?" She said, "The answer is yes. We feel very confident in dealing with the United States. Our leadership feels very insecure in dealing with my generation." That, to me, is the telling thing which gives me a lot of encouragement that there will be a gradual—but effective and irreversible—transformation underway in China. The Party will try to slow it down, but ultimately it won't be able to control it.

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