State Dept: Pan-Pacific rivalry & cooperation OK
By John McClelland
The United States, China and numerous other Pacific nations have common interests in cooperation, despite economic and political rivalries, according to a senior State Department official.
There should not be conflict or undue friction with China, even in places where both nations' interests seem to overlap or collide, he told the Association of Opinion Journalists during its April 23 briefings. Several of his views, and certain phrases, appeared in national news stories April 27 and beyond*.
He asked that his briefing be not-for-attribution because of the sensitive nature of the topics and the speculative or off-the-cuff nature of some of his remarks. Under previously agreed ground rules, we agreed to this common department practice. Otherwise, as was true for decades in the National Conference of Editorial Writers, all AOJ events are on-the-record.
Seriously, this diplomat said, the diplomatic, economic (and Implicitly, military) relations around the Pacific rim and beyond are complex on many levels. As one example, he mentioned State's use of "Burma" rather than "Myanmar."**
Whether dealing with North Korea in a time of change in its leadership or with long-time allies such as Japan and the Philippines, U.S. diplomats must consider the interests of third-parties or even 10 or more nations, he indicated in more than one context.
Some goals he outlined:
--Get China policy right: "This is not a Cold War or containment any more," and the U.S. and China are "very interdependent" regarding economies and security, "more so than with any other country in Asia."
--Build multilateral relations: Efforts include an East Asia Summit that President Obama attended in Bali in 2011 (it will be in Cambodia this year), and a wider recognition that all nations involved are full partners in regional issues.
--Increase investments in trade: A Trans-Pacific Partnership will be a trade- and investment framework that will be "open and fair." To a question about shrinking access to U.S. information on this, he said the agreement will not include a Freedom of Information chapter but "will have big items on intellectual property rights for media content, pharmeceuticals" and more.
--Enhance security: "More efficient distribution" of U.S. military assets continues, further reducing the "heavy footprint" of bases since the post-Vietnam closings. The recent posting of 250 Marines to Australia is an example of "joint use facilities," not big, expensive "bases."
Host countries cannot afford either the large amounts of land nor the cultural turmoil that big air bases or naval ports involve, he said. For example, "Philippine domestic politics cannot accommodate a Clark or Subic."
To a question about China perceiving an expanding U.S. force presence, he said diplomatic discussions with China have "not been as heated as some have characterized them."
Of China's growing global role, he said its growing economy makes a higher profile in places such as the Caribbean "inevitable" and not a serious cause for concern. Our relations with Japan and China "are not a zero-sum game" and we don't need to shortchange one to deal with the other.
North Korea has upset things at least twice recently.
The briefer said that, after a long history, "We had an agreement to restart the six-party talks on nuclear weapons, missiles and other [weapons of mass destruction.]" He said the U.S. had made it clear that no "missile launch, disguised as a 'space launch'," would be tolerated, but the North went ahead.
He did not, however, characterize the stopping of food aid that had been agreed to on Feb. 29 as a reaction to the missile launch. Instead, he said, it was the result of North Korea's failure to let observers see that the food would reach the needy people, not the military.
After a question about North Korean threats to destroy South Korea, he paused briefly and with lifted-eyebrow a tone of lifted-eybrow politeness, "That kind of rhetoric is not helpful."
John McClelland is retired journalism faculty at Roosevelt University in Chicago, where he taught 22 years after 22 years in newspapers. He began editing Masthead in November 2011.
* no "zero-sum game" (Hillary Clinton), overview, "officials," New York Times 4/27.
* military "footprint," redeployment, host nation limits ("officials), NYT 4/27.
* Philippines & U.S. forces NYT 4/30
A more experienced observer's take on State's briefing on Asia policy is Dan Simpson's May 3 column
(c) 2012 Association of Opinion Jounalists
The Masthead, spring 2012, web-published in stages April 24 to mid-may 2012 at
This page ver 1 4/27 updated ver 2 with NK "not helpful" 4/30, Simpson link 5/3, Burma link update 5/23