United States gath­ers Asian democ­ra­cies, re­as­sures them


The United States took a mo­ment Tues­day to gather the great Asian democ­ra­cies to its side to re­as­sure them of the strength of their ties in the face of North Korean threats and an as­sertive main­land China.

New threats from Py­ongyang, omi­nous eco­nomic sig­nals and China’s ag­gres­sive stance on its ter­ri­to­rial claims in the South China Sea and the Pa­cific have sent jit­ters through the re­gion.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has long talked about a “re­bal­anc­ing” in Amer­ica’s strate­gic fo­cus, the so- called pivot to Asia, but has of­ten been dis­tracted by crises else­where.

Of­fi­cials say 21st cen­tury Amer­ica will be as much a Pa­cific power as an At­lantic one, but in re­cent months Syria, Ukraine, Iran and Cuba have used up a lot of diplo­matic band­width.

So on Tues­day in New York on the side­lines of the U.N. Gen­eral Assem­bly, se­nior of­fi­cials from the United States, Ja­pan and South Korea met to re­new their ties and show a com­mon front.

Later in the day, For­eign Min­is­ter Sushma Swaraj of In­dia, the world’s largest democ­racy and a grow­ing eco­nomic part­ner of the United States, was also to meet her U.S. and Ja­panese coun­ter­parts.

“The pri­mary pur­pose of this is to rec­og­nize that the re­gion is go­ing through cer­tain chal­lenges, but also faces ma­jor op­por­tu­ni­ties,” U. S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry said.

Kerry cited ne­go­ti­a­tions for the Tran­sPa­cific Part­ner­ship — a ma­jor free trade deal — as a chance to deepen eco­nomic ties, and North Korea’s rogue regime as an im­me­di­ate dan­ger to the re­gion.

Ja­panese For­eign Min­is­ter Fumio Kishida agreed, call­ing the se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment “very se­vere” and stress­ing the im­por­tance of the U.S.-Ja­pan and U.S.South Korea mil­i­tary al­liances.

Af­ter the first an­nual U. S.- In­dia- Ja­pan tri­lat­eral meet­ing, the U.S. camp said: “The three coun­tries agreed to work to­gether to main­tain mar­itime se­cu­rity through greater col­lab­o­ra­tion.”

This will in­clude Ja­panese forces join- ing In­dian and U.S. naval ves­sels on the Mal­abar 2015 train­ing ex­er­cise next month.

South Korea’s for­eign min­is­ter, Yun Byung-se, said the meet­ing came “at a very crit­i­cal junc­ture, when the eyes of the world are set on the ma­jor chal­lenges in­volv­ing all of us.”

He said the talks would send a “very clear” mes­sage to North Korea in par­tic­u­lar not to pro­voke the al­lies.

On Oct. 10, North Korea will mark the 70th an­niver­sary of its rul­ing Work­ers’ Party and there has been spec­u­la­tion for months that it will celebrate with a lon­grange rocket test.

Kim Jong Un’s pariah regime is un­der in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions, and Seoul and Washington have made it clear that they would see such a test as part of a banned bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­gram.

And even if the test does not take place, ten­sions re­main high in the re­gion, with Py­ongyang pe­ri­od­i­cally es­ca­lat­ing its rhetoric and threat­en­ing all- out war against its neigh­bor.

U.S. diplo­mats are loathe to de­scribe their ties with the Asian democ­ra­cies as a counter-bal­ance to a ris­ing China, but Bei­jing is the ele­phant in the room when the friends met.

Most of the coun­tries of the Asia- Pa­cific have deep eco­nomic ties with China, but many also have dis­putes, in par­tic­u­lar over its mar­itime ter­ri­to­rial am­bi­tions.

In re­cent months, Chi­nese con­struc­tion crews have built airstrips and docks on re­claimed is­lands in the South China Sea at­tempt­ing to ex­pand their con­trol into dis­puted wa­ters.

Last week, Obama wel­comed main­land China leader Xi Jin­ping to the White House and both men promised closer co­op­er­a­tion, as the world’s great pow­ers cau­tiously cir­cle one another.

And even as the Chi­nese econ­omy has stut­tered, caus­ing rip­ples through world mar­kets, Xi has tight­ened his grip on power, purg­ing cor­rupt of­fi­cials and crack­ing down on dis­si­dents.

Bei­jing re­mains a key part­ner in coun­ter­ing the North Korean threat, but its new as­sertive­ness abroad risks throw­ing its del­i­cately bal­anced U. S. re­la­tion­ship out of kil­ter.

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