Throughout the 1990s, strategic concerns over long-running conflicts in East Asia—from the division of the Korean peninsula to tensions across the Taiwan Strait to the Indian-Pakistan nuclear competition—shaped U.S. policy in the region. Although the Sino-Soviet rift during the Cold War provided a basis for U.S. relations with communist Beijing, post-Soviet Russia developed a growing military and diplomatic partnership with China, which also began building security and economic agreements with its neighbors in Southeast Asia. Since 9/11, U.S. attentions have turned toward the Middle East and counterterrorism efforts. “One of the major casualties of the war on terror has been a strategic policy toward Asia,” says Donald C. Hellmann, director of the Institute for International Policy at the University of Washington. Meanwhile, China bloomed as a major trading partner and diplomatic power in the region, in some cases displacing the United States economically. India, too, emerged as an economic force, and tensions flared on the Korean peninsula over Pyongyang’s 2006 nuclear test.
In his first international trip since the U.S. midterm elections, a politically weakened President Bush is on a Southeast Asian tour for the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Vietnam. After meeting with Australian Prime Minister John Howard in Hanoi, Bush reflected on lessons learned from the Vietnam War for the conflict in Iraq, saying, "We'll succeed unless we quit." He also stressed the importance of participating in the APEC meeting as a forum to discuss the North Korean nuclear crisis and free trade. But some analysts say his trip will probably do little to boost Washington’s declining influence in Asia (Guardian). A chief U.S.-backed initiative, a huge Asia-Pacific free-trade zone, has been pushed off until next year’s forum in Australia (AP). While U.S. clout shrinks, China’s influence grows. Beijing, fresh off negotiating North Korea’s agreement to return to multilateral talks and playing host to an African summit, has become a sought-after trading partner in the region (BBC).