Volume 1, 1999

For most countries in the region, diplomatic exchanges were a continued priority in 1999, notably between Japan-South Korea, Japan-Russia, China-ASEAN, China-Japan, and US-Japan. Crises threatened US-China relations as the accidental US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade not only chilled bilateral relations, but also catalyzed Russian and Chinese joint opposition to the US-led response to the conflict in Kosovo. Bilateral cooperation between the two also increased in the military and economic spheres. The crisis in East Timor most deeply affected the Indonesian-Australian relationship, but for the first time the entire region became involved in a domestic conflict of an East Asian state.

Meanwhile, Washington was drawn into China-Taiwan relations following President Lee’s “state to state” comment in July, reflecting an ongoing policy challenge in the US on how to successfully balance its Taiwan and China relationships. The marked improvement in ties between Seoul and Tokyo laid the groundwork for increased cooperation between the US and its closest East Asian partners while differences over how best to integrate China into broader regional affairs and avoid overreacting to North Korea provocations remained a challenge to the trilateral relationship.

Challenges to the US-ASEAN relationship include finishing the US-Vietnam trade deal and internal US policy differences over East Timor. Thailand also resented US support of the New Zealand candidate over the Thai candidate as new WTO chief.  On the positive front, the US and the Philippines concluded a Visiting Forces Agreement, and Indonesia’s June elections elicited positive comments from the Clinton administration.