Volume 5, 2003

In 2003, the US-led invasion of Iraq overshadowed important events elsewhere. An outbreak of deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) magnified the anticipated economic consequences of the war in Iraq on Asian economies. Washington-Tokyo relations continued to boom, as the Koizumi administration provided the US political, diplomatic, and expanding logistical support for the military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Beijing opposed the US war in Iraq, but took care to prevent its antiwar position from damaging the bilateral relationship. Sharp rhetorical attacks and military friction between the US and North Korea mounted as North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and restarted a nuclear reactor. Relations between Tokyo and Beijing declined as territorial issues over the Senkaku/Daoyutai Islands and Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro visited to the Yasukuni Shrine.

As the Bush Administration became increasingly preoccupied with a growing insurgency in Iraq and Australia put together a coalition of the willing to intervene in the Solomon Islands, multilateralism made something of a comeback. China orchestrated and hosted trilateral talks in Beijing as China, US, and North Korea met in April for their first “multilateral” dialogue. In the third quarter, there was a six-party meeting to discuss North Korea’s nuclear program even as a US-instigated 11-nation group was practicing how to prevent Pyongyang from exporting weapons elsewhere. Both the ROK and Tokyo agreed to send contingents of troops to Iraq.

US bilateral relations also fared well as the Bush-Roh summit strengthened the US-ROK alliance and committed both countries to consider taking unspecified (implicitly coercive) “further steps” against Pyongyang. A June summit between Presidents Bush and Putin smoothed over most tense spots in US Russian relations. Beijing and Taipei struggled to contain the spread of SARS, which dramatically reduced cross-Strait travel, although its effects on cross-Strait economic ties appeared less severe. Continued cooperation on security matters, especially the challenge posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs, bolstered US-China relations and China formally joined the Container Security Initiative. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Washington at the end of the year.

 Acts of terrorism, arrests of terrorists, and judicial convictions dominated the Southeast Asian political scene. The Jakarta Marriott bombing, the capture of Jemaah Islamiya’s Hambali and the conviction of several of the Bali bombers as well as JI’s spiritual leader, Abu Bakar Bashir, capped a tumultuous three months during which the Philippine government put down an abortive military mutiny. US-ASEAN relations were somewhat enhanced by President Bush’s swing through Southeast Asia in October.