Volume 7, 2005

Multilateral interaction over North Korea’s nuclear program remained paralyzed as Pyongyang continued its boycott of the Six Party Talks. Newly promoted US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled to Beijing on a six-nation tour of Asia during which she sought to enlist China’s help in exerting pressure on North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. However, by the third quarter of 2005, there was a successful conclusion of the long-delayed fourth round of Six-Party Talks, resulting in the Sept. 19 Joint Statement. While the Joint Statement was far from a breakthrough, it did provide a framework for future cooperation by listing mutually agreed upon objectives, including: “the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner.” However, this positive momentum didn’t last long as the Six-Party Talks suffered a major reversal as Washington and Pyongyang unleashed verbal attacks on each other over activities outside the scope of the negotiations – counterfeiting of US dollars, drug trafficking, and Pyongyang’s human rights record.

For the most part, China continued its efforts to improve bilateral relations with its neighbors. China-Japan relations began the new year with promise: Prime Minister Koizumi did not visit the Yasukuni Shrine; however, old issues – history and nationalism, sovereignty in the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands and the East China Sea, the extent and scope of the Japan-US alliance (Taiwan) – lingered, if not intensified as political leaders and diplomats worked to repair strained political relations. Then, Prime Minister Koizumi’s Oct. 17 visit to the Yasukuni Shrine put Japan-China relations into a political deep freeze. The visits of Kuomintang Chairman Lien Chan and People’s First Party Chairman James Soong to China helped to ameliorate cross-Strait tensions, and the visits showed the potential for dialogue if a different government was in office in Taipei.

Washington increased its criticism of Beijing on a variety of issues. The Bush administration increased pressure on Beijing to appreciate its currency, hoping to fend off criticism that China is stealing US jobs and unfairly creating a massive trade surplus. China’s military buildup also came under sharper criticism, along with human rights abuses, suppression of political dissent, and foot-dragging on implementation of political reforms.

A massive US relief effort for the tsunami-devastated north Sumatran coast has helped burnished America’s image in Indonesia.  Even large Indonesian Muslim organizations that previously voiced anti-American views have praised US humanitarian activities. Moreover, the Washington restored full-scale military-to-military relations with Indonesia in recognition of Indonesia’s democratic practices and its importance for the US global war on terror.

The end of 2004 saw President Bush make his first trip to Asia in two years, attending the APEC Leaders’ Meeting in South Korea and visiting Japan, China, and Mongolia.