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U.S.: Powell Affirms U.S. Security And Political Commitment In Asia

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has reaffirmed Washington's commitment to security in the Asia-Pacific region, stressing the continuing U.S. presence from Afghanistan to South Korea. Powell told a gathering of diplomats and Asian experts last night in New York that the U.S. security umbrella in Asia has helped nurture political and economic reforms for half a century. He said the growing freedoms in the region have made Asia a crucial U.S. partner in trade and in the emerging antiterrorism coalition.

New York, 11 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says the United States will maintain a strong military and political commitment throughout Asia, citing the consequences in both trade and the antiterrorism campaign.

In a wide-ranging speech yesterday in New York on U.S. policy in Asia, Powell said that the U.S. military deployment in Asia has provided a stable environment to foster democracy in states like Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines.

He told the Asia Society -- a nonprofit foundation -- that Washington is convinced of the value of backing democratic reforms in Asia and maintaining a visible military presence, as well. "Our first goal and highest priority for Asia must be to help create the secure conditions under which freedom can flourish -- economic freedom and political freedom. And security, first and foremost, is essential to economic growth and political freedom," Powell said.

Powell drew direct links between greater security and improved trade between the United States and Asia, saying the two now conduct trade at an annual level of hundreds of billions of dollars, exceeding U.S. annual trade levels with Europe.

Powell said Japan has flourished in recent decades in part because U.S. military support has allowed it to devote resources to strengthening its democracy. Now, said Powell, Japan is a powerful exporter of democratic values and has taken on a key role in the reconstruction effort facing Afghanistan.

Powell cited Japan's logistical support to U.S. forces deployed in Afghanistan. He also noted its role as host of the conference in January in which more than 60 countries pledged $4.5 billion in aid to Afghanistan.

He said the United States, which continues to lead an international military effort against suspected Al-Qaeda forces in parts of Afghanistan, would help the country on its long road back to recovery. "Nation after nation [in January] pledged that they would never again abandon Afghanistan back to chaos and terror, and I guarantee you tonight that we will not. We will be there for Afghanistan," Powell said.

Powell also repeatedly stressed the U.S. government's commitment to resolving the long-standing dispute between India and Pakistan. The two sides have been on the brink of war over Indian charges that Pakistan has permitted Muslim militants to make cross-border attacks on Indian government positions.

International mediation efforts, including ongoing visits by high-level U.S. officials, have helped ease tensions considerably in recent days. India has announced it is opening air-traffic corridors with Pakistan, and there have been signs its military is easing back from confrontational deployments.

Powell said both sides now confirm that there has been a clear decrease in infiltrations across the Line of Control, a 30-year-old border set up by the two sides after their last war. The United States has faced criticism in the past for failing to remain engaged in the India-Pakistan dispute, but Powell last night said the conflict has Washington's full attention. "There is still a long way to go, and I can just assure you tonight that the United States will remain engaged. President [George W.] Bush has given this top priority and instructed us to do everything we can to find a way forward that will lead to stability and peace and not to war," Powell said.

Powell's speech also contained a mixture of encouragement and warning to China's leaders. He said the country's dramatic economic growth has proven the value of market-based reforms.

But he said the United States remains deeply concerned about China's military and its involvement in the proliferation of missile technology and equipment. Powell said China has failed to fulfill its promises to restrain proliferation and that this issue will be a pivotal one in U.S.-China relations.

He also said that as China's economic growth continues, its citizens will begin demanding greater rights, as in other Asian countries that have moved from authoritarian regimes to democracies.

Powell dismissed some assertions that China's long history and great size make it fundamentally less capable of developing a culture of human rights and broad freedoms. "Freedom is not an optional piece of software compatible with some cultures but not with others. No 'Great Firewall' of China can separate the Chinese people from their God-given rights or keep them from joining an ever-growing community of democracies," Powell said.

The U.S. secretary of state also warned North Korea against spreading ballistic-missile technology. He urged the government in Pyongyang to return to confidence-boosting measures with South Korea, including the establishment of rail links between the two countries.

He said if such measures are adopted, the United States is prepared to take steps to move toward normalcy in relations. At the moment, the United States deploys 37,000 troops in South Korea as a deterrence against heavily militarized North Korea.