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John Metzler Archive
Friday, September 12, 2008

GOP platform offers more gravitas on E. Asia policy

UNITED NATIONS — The political conventions have ended, the candidates have been formally nominated, and the American presidential campaign has gone into full steam.

Now that both the Democratic and the Republicans have selected their standard bearers, and the dust has settled in Denver and St. Paul, what are the official platform policies of both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party concerning key issues facing America in the Far East?

First and foremost, both parties remain committed to a strong American presence in East Asia. The Democratic Platform, “Renewing America’s Promise” under the heading Lead in Asia states, “We are committed to U.S. engagement in Asia. This begins with maintaining strong relationships with allies like Japan, Australia, South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines…We need an open and inclusive infrastructure with countries in Asia that can promote stability, prosperity, human rights and help confront transnational threats from terrorist cells in the Philippines to avian flu in Indonesia. We will encourage China to play a responsible role as a growing power.” Pretty reasonable stuff.

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The Republican National Committee Platform 2008 addresses Asia too. Under the heading “Partnerships Across the Asia-Pacific Region, ” it states , “The U.S. is a Pacific nation, and our historic ties to Asia will grow stronger in the years ahead. Australia has stood shoulder to shoulder with us in every major conflict…Our long-standing alliance with Japan has been the foundation for peace and prosperity in Asia, and we look for Japan to forge a leadership role in regional and global affairs. Another valued ally, the Republic of Korea remains vigilant with us against the tyranny and international ambitions of the maniacal state on its border.” Read communist North Korea.

Both parties offer a rhetorical scene setter for a more specific discussion. The Democrat’s view adds, “We are committed to a “One China” policy, and the Taiwan Relations Act, and will continue to support a peaceful resolution of cross-straits issues that is consistent with the wishes and best interests of the people of Taiwan.” It advises, “It’s time to engage China on common interests like climate change, trade and energy, even as we continue to encourage it to its shift to a more open society and market based-economy and promote greater respect for human rights , including freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion…as well as the rights of Tibetans.”

The Republican position is more lengthy but focused regarding China and indeed Taiwan. “We will welcome the emergence of a peaceful and prosperous China, and we will welcome even more the development of a democratic China…Its rulers have already discovered that economic freedom leads to national wealth; the next lesson is that political and religious freedom leads to national greatness.” It chides Beijing for policies which suppress “human rights in Tibet and elsewhere and erodes democracy in Hong Kong.” It adds China’s economic growth brings the responsibility for “environmental improvement both for its own people and the world community.”

The Republicans address Taiwan specifically, “Our policy towards Taiwan, a sound democracy and economic model for mainland China, must continue to be based on the provision of the Taiwan Relations Act.” It adds significantly, “We oppose any unilateral steps by either side to alter the status quo in the Taiwan Straits.” Plainly stated that means no to formal Taiwan “independence” as well as to Beijing’s military threats to the island. The document stresses, “As a loyal friend of America, the democracy in Taiwan has merited our strong support including the timely sale of defensive weapons and full participation in the World Health Organization and other multilateral institutions.”

As to nuclear North Korea, the Democrats call “to continue direct diplomacy and are committed to working with our partners through the six party talks to achieve a verifiably nuclear free Korean peninsula..”

The Republican counterpoint offers more gravitas; “The U.S. will not waver in its demand for the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korean nuclear weapons programs, with a full accounting of its proliferation activities.” It adds importantly, “We look toward the restoration of human rights to the suffering people of North Korea and the fulfillment of the Korean people to be one in peace and freedom.”

While both parties correctly understand East Asia’s growing importance to the USA, the Democratic party is woefully short on specifics and details. Both parties importantly welcome the importance of America’s deepening ties to democratic India, both fear for human rights suppressions in Burma, but only the Republicans highlight the “continued repression of human rights and religious freedoms” in Vietnam.

Nonetheless many political scientists will candidly admit that party Platforms and policy planks, while important, are not formal or official government policy but rhetorical consensus outlines and statements of intent on future policies. Naturally, those are for the winning party to determine.

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for World
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