Asia worries about PRC ties, welcomes Powell, Rice


Asia-Pacific nations on Monday welcomed President-elect George W. Bush’s nomination of two blacks to his foreign policy team, but some warned of trouble if the pair pushes ahead with a proposed missile defense system that has been highly criticized by mainland China.

The selection of retired Gen. Colin Powell as secretary of state and Condoleezza Rice as national security adviser also sparked conjecture about a changing U.S. stance toward Taiwan.

The island, long at odds with mainland China, is expected to get greater military and diplomatic support from Powell and Rice, and others in the Bush administration.

Taiwan military expert Chung Chien applauded the Gulf War hero’s appointment, saying his experience will help him handle the delicate Taipei-Taiwan issue.

“He not only knows how to start a war, but he knows how to end a war,” said Chung, a professor at Taiwan’s Armed Forces University. “Ending the war is the hardest part.”

Powell is known less for outright hawkishness than for extreme caution — the so-called “Powell doctrine,” a military strategy of hesitating before almost every step, then launching into full-bore action if he decides to proceed.

Mainland China’s foreign policy establishment was uneasy about the appointments. Scholars and officials worry the new Cabinet will become more assertive on Taiwan and missile defense.

“There are too many people with a military background” in the Bush administration for it to forgo deploying missile defense systems, Yan Xuetong, an international security expert at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said, referring to Powell and Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, a former defense secretary.

The proposed missile defense systems would theoretically partially blunt the threat of mainland China’s growing array of missiles. Bush has backed a nationwide anti missile shield for the United States and a more limited version for Taiwan and East Asian allies.

Other nations are expected to be more supportive of the missile shields. Australia, for instance, has offered to allow a shared radar center in the Australian Outback as part of the system.

But the Sydney Morning Herald, which ran a headline reading, “Fortress America: Powell’s tough new defense plans,” warned in an editorial that going through with the shield could put Canberra at odds with Beijing.

Many newspapers in the region made the Cabinet appointments front-page news.

Bush’s administration is expected to get tough on communist North Korea, something that may slow Seoul’s efforts to make peace with Pyongyang, said Yoon Dong-min, an analyst at the Institute for Foreign Affairs and National Security, a think tank for Seoul’s foreign ministry.

“The Clinton administration was idealistic, whereas the Bush administration is realistic,” Yoon said. “That would affect South Korea’s policy of seeking quick rapprochement with the communist North.”

The leaders of long-divided North and South Korea held a summit in June, followed by various tension easing measures. The current U.S. secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, visited the reclusive North in October, and President Bill Clinton has reportedly not ruled out a visit.

Bush impressed many nations in the Asia-Pacific region with his efforts to diversify his Cabinet. Once Powell and Rice are sworn in, the appointments will be the first time both posts are held by blacks, and in Rice’s case also the first for a woman.

East Timor’s Nobel peace laureate Jose Ramos-Horta hailed Powell and Rice for their humble beginnings, saying they understand the meaning of struggle.

“You cannot find two people more in tune with or sensitive to struggle,” Ramos-Horta said. Rice grew up in segregated schools in Alabama, while Powell had to fight discrimination in the South Bronx section of New York City as the child of Jamaican immigrants.

In Hong Kong, many people said they found the nomination of a black man to such a high position an encouraging sign about racial equality in America.

“It shows that there is no racial discrimination in the United States,” said Sandy Chan, a 45-year-old restaurant employee. “I believe (Powell) won’t look down on us.”