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Pacific Big Three

We have long urged regular, quiet talks among Asia's defense ministers as a means of ensuring that no surprise military crisis is allowed to develop.

Six of the ten largest military establishments in the world exist in the region. Add the recent jump in Indian and Pakistani nuclear capability, North Korea's periodic threats, assorted territorial disputes, and pressures from Japanese nationalists for a military buildup, and the region has plenty of fuel for trouble.

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So we were pleased with a recent report that the Big Three of the Pacific - the US, China, and Japan - are starting to plan a "triangular" security relationship. An informal meeting of the trio - the first such since World War II - is to occur soon in Tokyo. The time is ripe, especially since President Clinton's recent enthusiastic China trip left some Japanese officials feeling that the US might be switching its principal ally in the region after half a century of defense partnership.

The planned triangular relationship sets a precedent we'd like to see followed among other Asians.

Nowhere is it more needed than among India, China, and Pakistan. India and Pakistan held a successful summit before India's change of leaders and surprise nuclear bomb tests this year. Rhetorically, the two nations' leaders have expressed a willingness to meet in the wake of the bomb tests.

Perhaps before pushing for a prime ministers' summit, the two should agree to a defense ministers' meeting and invite China's minister to join. Such a parley might lay the basis for regular meetings at which maneuvers, tests, troop reductions, and possible arms control measures might be proposed. All three nations could stand some balanced cutbacks to free their budgets for more pressing needs.

Should triangular security relations of this sort be successful on both the Pacific side of Asia and the Indian subcontinent side, the smaller ASEAN neighbors might do well to invite China, Japan, India, and the US to join them in periodic discussions about peace and security issues throughout the region. NATO and the Russians have struggled to do so in Europe. Why not Asia?

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