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Asian Security & Democracy Project

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Director: Richard Fisher, Jr.

The Asian region, of critical importance to the United States, is currently being pulled in two contradictory directions, one encouraging, the other deeply worrying. Encouragement comes from the spread of democracy and freedom: in the 1980s South Korea, the Philippines, and Taiwan all moved from autocratic regimes to genuine democracy, joining India and Japan. But the same period saw North Korea acquire weapons of mass destruction while China, crushing internal calls for democratization, embarked on an arms buildup the full dimensions and implications of which are only now beginning to be grasped.

While the continuing Chinese arms buildup renders Beijing’s dictatorship stronger internally; it also poses a direct threat to the United States and our friends and allies in the region. Not only can Chinese nuclear missiles now target the continental United States; the whole configuration of the new Chinese force is clearly designed with the United States as the hypothetical enemy. Hence its major purchases, from Russia, of missile and other systems specifically designed to put at risk our carrier battle groups.

Asian democracies are even more threatened. South Korea and Japan now face nuclear and missile threats from North Korea as well as China. The Philippine military has been powerless to prevent Chinese annexation of islands within her territorial waters and more than a thousand miles from the Chinese coast, at Mischief Reef, one of a number of places in the South China Sea where, most worryingly, China is creating military outposts.

Most worrying of all is the steady Chinese military buildup against Taiwan, in violation of undertakings made in 1982 that her "fundamental approach" to the island would be "peaceful," a buildup best seen in the roughly 500 intermediate range missiles (roughly one for every 50,000 Taiwanese citizens) now deployed in nearby Fujian province—and paralleled by a relentless and effective program that seeks the complete diplomatic and political isolation of this democratic state.

This new situation demands new, realistic thinking and new, substantial policies are required from Washington if our own interests and those of our democratic friends and allies are to be maintained. First, the dangerous Asian arms buildup that China began twenty years ago must be met by countervailing deterrence to protect ourselves and our allies and friends, and ultimately halted. Second, the real but precarious gains of freedom and democracy in the region must be supported, consolidated, and rendered irreversible.

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