Wellington, New Zealand — Close to the end of his trip to Asia and the Pacific, Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. sees a strategic consensus emerging that marks a new phase in United States policy toward the region.
According to a senior American official, the new US approach to the region will take into account local economic and political needs. It will not focus exclusively on military concerns. But more than the Carter "do- gooder" approach, it will be geared to maintaining military might to deter the Soviets.
Recent press reports have tended to focus on American military ties with nations of the region, and potential arms sales to China in particular, while neglecting other aspects of US policy. But Secretary Haig sees such arms sales as only one part of a much larger American commitment to economic and political growth as well as the strengthening of allies and friends in the region.
"We are not just interested in strengthening our military presence or selling arms," a senior official said. "We are seeking to forge an integrated political , economic, and security mosaic which is responsive to local needs and sensitivities. . . ."
Speaking on the understanding that his identity not be disclosed, the official denied a suggestion that what the Reagan administration was seeking was little more than a "comprehensive anti-Soviet policy" for the region. He said, for example, that the administration's motivation for improving relations with China was not a matter of playing a "China card" against the Soviet Union.
The senior official also denied that the US was attempting to revive what he described as "archaic" or "anachronistic" security alliances in the region, such as the defunct Southeast Asian Treaty Organization.
But the official also argued that the Reagan approach to Asia and the Pacific would have more credibility than the Carter approach because it was to be backed by more military muscle -- specifically, a larger budget and plans for increased US naval strength in the region.
The official feels the United States has "finally awakened" to the Soviet threat in Asia. Others would argue, however, that the Carter administration eventually "awoke" to this threat. President Carter reversed his original plans to withdraw US troops from South Korea, and began strengthening US military forces in the region. The Carter administration was also moving toward providing technology with military uses to China.
The Reagan approach does seem to distinguish itself from the Carter approach in one significant regard: Secretary of State Haig is said to believe that the Carter administration "overemphasized" human-rights considerations in dealing with authoritarian regimes.
Like the Carter policy, the Reagan approach to China seems to assume that "pragmatic" Chinese leaders will remain in power for some time to come. Reagan administration officials seem to feel China's current leaders can deal with the US on a practical basis with but a minimum of ideology.
The official said that Reagan administration policy toward the region as a whole was being built on the basis of six elements: (1) increased American defense spending; (2) a revitalization of security ties with traditional plans; (3) support for genuinely nonaligned nations; (4) a strengthening of military assistance to those nations in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that are allied with the US; (5) an improvement in cooperation and coordination with China in all spheres; and (6) strengthening US ties with Austra lia and New Zealand.