GIVEN Asia's growing economic strength, it comes as little surprise that several countries there are making tentative moves to develop a way to discuss regional security issues.
Recently, Japan and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) met in Singapore to discuss security topics. Among those of most immediate concern were the high levels of piracy at sea, the threat that the Khmer Rouge continues to pose in Cambodia, and especially North Korea's decision to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) next month.
Of broader concern, however, is the arms race that prosperity has fueled to defend economic gains.
That the initiative for the meeting came from Japan is encouraging. It is another signal, along with its role in United Nations efforts in Cambodia, that Japan is slowly taking a more active role in regional affairs, one commensurate with its economic influence.
While bitter memories of their treatment by Japan during World War II remain, the ASEAN nations' willingness to hold the meeting also suggests that a recognition of the need to defend the region's economic and political progress is gaining strength.
Still at issue, according to one report, is whether to include China and Vietnam in any future meetings. The answer should be yes. Given their geopolitical roles in the region and their economic potential, leaving them out of security discussions would be a mistake, while including them would bring them into yet another forum where market-based economics and democratic principles are the norm.
The Clinton administration has expressed its support for Asians' efforts to develop a forum for dealing with regional security issues, as well as its desire to remain fully engaged in the region. Indeed, the State Department announced May 24 that top United States officials are scheduled to meet with North Korean representatives in Washington June 2 to try to convince Pyongyang to reverse its NPT decision.
This effort, which includes Japan, China, and South Korea, serves as a reminder to those in Washington who want the US to reduce its military commitment overseas that, even as Asians begin to evolve their own approach to regional security, the United States role there remains vital.