President Clinton's Asia trip merges into a stream of events that affect US relations with that burgeoning part of the globe.
There's the continuing flap over the Democratic Party's fund-raising from Asian sources, which, aside from the ethical questions, underscores just how intimate US ties with Asian business interests have become. And there's Russia's Mars probe plunging into the Pacific, further evidence of that great nation's decline both as a technological leader and a security factor in Asia.
After golf outings and reef tours in Australia, Mr. Clinton moves on to the heart of his trip, the meeting in Manila of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group. This is a forum that Clinton prides himself on upgrading to world-class summitry. There he'll meet with Chinese leader Jiang Zemin, Japan's Ryutaro Hashimoto, and Kim Young Sam of South Korea.
The meeting with Mr. Jiang overshadows all others, since China represents tremendous potential for both collaboration and conflict. As always, US criticism of China's dismal human rights record will grate against the desire to take advantage of that country's emergence as an economic power. But concerns about human rights and belligerency toward neighbors must be kept in view. Beijing's autocrats have to recognize they have some reforming to do before full embrace by the world's progressive, democratically oriented nations.
Concerning Japan, trade tensions have cooled, but questions of security and basing of American forces there are hot. In Korea, too, security predominates, with a botched submarine intrusion against the South hardening positions and casting doubts over US efforts to end the North's nuclear program.
The president hopes to strengthen US business and diplomatic ties with Asia during his second term. Manila will be a test run for that goal.