Washington: The US policy in Asia is expected to undergo major shifts, whoever wins the race to the White House.
Both presidential contenders, senators Barack Obama and John McCain, have new ideas on how to handle a resurgent China, a nuclear-armed North Korea and address the rising Islamic militant threat in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
They also have fresh strategies to beef up alliances in Asia, engage the region in energy security and maintain US influence despite the severe effects of the current financial turmoil at home.
Incumbent President George W. Bush may have been credited by some experts for pursuing policies that have boosted ties with major powers such as China, India and Japan, but the Obama and McCain campaigns feel amends are in order.
“The whole range of relationships are in trouble,” warned Obama’s top Asia adviser Robert Gelbard. “We have to recognize the real importance of Asia that has developed over the last eight years with a great deal of neglect from this administration.”
Obama is expected to push for China’s entry into the Group of Eight (G-8) major powers and link Beijing to a trilateral nuclear energy cooperation network with the US and Japan, his strategists said.
While Bush has relied heavily on China to help end North Korea’s nuclear weapons drive, McCain prefers an aggressive policy to achieve the goal by applying more pressure on Pyongyang through a united front with treaty allies South Korea and Japan.
Both Obama and McCain are equally concerned about the rising Taliban and Al Qaeda threat in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Obama said that he would launch military strikes on extremist targets inside Pakistan if the Islamabad government is unwilling or unable to act.
“If the United States has Al Qaeda, (Osama) bin Laden, top-level lieutenants in our sights, and Pakistan is unwilling or unable to act, then we should take them out,” he said at a recent public debate with McCain.
Obama also repeated his favoured strategy of taking US troops from Iraq and sending them to Afghanistan to better deal with a reconstituted Al Qaeda.
McCain countered by calling for a “new strategy” against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan but did not provide details.
“We’re going to have to help the Pakistanis go into these areas and obtain the allegiance of the people. It’s going to be tough,” he said.
“I see the nexus of Afghanistan/Pakistan as the most dangerous area in the world,” Obama strategist Gelbard said.
US forces in Afghanistan have launched cross-border attacks on suspected militants hiding in Pakistan, much to the anger of the new government in Islamabad.
Obama and McCain also appear to be receptive to Washington signing up to a non-aggression treaty with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a condition laid down by the group to nations wanting to participate in an annual East Asian Summit.