http://www.nbr.org - NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

The Context of APEC: U.S.-Japan Relations

Kenneth B. Pyle

The search for a new order in the Pacific is proceeding as though it were heeding an old Spanish proverb. "Traveler," says the proverb, "there are no roads. Roads are made by walking." Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the most important effort to find a way to a new order, is a forum for discussing trading and financial relationships and principles in the region. It is an initial effort, a groping, for some kind of regional economic organization. Former Japanese Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata approvingly described this approach as "creeping incremental gradualism by consensus." The justifications for this tentative, experimental, approach to the formation of a regional organization are familiar: in the Asia-Pacific region, unlike Europe, there is no historical basis for an international state system; there have been few multilateral organizations in the region; there is too much diversity; there are no common cultural traditions; Asians prefer an organic approach rather than an a priori rules-based approach.

These justifications for a slow, evolutionary approach easily become an excuse for failing to grapple with the new dynamics that will govern the region’s international relations in the early part of the coming century. Most notable is the failure to deal with great power relations and with the security dimensions of the new order. Will there be a continuation of bilateral alliances between a still-preponderant American superpower and individual Asian states? Will there be a balance-of-power system among China, Japan, the United States, and other countries? How will the dynamics of economic and military power relate? Will there be, in addition to APEC, a regional security organization? How will the region’s power relations fit into a larger global system of international relations? In short, what will be the forces that shape the context of APEC?