The Cable

Webb on Asia: the extended-play version

Last week, we brought you Sen. Jim Webb‘s response to critics of his drive to influence U.S. Burma policy as the new head of the Senate Foreign Relations Asia subcommittee. Well, Webb isn’t just interested in Burma. He plans to use his perch to examine U.S. policy regarding each and every Asian country, and his ...

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Last week, we brought you Sen. Jim Webb‘s response to critics of his drive to influence U.S. Burma policy as the new head of the Senate Foreign Relations Asia subcommittee. Well, Webb isn’t just interested in Burma. He plans to use his perch to examine U.S. policy regarding each and every Asian country, and his thirst for diplomatic activism is far from quenched.

Here are some additional excerpts from Webb’s exclusive interview with The Cable, covering his views on several countries in the region:

On the U.S. approach to China:

“Our relationship with China is obviously the most complex relationship that we have, because on one hand we are strategically vulnerable to a mishandling of that relationship and on the other hand, China is a huge trading partner and also in many ways our bankers. So the more dialogue, including healthy confrontation we have with China, the better off we’re all going to be, and the better off that region’s going to be too, by the way.”

On countering China’s expanding influence in Asia:

“I don’t think we’ve been clear enough with China or with the other countries in the region about the balance that needs to be maintained. … It’s healthy for us to maintain a vigorous dialogue with the Chinese in areas where we’ve been silent for a long time, particularly sovereignty issues such as us operating in the South China Sea.

China is sitting on trillions of dollars and cash right now and since the economic crisis began about a year ago they have been aggressively spending that cash, particularly on resources, in the region and also in South America and Africa, etc. … They’re putting their cash out in ways that are designed to continue their future growth at a very rapid pace. And we need to stay vigorously involved in these countries… we are such an important part of the balance in the region, that’s the bottom line.

In a lot of these countries, they all want to prosper, they all want investment, but you reach a certain point where you become vulnerable if you don’t also have a counter balance. That’s one thing that I’m seeing very clearly in the region right now. … The countries in the region want to see a counterbalance, they want to see us stay and we need to stay.

We need to be engaged in more than a military sense. They tend to look at us in terms of a military guarantor, but we need to get our economic investment in an upswing in that part of the world.”

On Japan’s new government:

“The U.S.-Japanese relationship has in some ways been diminished in the public eye because of the expansion of China. … It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out, whether this just a period where the Japanese people just reflect and try to figure out what the next stage is going to be or whether they are ready for some sort of dramatic change.

Even though this party [the DPJ] has never been in control, some of the personalities are people who have been involved in responsible politics for a very long time. So the next four or five months are going to be very interesting.”

On the U.S. approach to Taiwan:

“The Taiwanese themselves are pretty dramatically split on their political future. Their economic involvement with China has obviously increased significantly, but there’s still a large percentage of the people of Taiwan who believe they should not politically be unified with China.

One of the issues I have tried to put on the table in a larger context are the sovereignty issues in the South China Sea, which include the Senkaku Islands, which have multiple sovereignty claims. And those kinds of issues are not going to go away, even if, or when Taiwan joins politically with China. In fact, if we don’t have the right counterbalance, they are actually going to accentuate over the next few years.

The United States has an obligation to ensure that Taiwan is not forcibly united with China.”

On his role as subcommittee chair:

“I need to do what I can to help reinvigorate the relationship between the United States and particularly East and Southeast Asia, and to bring that region more clearly up on the radar screen of the average American.

There are two phenomena occurring right now, almost by default. One is the constant tendency to think of Asia in terms of China in the United States. And the second is a focus on the island countries around the rim of East and Southeast Asia, as opposed to the countries on the Southeast Asian mainland.

I have a strong feeling that we [the United States] are an Asian nation in every sense of the word, culturally, historically. … Our presence there has oscillated over the generations, but it’s a very important place to be and we are neglecting it.

We’re not showing up in this region, and we need to. It’s a very vital place in the world in terms of U.S. interests and they need to know we want to continue to be there.”

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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