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Written Responses to Questions Submitted by Asia-Pacific News Organizations

December 04, 1987

U.S. Role in the Asia-Pacific Region

Q. Do you envisage an expansion of the U.S. role in the Asia-Pacific region? If so, how will the U.S. help ensure stability, security, and prosperity in the region?

The President. The nations of East Asia are becoming increasingly prosperous and politically stable. This is in our interest as well as theirs, and our aim is to work with the region's nations as partners in promoting prosperity and stability. All partnerships require a balancing of benefits and burdens. For example, U.S. diplomatic efforts and military presence contribute directly to the region's peace and stability, which in turn foster economic prosperity. We look to our East Asian allies to share with us this mutually beneficial burden according to their means. Of course, we will maintain our commitments to defend their security.

Likewise, East Asia's prosperity depends significantly on continuing the liberal world trading system we and our trading partners have enjoyed for the last 20 years, but there are threats appearing to this system. Some of our major trading partners still maintain restrictive trade policies, and there is rising protectionist sentiment in the United States. My efforts to resist this protectionist pressure will succeed only so long as our major trading partners take some steps themselves toward structural adjustment of their economies. These steps include strengthening domestic demand, dismantling trade barriers that discourage U.S. exports, and adopting exchange rate policies that reflect their economies' underlying strength.

I am confident your readers recognize that working together to keep the peace and promote everyone's prosperity benefits all of us. The United States has been active on the East Asian scene for more than 100 years, and we look forward to continuing our productive cooperation with friends and allies in the region.

Japanese Prime Minister Takeshita

Q. The newly appointed Prime Minister of Japan, Mr. Noboru Takeshita, plans to come to Washington in January 1988 to have his first summit meeting with you. In view of the ongoing serious bilateral problems confronting our two nations, what would you expect out of that January meeting? And what kind of feeling do you have toward a new Japanese Prime Minister who has been almost unknown to the Western World?

The President. First, I am very pleased that Prime Minister Takeshita has accepted my invitation to visit Washington. I look forward to seeing him again, this time in his new capacity. I recall that we met in January 1986, when he was visiting the United States to receive an honorary doctorate from Columbia University, and we met again at the Tokyo Economic Summit, when Mr. Takeshita was Finance Minister.

To answer your second question first, I would like to point out that people who are "almost unknown to the Western World" do not normally meet with Western heads of state and receive honorary degrees from leading Western universities. I have known the Prime Minister for some time now, and I look forward to getting to know him better in his new position. I think that what we can all expect to come out of the January meeting is a reaffirmation of the importance of U.S.-Japan relations, not only to our two countries but to the world, and a renewed commitment to pursue our many common interests and tackle our bilateral problems in the spirit of cooperation.

Arms Control

Q. You have said that this INF agreement and the progress made towards a strategic arms reduction treaty would not have been possible without the Strategic Defense Initiative. Do you also think it would have been possible without the change in the Soviet leadership? Realistically, what are the chances of reaching an agreement on strategic nuclear forces—reducing them by 50 percent by next spring?

The President. The prospective INF treaty—the first agreement in history actually to reduce, not simply limit, offensive nuclear weapons—is a direct result of U.S. and allied unity and steadfastness in the face of unilateral Soviet SS-20 deployments. It is inconceivable that the Soviets would have considered eliminating their SS-20's had the United States not followed through with its deployments of cruise and Pershing II missiles in Europe. In addition, it is probably no coincidence that Soviet willingness to reenter the Geneva nuclear arms negotiations occurred subsequent to my declaration of our intent to pursue the SDI program. I cannot speculate on whether the change in Soviet leadership has affected the course of our negotiations.

We have made considerable progress toward agreement on our proposal to reduce U.S. and Soviet strategic nuclear arsenals by 50 percent. We believe such an agreement can be concluded next year if the Soviets apply themselves with the same seriousness as the United States and if they abandon their effort to hold it hostage to crippling restrictions on our Strategic Defense Initiative.

Philippines-U.S. Relations

Q. The Congress mandates cutting off aid if there is a coup in Manila. Would you accept that such a cut-off include compensation for the bases in the Philippines?

The President. We fully support President Aquino and the government she heads. We are unalterably opposed to any attempts to destabilize her government. As a matter of law, the United States must cut off foreign assistance to any country whose duly elected leader is overthrown by a military coup. That said, I see no need to speculate on what would happen if there is a coup in Manila.

Q. At the forthcoming review of the military bases agreement with the Philippines, Manila is certain to ask for a much larger compensation than currently allowed. In view of the shrinking foreign aid budget, how would you accommodate such a request?

The President. The forthcoming review of the military bases agreement will offer us the chance to go over security as well as economic aspects of the agreement. Both sides are well aware of the severe pressures on the U.S. foreign assistance budget. Nevertheless, I am confident that in the review, as well as in the renegotiation which will follow the review and address the post-1991 period, we can work out arrangements which will be in our two countries' mutual interests.

U.S. Forces in Japan and South Korea

Q. Some in Congress and elsewhere are calling for the United States to scale down its Armed Forces' strength in Japan and South Korea as retaliation for their refusal to open their markets more to exports from the United States and elsewhere. Do you believe this would be an appropriate response to East Asian protectionism if other means of persuasion fail?

The President. Successive administrations have maintained our military presence in Japan and Korea, because our mutual security interests are served by keeping a credible deterrent against aggression in northeast Asia. It is important to keep security interests in mind and separate from detailed trade concerns.

Thus it would not be in our national interest to reduce our military strength in Japan or South Korea for any such reason, including as retaliation for difficulties in opening markets in those countries. We will, of course, continue to seek further opening of markets in Japan and South Korea. After all, open markets are also in our mutual interest—they are necessary to preserve the world's free trade system—and are a pillar of our strength.

Soviet Role in the Pacific Region

Q. What kind of steps would you take to counterbalance Soviet initiatives in the Pacific region? Do you think there is scope to renegotiate mutual reductions of Armed Force strengths in East Asia with the Soviet Union, as proposed in Europe?

The President. The Soviet Union's interest in the Pacific region has waxed and waned through history. Following a period of neglect under General Secretary Brezhnev and his immediate successors, the Soviets apparently have decided again to pay attention to this important area, one in which the United States has been actively engaged for more than 100 years.

Unlike the United States, however, which has extensive trade, investment, cultural, political, and military links with almost all the countries of the Pacific, the Soviets need to create reasons to become involved. In the absence of solid relationships in most of the region, it is perhaps understandable that the Soviets have to fall back on high-sounding rhetoric and vague generalities, but that kind of thing does not meet the concrete and pressing needs of the region.

The United States and most Asian nations are firmly in agreement about what needs to be done on a large number of real issues, like getting Soviet troops out of Afghanistan, stopping Soviet support for the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia, stopping the Soviet buildup of military facilities at Cam Ranh Bay, encouraging North Korea to talk sensibly to the South Koreans to reduce tensions on the peninsula, resolving the northern territories dispute with Japan, and reducing the military threat to China.

The Soviets already know that they can do a great deal for peace and stability in Asia by resolving these important, tangible problems, and we take almost every opportunity to remind them of that. Moreover, the United States is working hand in glove with almost every country in Asia and the Pacific on real world issues, like economic development, collective security, the almost universal longing for greater democracy, the growth of trade in free market conditions, and humanitarian issues. We think that real contributions to human welfare beat lofty phrases every time.

South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone

Q. Why did you not sign the protocols to the SPNFZ treaty? Will you reconsider your decision, as the House of Representatives requested last month?

The President. A world free of nuclear weapons would be a much less frightened world, and I think that nothing is more important than working to make that goal a reality. But achieving that goal safely demands a massive amount of work which cannot be short-circuited.

Nuclear free zone treaties are at their best when they provide a bulwark against nuclear proliferation, as might be the case in South Asia or Latin America, for example. Where that is not the case, however-and I think that the South Pacific is not such a case—we have to be a little careful about encouraging growth of the notion that writing a treaty that would wall off a portion of the world from nuclear weapons somehow makes a contribution to world peace. It might do exactly the opposite.

Since the Soviet Union exploded its first nuclear weapon in 1949, the world has been saved from nuclear warfare and, indeed, from major conventional aggression by the credible threat of the Western nuclear powers to use all means necessary to defend themselves against aggression. This is how deterrence works. Anything that may weaken deterrence does a disservice to the cause of world peace, because it is on deterrence that world peace since the start of the nuclear age has been based. The spread of nuclear free zones can make the job of maintaining deterrence much harder.

In regard to the resolution that has passed the House of Representatives, if it becomes a "sense of the Congress" resolution, of course we will give it careful consideration when it arrives here. From what I have said about nuclear free zones in general, however, it should be apparent that our reconsideration of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone issue is unlikely, in current circumstances, to produce a change of our policy.

South Korea

Q. What do you think is the prospect for the democratization of South Korea? How will this affect the success of the Seoul Olympics in 1988?

The President. Korea is about to hold its first direct Presidential elections in well over a decade. The campaign is being contested vigorously. This is a sign, I think, of a new, more open political system. Koreans have shown they are a can-do people—look at their economic achievement. I believe they will be equally successful in their efforts at democratic political development.

As for the Olympics, the Koreans are working hard to make the games a success. I am sure they will be. We hope that all the nations of the world will attend and make the games the international celebration they should be.

Note: The questions were submitted by Yomiuri Shimbun, the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Hankuk Ilbo, the Melbourne Age, and the Singapore Straits Times. The questions and answers were released by the Office of the Press Secretary on December 7.

Ronald Reagan, Written Responses to Questions Submitted by Asia-Pacific News Organizations Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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