Asian Perspectives on the Global War Against Terrorism

June 27, 2003

In cooperation with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State

Hiroki Fukuda, Asahi Shimbun, Japan; James Novak Luhulima, Kompas, Indonesia; Federico Pascual, Philippine Star, Philippines; Tulsthit Taptim, The Nation, Thailand; Xian Wen, People's Daily, China; Ming Zhu, Jiefeng Daily, China; Ahmad Zukiman bin Zain, Bernama, Malaysia.

Prior to the September 2001 attacks on the United States, Asians, like Americans, felt immune from the threat of terrorism, believed it was a problem isolated to the Middle East, and considered themselves lucky to be free from the religious tension that is often a precursor to violence. The past two years, however, have changed the way Asians perceive their own safety. Moreover, many in the region have grown concerned about the United States' far-reaching global war on terrorism. Seven journalists from across Asia, engaged in a study tour sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, shared their own candid perspectives on U.S. foreign policy and the war on terrorism at this Asia Program meeting.

As the United States moved toward war in Iraq, anti-Americanism reached a fevered pitch in many parts of Asia. Until recently, the United States enjoyed relative popularity in Asia. Asians do not, however, hate the American people; Filipino columnist Federico Pascual insisted that those in the region who criticize the U.S. administration draw a clear distinction between government and people. The United States, and American values, are in fact admired throughout Asia. But it is these high standards to which Asians hold the United States that has led to negative feelings—there is, according to the panelists, a great sense of disappointment. Asians believe that in unilaterally attacking Iraq, without international approval, the United States went against its own principles of democracy.

In a sentiment expressed by all panelists, Japanese writer Hiroki Fukuda reported that after September 11th, he felt "furry" towards those who attacked the United States. But the U.S. response, marked by President Bush's "axis of evil" declaration, was "arrogant to our ears." The U.S. war in Iraq, characterized by one panelist as an "attack on Iraq," has drawn even more pronounced criticism in Asia. Nearly every panelist, echoing recent attention paid to the issue in the American press, expressed dismay that U.S. government justifications for war—Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction and its support of terrorist groups—have yet to be proved. The panelists also lamented the fact that the United States engaged Iraq without gaining United Nations approval. Chinese editor Ming Zhu insisted that President Bush's "radical crusade" has worked to destabilize the whole international system.

Clearly, Asia is beginning to feel the effects of global terrorism. Recent attacks have made some beleaguered economies even worse; Malaysian journalist Ahmad Zukiman bin Zain referred to the negative effect that terrorist attacks can have on the country's important tourism sector. Although countries around the world now share the threat of terrorism, Asians insist on solving the problem without U.S. military intervention. Indonesian editor James Novak Luhulima remarked that his country must take ownership of their problem—while financial support would be welcomed, American troops would only make the situation worse

Looking to the future, Chinese journalist Xian Wen suggested that the United States and Asia alike must address the roots of terrorism—poverty, growing income disparity, and discrimination. The panelists implored the U.S. government to respect differences of opinion and truly listen to the international community.

In the end, this collection of Asian journalists maintained that there is still hope for both defeating global terrorism and respecting national sovereignty. They gladly reported that after their tour of the United States, the values for which they respected the country are still intact. As Thai journalist Tulsthit Taptim remarked, "the fact that I'm [at this meeting] at all reflects that there are great things about America."

Robert Hathaway, Asia Program Director
Drafted by Timothy Hildebrandt, Asia Program Assistant