When an American president comes to Asia, his trip is defined by two wars…a half century apart. And in both cases, it's really the perception that counts more than the reality. Let me explain.
In 1950, North Korea invaded the South, and pretty much over-ran the whole country. The US jumped in on South Korea's side and later China jumped in on North Korea's side and after three years and 34-thousand American dead, it ended as a stalemate.
And today…it is still a stalemate.
But something has changed…the perception of America and its role in defending South Korea. The older generation wants American troops to stay in South Korea, and they remember well the sacrifices of kids from Chicago and California who died here.
The younger generation thinks it's time for the Yanks to Go Home. Many of them believe the continued US presence is a road-block to reunification of north and south.
They don't feel any debt to the Americans. If anything, they often feel resentment.
How will it end…the demographics make that pretty clear…the older generation will soon die out, and the views of the younger generation will soon prevail.
Now to China…and the problems of American perception because of that other war…the one in Iraq. China was okay with the war on terrorism but has been very lukewarm on the Iraq war. Maybe that's because China needs lots of Mideast oil, and doesn't want to annoy its suppliers.
And we found, in a most unscientific survey of just asking around, that normal Chinese are not very impressed with the war in Iraq or its architect…George Bush.
"I feel he is really belligerent," says one woman we spoke with. "It seems he wants to rule the world."
A man calls him "Junior Bush" and adds, "The Americans said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but they didn't find any… and now this is known to the world
Ever since World War Two, the US has been pretty accustomed to getting its way in Asia. Our fleet ruled the Pacific. Our economy dwarfed everyone else.
Now, our hold on power in Asia is slipping away. China is rising, and a younger generation in countries across this region sees a time when the US will no longer be the boss of Asia…but one among the equals.
Maybe that's tough for Americans to swallow. But a strengthening, changing Asia is humming a new song these days…the times, they are a'changing….in Asia's direction.
by Barry Petersen