Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Elections, Political Transitions And Foreign Policy In East Asia: a Conference Report

Elections, Political Transitions And Foreign Policy In East Asia: a Conference Report

The U.S. elections in November 2008 will bring new leadership and reconsideration of policies toward Asia. In China, the Hu Jintao-Wen Jiabao leadership, which began its second and final five-year term in 2007–08, faces new leaders in its key diplomatic partners in the region. In Japan, July 2007 elections for the upper house of the Diet brought defeat for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party; in September, Prime Minister Abe, under mounting criticism, was replaced by Fukuda Yasuo. In Taiwan and Korea, both of which held legislative and presidential elections between late 2007 and spring 2008, voters backed candidates from relatively conservative parties that had not held the presidency for two terms and gave the new presidents’ parties parliamentary majorities.

U.S. Policy Toward Asia

Lowell Dittmer (University of California, Berkeley) examined the Asia policy the next U.S. president will inherit and the impact of the 2008 election on Asia policy. Asia is an increasingly coherent entity in terms of intraregional economic ties, institutional structures, diplomacy, foreign policy coordination, and identity. An “Asia” policy, thus, is possible and imperative. But recent dissipation of bipartisanship has made it more difficult to craft coherent, effective U.S. Asia policy.

In Asian security affairs, U.S. policy has reflected lingering Eurocentricity, a weak hub-and-spoke alliance structure in Asia, and the Cold War’s slow end in Asia. Early on, the Bush administration signaled readjustment of Asia policy, casting a rising China as a “strategic competitor,” seemingly strengthening support for Taiwan, rejecting the Clinton administration’s Agreed Framework and engagement approach toward North Korea, expanding and shifting U.S. military resources to Asia, reemphasizing old alliance structures, and flirting with a new unilateralism. With 9/11, the U.S. deemphasized frictions with China and sought Beijing’s cooperation in a global war on terror and on North Korea, producing a positive security relationship with the PRC.

Although the Bush administration’s emphasis is on terrorism-strained relations with Muslim states, the U.S. pursued reengagement with Southeast, Southern and Central Asia. This succeeded somewhat because some regional states saw the U.S. as a means to hedge against China’s rise. U.S. policy stressed non-proliferation and endorsed preemptive war and regime change; the later Bush years brought uneven progress through reengagement with North Korea in the Six-Party Talks. Overall, U.S. behavior continued to show “à la carte instrumentalism,” reinvigoration of a “rimland strategy” (cooperating with states on the region’s periphery), and the desire to check the emergence of a peer competitor. U.S. policy toward Asia also increasingly includes nontraditional security issues such as public health and pollution.

U.S. economic relations with Asia were long dominated by East Asia’s striking growth, fueled by Japanese investment and access to American markets. After the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-98 and with increasingly integrated global supply chains, China was the region’s big winner. It avoided significant harm from the regional economic meltdown; claimed a lion’s share of manufacturing, international trade and foreign investment; displaced Southeast Asian exports of low-end goods; became a prodigious exporter of higher-end goods; and tamed inflation. China’s ascension has presented Asian states with three alternatives to the losing option of continued export competition with China: exploit trade complementarities by exporting higher-end components, equipment or capital to China; shift to higher value-added exports in sectors where China is not yet competitive; or export raw materials to satisfy China’s burgeoning demand. East Asia’s most developed states (especially Japan and also Korea and Singapore) have followed the first and second paths, as have middle-tier states such as Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, to a more limited extent. Less developed countries in Southeast Asia have had little alternative to the third path. India has increased trade with China, become concerned with China’s growing clout in Asia, and sought to deepen connections with ASEAN.

China’s rise has complicated its regional relations. Beijing has worked hard to allay fears: insisting that its rise will be peaceful, cultivating soft power, seeking free trade agreements that promise economic gains for China’s partners, and building regional organizations such as the ASEAN+ frameworks and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. These efforts face significant difficulties. China’s regional economic relations are widely misperceived as asymmetrical and redolent of the late dynastic tributary system. International supply chains for China and other Asian states remain global, not regional, and heavily dependent on multinational corporations. In much of Asia, China is blamed for trade deficits and other economic woes. China needs to manage its currency’s rise well to avoid worsening resentments. ASEAN is reluctant to cede its role as leader in the region’s weak international institutional order. China’s soft power has suffered setbacks in Tibet and along the Olympic torch route. Other political issues, including territorial disputes, can disrupt China’s foreign relations.

While China’s difficulties may serve U.S. interests, China’s influence and agendas and other regional developments pose ongoing challenges for Washington. The era of Asia policy based on U.S.-provided hegemonic stability, development aid, and market access has given way to a difficult disjunction between the U.S.’s persisting near hegemony in security matters and its much-diminished economic role, minimal aid, and limited, negotiated access to American markets. U.S. Asia policy remains prone to unsettling cycles of interest-based realism and idealism. The latter has meant damning rhetoric toward China followed by more accommodating practice, including by presidents who attacked their predecessors for being soft on China.

Commentators Robert Sutter (Georgetown) and Harvey Sicherman (FPRI) explored with Dittmer the likely impact of the 2008 elections. Sutter stressed the importance of interest groups. Many, including labor unions and human rights organizations, press agendas critical of China. Traditionally “pro-China” groups, including foreign-investing businesses, seemed less influential in this electoral cycle. Popular attitudes blame China for American economic woes and are suspicious of China’s growing presence in the U.S. economy. Sicherman noted that such American views collide with China’s sharpening nationalism, which is reflected in China’s reaction to criticism of its handling of Tibetan unrest, popular boycotts of Carrefour and CNN after French and American comments offended Chinese, and China’s continuing ideology of victimhood. He suggested that an American consensus was forming, almost unnoticed, on a “hedging” strategy that bolsters U.S. military power and regional alliances even as Washington seeks to sustain good relations with China. All panelists noted the relative absence of China as a contentious point during the presidential campaign thus far, although this could change. Sutter noted potential for increased post-election U.S. attention to North Korea’s human rights record and friction with China over arms sales to Taiwan. Panelists agreed that a new administration likely would focus on rebuilding American soft power in Asia, a reorientation that would be more dramatic if there is a change in which party is in power. On the other hand, Sutter argued, a Democratic administration likely would take months longer than a Republican one to determine its Asia policy.


In China, President Hu and Premier Wen predictably received second terms at a Party Congress in October 2007 and the National People’s Congress meeting in March 2008. Sam Suisheng Zhao (University of Denver) assessed the prospects for Chinese foreign policy in their final five years in office. Zhao argued that China’s foreign policy has been in transition from the approach, laid down under Deng Xiaoping, of “hiding brightness and nourishing obscurity”—keeping a low profile, seeking cooperation, and avoiding confrontation while building national strength. With growing international engagements and capacity to influence international affairs, China has had to adopt a more active, assertive foreign policy. The shift remains incomplete.

Although its self-image is increasingly that of a great power, China still correctly sees itself as a developing country that must focus on economic development in order to build national power and on maintaining a stable international environment in order to facilitate its development. It is in China’s interest to avoid creating the impression of a more aggressive foreign policy lest it exacerbate concerns about its rise. To these ends, Beijing has adopted the concepts of “peaceful rise,” “peaceful development,” and “harmonious society.”

Zhao identified China’s frustrations: the stress inevitably produced by one power’s rise and another’s relative decline and creating a risk that the U.S. will try to slow China’s ascension; China’s rapidly growing economy has brought vulnerability from dependence on imported resources, including from problematic sources; the Olympics subject China to heightened scrutiny and pressure to take active roles on Darfur and other global problems; and popular Chinese nationalism pressures leaders to take more confrontational stands than serve the national interest.

China under Hu has embraced a three-pronged strategy:

  1. Building strong partnerships with major powers, especially the U.S., and promoting multipolarity. Chinese policymakers believe that long-term trends favor a multipolar world, which is in China’s interest. In the near term, however, the U.S. will remain the sole superpower. For China, this dictates strategies of cooperating with the U.S. where it serves China’s interests (as in the Six Party Talks and deterring Taiwan independence); accepting the U.S.’s invitation to be a “responsible stakeholder” in the international system or a “strategic partner”; welcoming Washington’s preoccupation with Iraq as a distraction from conflicts in bilateral relations; and building a united front (or acting alone) to thwart U.S. aims that harm China’s interests.
  2. Adjusting relations with developing countries. China’s hard-line defense of sovereignty and opposition to foreign pressure to change has given way to greater tolerance of multilateral approaches to problems of weapons proliferation (including North Korea), human rights (including Darfur) and unconventional security threats; and promoting changes that foster long-term political stability in partner states. Beijing also has to balance its need to secure energy resources with other goals in relations with developing countries. The quest for oil has entailed entanglements with Sudan, Venezuela, Iran and other regimes that alarm Washington.
  3. Maintaining good relations with “periphery countries.” China faces territorial disputes with neighbors, several irritants in relations with Japan, rising power rivalry with India, wariness about Chinese influence in Russia’s Far East, and concern about the political implications of China’s economic rise in Southeast Asia. China has coped, generally effectively, by pursuing consultations and using international institutions or ad hoc arrangements, a “code of conduct” for disputed areas in the South China Sea, and Six-Party Talks on North Korea. In East and Southeast Asia, China has benefited from contributions its economic growth has made to regional states and from its comparatively benign image.

Richard Baum (UCLA) largely agreed with Zhao. He pointed to China’s thirty-year record of accommodating and converging with international norms and rules, especially economics. Baum pointed to a long period of cooperative approaches to issues such as WTO membership, Security Council votes, the war on terror, and territorial disputes. He noted recent cooperation on tough issues in U.S.-China relations, including currency appreciation and Taiwan. Nonetheless, structural tensions accompanying China’s rise and the U.S.’s relative decline may disrupt bilateral relations more than Zhao suggests. China’s capacity to rival the U.S. and frustrate important U.S. interests will continue to grow. Whether China’s intent is or remains benign cannot be known. The U.S.’s distrust may be heightened by its badly strained hard power and greatly diminished soft power.

Baum and June Dreyer (FPRI and University of Miami) noted areas where friction with the U.S. is significant and unlikely to diminish, including Taiwan (and China’s acquisition of means to deter independence or force unification); acquiring natural resources from rogue or human rights-violating states; international cooperation on Darfur, Zimbabwe and kindred issues; veto threats to frustrate U.S. initiatives in the Security Council; virulent Chinese nationalism; resentment of U.S. pressure for democratic change and human rights; and unforeseen consequences of the U.S.’s impending leadership change or China’s domestic governance challenges. China’s neighbors and partners in the developing world also have interests that conflict with Beijing’s. They fear rising China’s political influence and the “hollowing out” effect of Chinese trade on their economies. Demonizing China or expecting it to acquiesce in American agendas, Baum cautioned, would be counterproductive and show a failure of positive diplomacy, which seeks ways to live with conflicting interests and aims.


Jun Saito (Franklin and Marshall College) argued that changes to the electoral system for the Diet in 1994 fostered a stable, centrist Japanese foreign policy that includes more liberal approaches to economic issues and more modest and moderate approaches to security issues. Commentators Jennifer Amyx (University of Pennsylvania) and Robert Kane (Niagara University) concluded that other factors better explained Japan’s foreign policy.

The 1994 electoral reforms eliminated a system in which each voter cast a single non-transferable vote for one candidate in a multi-seat district. This was replaced with a system of single-member districts in which the candidate who receives the most votes wins the sole seat. Reforms also reapportioned districts to bring Japan’s legislature closer to equal representation. Saito argued that these reforms induced parties to develop centrist policy positions to compete for moderate, median voters. Conversely, highly differentiated ideological appeals that sought ardent support from smaller groups, whose backing might have secured seats under the old system, would decline. Saito saw this at work in the sharp decline of the Japan Socialist Party, the Democratic Party of Japan’s emergence as principal opposition party, and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s co-opting moderate DPJ positions.

While panelists agreed that politics currently favored stability and moderation in Japanese foreign policy, Amyx countered that comparative data show only weak connections between electoral rules and party alignment. Other factors likely were more important, including the JSP’s poor political tactics in attempting an electoral coalition with the DPJ, the luck and skill of several prime ministers, factionalism and change within the LDP, and exogenous factors. Amyx and Kane questioned whether domestic politics generally had a decisive impact on Japan’s foreign policy, given durable national interests, international structural constraints, strongly held foreign views about Japan’s role in the region, unpredictable foreign policy shocks, prime ministers’ ability to shape public opinion, and changes that strengthened the prime minister’s office.

Saito argued that electoral reforms facilitated cuts in farm subsidies and acceptance of greater international market competition in agriculture. This reflected the need to appeal to the median, non-farmer voter and reapportionment away from low-population rural constituencies. Electoral reforms made it harder to win elections by distributing economic benefits to farmers and other small groups. Amyx responded that non-electoral factors, including changes by financial sector regulators, had made relevant agricultural policies less appealing. Participants noted Japan’s large foreign exchange holdings and sovereign wealth funds. While these might pose foreign policy problems, they were not likely to resonate with or be affected by electoral politics.

Saito argued that electoral reform’s imperative to woo the median voter also reinforced moderation and modesty in Japan’s security policy. According to polls and anecdotal evidence, median voters’ preferences include support for a more active international role for Japan’s Self-Defense Force; ambivalence toward legitimating that role by amending (rather than interpreting) the constitution’s pacifist clause (article IX); accepting the constraints that historical legacies impose on active security roles for Japan; and eschewing the militant nationalism some fear is growing in Japan. The LDP government’s positions on constitutional revision have tracked these preferences, as has its approach to Japan’s key bilateral relationships. Thus, the Fukuda government has continued its predecessors’ emphasis on good relations with Washington; backed off from initiatives toward China that public opinion did not support; sought improved relations with South Korea and warmed toward Taiwan; and has let the media-saturating issue of Japanese abducted to North Korea shape policy toward Pyongyang.

Kane and Amyx doubted whether domestic political developments strongly shaped adjustments in Japan’s foreign policy. The article IX debate and occasional high-profile stories notwithstanding, foreign policy does not figure prominently in Japan’s elections. Amyx saw virulent nationalism as a peripheral phenomenon under the pre-reform electoral system. Differences in foreign policy among recent LDP premiers suggest that leaders enjoy room to maneuver on security matters.

Finally, Saito pointed to other dimensions of Japan’s post-reform politics that promoted stability but also impeded innovation. Despite its victory in the last lower house election, the LDP still governed in coalition with the ideologically quite different Komei. A grand coalition with the fellow centrist DPJ foundered and is unlikely to recur. Calling elections in an attempt to increase the LDP’s share in the Diet is risky. The LDP’s very success in adapting to new rules for lower house elections helped throw the upper house to the DPJ, which used traditional vote-seeking tactics in contending for seats in that less reformed body. Attempts to use a two-thirds majority in the lower house to override the upper would violate norms and prompt backlash.

Korea and Taiwan

David Steinberg (Georgetown) addressed the foreign policy implications of Lee Myung-bak’s sweeping victory in Korea’s December 2007 presidential election and the solid win by Lee’s Grand National Party in the April 2008 legislative balloting. Lee’s victory reflected a repudiation of Kim Dae Jung’s liberal regime and Roh Moo Hyun’s populist administration. The political shift is likely to bring change to major external relationships. Under Kim, U.S.-Korea relations were strained by “alliance fatigue,” rising Korean nationalism (with the U.S.’s military presence providing a focal point), divergent views on how to deal with North Korea, and a badly failed presidential summit. Although Roh ran on a bruisingly anti-American platform and disagreements remain between the two states over North Korea policy, relations recovered somewhat as the two pursued a free trade agreement and Roh committed a small contingent to U.S. efforts in Iraq. Under Lee, prospects for improvement are strong, given his emphasis on restoring trust in the U.S.-ROK relationship, strong signals of support from Washington (including a Camp David visit), and toughened terms for Seoul’s engagement with North Korea. The FTA, which Washington might accept for security reasons, is far from certain, but would be a milestone in bilateral relations.

Seoul’s policies toward North Korea are likely to change somewhat. Within the U.S.-ROK alliance, leadership on the issue is likely to be balanced, in contrast to a tilt to Korea under Kim before the North Korean nuclear weapons crisis of the 1990s and the tilt toward the U.S. that followed Pyongyang’s breach of the Agreed Framework. Lee, who flirted with eliminating the Ministry of Unification, promised to supersede Kim’s “sunshine policy” and Roh’s “nordpolitik” with a tougher line of “flexible reciprocity” but no “unilateral appeasement.” Pyongyang criticized Lee’s election, but more moderately than many expected. Changes in U.S. policy from the early Bush years have helped close the gap between Seoul’s and Washington’s North Korea policies. Still, disagreements will remain as Washington emphasizes nonproliferation while Seoul’s agenda includes economic and social engagement.

North Korea’s willingness to end weapons programs remains questionable, given their importance to North Korea’s nationalism and the stature and, perhaps, security Pyongyang has derived from them. Gilbert Rozman (FPRI and Princeton University) added that instability and incoherence in recent U.S. approaches complicated matters. Despite some impressive recent successes, the Six-Party process remains at risk. Still, Rozman remained hopeful that coordination among interested parties had limited Pyongyang’s options and given it reasons to implement commitments.

Improved Korean relations with Japan and expanded ties with China and Russia are likely under Lee, Steinberg argued. Although territorial disputes and history issues still can sour relations with Tokyo, relations should improve amid abandonment of Roh’s targeting Koreans for long-ago “collaboration” with Japanese rulers and demanding further apologies for Japan’s past wrongs. Japan-Korea ties also will benefit from parallel interests in addressing North Korean weapons and balancing China. Rozman noted that difficulties could arise in ROK-Japan ties if Sino-Japanese relations fell into crisis, China grew too wary of growing Korea-Japan ties, or Japan underwent a nationalist resurgence.

Steinberg added that Seoul’s quest for energy and other resources could expand relations with Moscow. Imperatives to good relations with Beijing stem from a burgeoning economic relationship. It remains uncertain how Korea will choose among strengthening ties to China (Korea’s top trading partner and foreign investment destination), reinvigorating the U.S.-ROK relationship (with its emphasis on shared democratic values and potential for balancing China) and pursuing greater ties with ASEAN (which shares Korea’s concerns about China’s rise).

Lee faces significant domestic constraints on foreign policy choices. The former Hyundai chief must fulfill expectations that he can steer the economy to stronger growth. Lee enjoys a slimmer than expected legislative majority, faces a press liberated from Roh-era restrictions, and needs to accommodate nationalism, pressure from the political right and divisions within his own weakly institutionalized party. Lee must define his foreign policy vision—an alternative to Roh’s “nordpolitik” and conception of Korea as a regional balancer or Kim’s “sunshine policy” and drive for OECD membership. Rozman suggested that Lee could use the powers of the Korean presidency and South Korea’s potential as a multilateralist facilitator in the region to forge a foreign policy that is positive but more modest than Roh’s overreaching one.

Shelley Rigger (FPRI and Davidson College) assessed the implications of Kuomintang victories in Taiwan’s 2008 elections for cross-Strait relations and U.S.-Taiwan ties. In the January legislative elections, the KMT took 81 of 113 seats. In the March presidential balloting, the KMT’s Ma Ying-jeou won 58.5 percent of the vote. The KMT scored these victories even as candidates from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) distanced themselves from their party’s unpopular incumbent President Chen Shui-bian.

Ma’s cross-Strait policy was stable throughout the campaign and likely predicts his agenda as president. It entails expanded economic ties, including a cross-Strait “common market” initially proposed by his running-mate, Vincent Siew; relaxed restrictions on Taiwanese investment in the mainland and mainland exports to Taiwan; direct cross-Strait transportation links (especially passenger flights); and opening Taiwan to more mainland tourists. All of these promise to improve Taiwan’s economy, which has been struggling when measured against high historical baselines. In Ma’s view, China’s deeper economic integration with Taiwan and the global economy can be “win-win,” making China more supportive of the cross-Strait and international status quo.

In cross-Strait political relations, Ma pledges to preserve Taiwan’s fundamental interests, including de facto independence. Ma embraced the “1992 consensus” under which the ROC and the PRC agree that there is one China but accept that each side has its own interpretation of what that means. In the campaign, Ma cast this as a policy of “mutual non-denial.” Ma also addressed political relations with the PRC in his “three noes”: no war, no independence and no unification (more specifically, no discussion of it during his first term). A cross-Strait “peace accord” and greater “international space” for Taiwan (including possible participation in the World Health Organization) are also on the agenda.

Although opponents and critics have doubts, Ma’s seriousness is reflected in potentially politically costly commitments made during the campaign. The DPP attacked the “common market” idea as a “one-China market” that would mean a flood of mainland immigrants, falling wages, lost jobs and deteriorating public services to Taiwan. The DPP also renewed its long-standing assault on the “1992 consensus,” denying that it existed and warning that accepting any version of “one China” was a dangerous step toward compromising Taiwan’s autonomy.

Ma’s commitment to protecting Taiwan’s core interests (and satisfying constituent demands that he do so) also is reflected in campaign statements that took a tough line with Beijing. Ma insisted that the ROC is an independent, sovereign, democratic country, and that reunification could occur only with a truly democratic China and the democratic consent of the people of Taiwan. He dismissed as “arrogant” and “stupid” Wen’s statement implying that this was not the case. Responding to China’s handling of disturbances in Tibet, Ma raised the possibility of boycotting the Beijing Olympics.

Rigger and other participants identified four sources of support Ma needs to implement his agenda. First, Ma needs popular support. He has this, as reflected in decisive electoral victories, low levels of support for formal independence and rising support for greater cross-Strait engagement. Second, he must keep his party in line, especially in the legislature. The KMT is notoriously fractious, may become more unruly with its parliamentary super-majority, and still contains “old KMT” elements who have not moved with Ma to the political center or embraced the post-ethnic and democracy-centered politics of former President Lee’s civic-nationalist “New Taiwanese.” Although as party leader Ma had not exercised a firm hand, he might well do so as a president with a popular mandate and strong determination to corral not-very-ideological KMT legislators.

Third, Beijing must be forthcoming, giving Ma much better than the cold shoulder of the Chen years. There are promising signs, including a post-election conversation between Hu and Siew at China’s Baoao Forum; both sides’ support for the Hu-Lien joint statement and the 1992 consensus; contemplation of a “peace accord” as a step between negotiating concrete policy issues and tackling the volatile sovereignty question; and Beijing’s broader Hu-era emphasis on preventing Taiwan independence rather than moving toward unification.

Fourth, Ma needs improved relations with the U.S., to deal with Beijing from a position of relative strength. Here too, signs are promising. Most in American Asia policy circles welcomed Ma’s election. President Bush offered notably warm congratulations on Taiwan’s successful election. Most observers expect significant improvement from the nadir in bilateral ties reached in recent years when Chen’s “policy surprises” repeatedly pushed the envelope on Taiwan’s international status and rattled Beijing, Bush grew frustrated with Chen, and Washington became impatient with the divided Taiwanese government’s failure to approve arms purchases.

Jacques deLisle (FPRI and University of Pennsylvania) agreed with Rigger’s analysis, but pointed to areas where prospects for improved cross-Strait and U.S.-Taiwan relations remained questionable. Ma faces challenges in winning the trust of the 40 percent of Taiwan’s electorate that votes DPP. Doing so might entail moves that risk harmony within the KMT and feed fears in Beijing. Beijing might not be willing or able to offer enough immediate progress in cross-Strait relations. Although decisions on Taiwan policy are made at the topmost level and Hu appears to have forged a consensus to be more accommodating, Chinese policy on such sensitive matters turns slowly and Ma’s campaign rhetoric provided fodder to intransigent elements in China. Some in Beijing may not fully understand how much Ma differs from the older guard KMT leaders in his commitment to preserving Taiwan’s autonomy and seeking international space. The election cycle complicates Washington’s role. The lame-duck Bush administration appears unwilling to anger China (by, for example, going forward with F-16 sales to Taiwan). Key Taiwan matters will be left for the new administration, which Beijing will pressure not to lead off with “pro-Taiwan” gestures.

Finally, deLisle compared Taiwan’s and Korea’s elections. The relatively conservative party won presidential and legislative elections in both countries and reclaimed the presidency after two terms in more liberal hands. In both cases, voters appear to have treated the elections as referenda on unpopular incumbents. Former mayors of their countries’ largest cities, the winning presidential candidates also appealed to voters’ desire for competent government. Although the victorious parties both had problems of internal coherence, they otherwise faced strikingly different challenges. While the KMT secured a supermajority in parliament, Korea’s legislative elections were a disappointingly narrow win for Lee’s party. On the other hand, unlike its Korean counterpart, the KMT confronted distrust born of its role as the ruling party during decades of authoritarian government.

In both countries, policies to address declining economic growth figured prominently in the elections; deepening economic ties to China loomed large, and hoped-for FTAs with the U.S. held a more speculative place among proposed solutions. Both new presidents endorsed modest reform of government structures that were widely seen as dysfunctional. Ma and Lee also pledged new approaches to their countries’ perennially central foreign policy issues. Each faces a difficult and threatening neighbor with whom reunification remains a long-term possibility. Each must maintain good relations with Washington despite bilateral friction over security issues, FTAs, and U.S. policy’s heavy focus on China and North Korea. Contrasts are also significant, however. Although the Korea-U.S. FTA faces election-year political trouble, a Taiwan-U.S. FTA has dimmer prospects. While Ma pledges greater engagement with China, Lee has talked a tougher line on North Korea than his predecessors. Where Washington’s solicitude for Beijing’s concerns about Taiwan constrains the ROC’s president, the ROK’s president faces very different challenges from a U.S. policy toward North Korea that during the Bush years sometimes rejected engagement and flirted with regime change.