chapter  3
31 Pages

America’s institutional balancing: Pragmatic engagement

Multilateralism was an alien word in U.S. strategy towards Asia1 until the end of the Cold War. During the Cold War America’s global containment policy against the Soviet Union was manifested in the “San Francisco system” in Asia, built on a series of bilateral alliances between the U.S. and Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand.2 Relying on its economic and military power, the United States provided both security protection and bilateral economic access to its Asian allies. After the Cold War the U.S. began to show selective enthusiasm in structuring regional multilateral institutions in the economic and security realms. Economically, America was involved in the building of APEC to encourage free trade and economic liberalization in the Asia Pacific. In the security arena, however, the U.S. seemed lukewarm about multilateral institutions until 1994 when it participated in the ARF. The bilateral alliance-based, San Francisco system was still the cornerstone of the U.S. security strategy towards Asia.3