Nixon on Asia “After the Cold War”
President Nixon seated with Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa in Tokyo on April 6, 1993 (Richard Nixon Foundation).
On April 21, 1993, former President Nixon — purely from memory and without notes — addressed former Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu and distinguished guests at a national policy conference in Los Angeles on U.S. – Japanese Relations and the balance of power in post-Cold War Asia.
The title of the speech, “Asia After the Cold War” is a reference to his 1967 article “ Asia After Viet Nam” which discussed the evolving political and economic dynamics of Asia beyond containing Communism in Indochina, and a new American policy towards the People’s Republic of China.
In the early 1990s., U.S. policy makers were now grappling with the fall of the Soviet Union, the emergence of thriving Asian economies, and China as the sole superpower in the Communist world.
“It’s is almost a cliche to say the Cold War is over and the West has won it,” Nixon said. “That’s only half true. The Communists have lost; the West had not yet won it.”
Nixon’s first focus was the state of Russia. He said they were in enormous economic straits, and plagued with social divisions, ethnic strife, and political corruption. He was optimistic about its future. Its people were largely able and educated, and private enterprise was growing at a rapid rate. He was hopeful about Russian President Boris Yeltsin who had adopted a non-aggressive foreign policy, and was an ardent anti-communist.
Nixon added that the United States should expand economic aid in support of liberal and free market forces, as Moscow was in danger of falling to emerging reactionaries who would likely promote a more nationalistic and aggressive foreign policy.
Nixon then turned to China. He marveled at the spectacular economic progress they had made, but was dismayed by their human rights record. He advised U.S. foreign policy makers not to act too punitively on Beijing, saying that sanctions and threats to revoke “Most Favored Nation” status would only cut off communication and become an obstacle to the economic openness which he believed were antecedents to political freedom.
“The Great Wall of China is very thick,” Nixon emphasized. “It is difficult to be heard when you’re outside the wall. Economic and diplomatic isolation of China is not in China’s interest, but it certainly is not in our interest as well.”
Signaling to Prime Minister Kaifu, Nixon discussed the role of Japan in Asia’s political order. He recollected on a conversation he had in 1967 with Lee Kwan Yu, the prime minister responsible for building up Singapore into a modern country, and an expert watcher of Asian politics. Yu said that the Japanese are a great people who wouldn’t be satisfied with the status of being just an advanced manufacturing country.
Nixon posed the question, what kind of role should Japan play? He warned against rearmament of Japan beyond the defense of their home Islands, but advocated their projection of soft power through generous foreign aid donations.
He emphasized that Japan could help Russia by expanding the commitment to help rebuild its economy. Nixon understood Japan’s reluctance as the two countries have had boundary disputes. He believed, however, that it was in Japan’s interest to do so because if Russia’s reactionary forces came to power, they would become more aggressive against Japan.
Finally, Nixon turned his focus to the United States. He advocated for American global leadership and against emerging isolationist sentiments. While he believed America wasn’t rich enough to do everything and needed to repair pressing domestic issues such as crime and unemployment, it was rich enough to do everything important internationally, especially by burnishing the cause of peace and freedom.
“With the Cold War over, can we not now respond to the promise of peace?” Nixon asked. “War brings out the best and the worst in men. Peace will bring out only the best.”
Read the whole transcript of the speech below: