THERE is a dearth of Asian expertise among the top economic, security and defence appointments made so far by Bill Clinton. Vietnam will be an early signpost signalling whether the new president will pursue an active or passive policy towards the region. How Japan and China behave in relation to key problems will also play a crucial part in determining Clinton's Asia policy as it evolves over the next few months. These are three conclusions emerging as the 11-week transition period between the Bush and Clinton presidencies draws to a close. There is, however, another fascinating question that so far remains unanswered: will Mr Clinton find a slot for former Congressman Stephen Solarz in his foreign policy set-up? Mr Solarz, whose House of Representatives seat disappeared amidst redistribution, and who failed to win the primary in a predominantly Hispanic constituency, is a rare combination. He combines political experience with personal knowledge of nearly every corner of Asia, and is well regarded in most of them. Three remaining positions which Mr Solarz could fill would be Under-Secretary of State (the number three position), Assistant Secretary for East Asia, or Ambassador to Japan. Mr Solarz may have blotted his copy-book by not campaigning fervently for Mr Clinton once his own defeat left him free to do so. He certainly did not do himself any good by being one of the top cheque bouncers in the scandal surrounding the House of Representatives' own bank. For all that, the depth of Mr Solarz's Asian experience would seem too invaluable for any Democratic Administration to ignore. This conclusion is underlined by Mr Clinton's initial top appointments. Asian expertise is lacking, though some acquaintance with Asia is commonplace. The appointee with the most Asian awareness is probably Admiral William Crowe, who will be chairman of the president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Before becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Crowe was Commander-in-chief Pacific (CINPAC). In that position he was one of the first American officials to spot - well ahead of most US diplomats - that former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos had become a liability to US foreign policy. On the appointments made so far, the Clinton administration would seem to be neither Atlantic-centric nor Pacific-centric in its outlook. In one sense this is inevitable. Most of the appointees, like Mr Clinton himself, have pursued their career in the post-World War II era of pervasive US global involvement. Their careers have taken them to Asia as well as Europe. Among the economic appointees, the new administration appears to be split down the middle between those who favour taking a tough stance towards Japan and its trading practices, and those who feel that the US should flatter Japan by imitating its industrial policy. Whoever is appointed Assistant Secretary for East Asia will have his work cut out defending Japan's security role as a US ally. In his final months President Bush broke with tradition as he elevated a Japan-specialist to the East Asian position, rather than appointing one more China expert. It will be significant if Mr Clinton continues this new trend, thereby further rectifying an old weakness in US Asian policy: the fact that the US has paid more attention to China than is required, and less attention to Japan than it should. With the Cold War over, China is losing strategic clout with Washington, while the US relationship with Japan remains vitally important. Both nations are running a very substantial surplus in their trade with the US. The Clinton administration, initially at least, will worry about problems rather than regions. This means that what nations do will determine Washington's action and policies much more than previous attitudes or prejudices. If Japan declines to behave as an ally, its relations with the US will deteriorate. The same can be said, if China refuses to make any political reforms. But Vietnam remains an early benchmark. US businessmen are champing at the bit. It is Beijing, not Hanoi, which shows signs of being the regional aggressor. If Mr Clinton quickly lifts the Vietnam embargo it will be a clear indication he favours change abroad as well as at home.