THE Asia focus to US foreign policy signified by the Seattle summit seems to be losing a little of its sharpness. The US found itself wrong-footed on its China policy, while a tough line on trade with Japan has generated plenty of tension but little business. The nuclear agreement with Pyongyang has not added lustre to Washington's reputation in Seoul, while the US is hardly a pace-setter in developing relations with Vietnam. Now, apparently following reluctantly in the footsteps of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the US has sent a fairly senior official to Rangoon to talk to the generals of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), one of the world's truly nasty regimes, which has specialised in physically wiping out democratic politicians while stripping the country of its assets. It is clear why ASEAN has sought 'constructive engagement' with the junta: Burma's assets have helped feed Asia's growth. However, up to now, the US has accused the generals of being major international narcotics traffickers, which adds interest to a meeting this week between US Drug Enforcement Administration officials and the junta's anti-narcotic officials in Shan state. US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Thomas Hubbard met the junta's military intelligence chief, Khin Nyunt, on Tuesday to discuss human rights, democracy and the fight against drug trafficking. It is difficult to imagine what Khin Nyunt had to say on these matters. He is still detaining the country's popular leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, while most other leaders of her National League for Democracy have been murdered, maimed or driven into exile. The US has, for years, urged ASEAN to shun the Burmese junta. Little has changed in Rangoon, apart from well-publicised attempts by the junta to engage Aung San Suu Kyi in dialogue. Washington should continue to shun such a murderous and illegitimate regime, unless the junta seeks help in handing over power to a popularly elected government. If Washington had wanted to send a message to Rangoon about the benefits of joining the international community, channels exist, and, if they did not, Jimmy Carter would no doubt have been willing to open them. But when it comes to repulsive regimes, Rangoon is right up there with the ousted military leadership in Port-au-Prince. If the US will not tolerate pariahs in its own neighbourhood, it has no business getting friendly with them in Asia.