By Phillip Kurata
The Obama administration is shifting the focus of long-term U.S. foreign policy to the Asia-Pacific region with the aim of restoring U.S. economic strength, the foundation of U.S. global leadership.
“After a decade defined by 9/11, two wars and a financial crisis, President Obama took office [in 2009] determined to restore the foundation of the United States’ global leadership — our economic strength at home,” National Security Advisor Tom Donilon said March 11 in a speech to The Asia Society.
The president ordered a strategic assessment of U.S. foreign policy that led to the determination that U.S. engagement was “overweighted” in some regions, including U.S. military actions in the Middle East, and “underweighted” in Asia, Donilon said.
“Our guiding insight was that Asia’s future and the future of the United States are deeply and increasingly linked,” Donilon said. “Economically, Asia already accounts for more than one-quarter of global GDP [gross domestic product]. Over the next five years, nearly half of all growth outside the United States is expected to come from Asia.”
The security adviser said all elements of U.S. power will be involved in the rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific — military, political, trade and investment, and U.S. values.
He also emphasized what the rebalancing does not mean. “It doesn’t mean diminishing ties to important partners in any other region. It does not mean containing China or seeking to dictate terms in Asia. And it isn’t just a matter of our military presence.”
The adviser said the United States will proceed with the rebalancing in five channels: 1) strengthening its alliances in Asia, 2) deepening partnerships with emerging powers, 3) building a constructive relationship with China, 4) bolstering regional institutions and 5) promoting trade and investment throughout the Asia-Pacific.
Donilon said that the U.S.-Japan security treaty signed in 1960 is the cornerstone of regional peace and prosperity. “Looking ahead, there is scarcely a regional or global challenge in the president’s agenda where the United States does not look to Japan to play an important role,” Donilon said.
The U.S. security treaty with the Republic of Korea makes possible trilateral cooperation from Japan, Korea and the United States to keep northeast Asia free from war and contain the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he said.
With regard to emerging powers, Donilon said the United States is eager to build a vibrant relationship with India.
“From Prime Minister Singh’s visit in 2009 to the president’s trip to India in 2010, the United States has made clear at every turn that we don’t just accept India’s rise, we fervently support it,” he said, adding that “U.S. and Indian interests powerfully converge in the Asia-Pacific, where India has much to give and much to gain. … In the past year, India-ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] trade increased by 37 percent to $80 billion.”
He named Indonesia as another emerging power that has the potential to become a global partner with the United States.
Building a broad, productive and constructive relationship with China is the third element of the U.S. strategic rebalancing. “There are few diplomatic, economic or security challenges in the world that can be addressed without China at the table,” Donilon said.
The security adviser said it is critical that the United States and China strengthen their economic relationship, which is marked by increasing interdependence. He also called for better communications between the U.S. and Chinese militaries to “demonstrate practical cooperation on issues that matter to both sides.”
As for bolstering regional institutions, Donilon said they are important to deal with Asia’s urgent need for economic, diplomatic and security-related rules and understandings. He singled out ASEAN, consisting of 10 member states across the Indian and Pacific oceans, for having a critical role in handling the territorial disputes in the resource-rich South China and East China seas.
TRADE AND INVESTMENT
Donilon said the centerpiece of the economic rebalancing is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). He said the TPP involves 11 countries on the eastern and western shores of the Pacific that are negotiating an economic agreement that eliminates market access barriers to goods and services and addresses new, 21st-century trade issues.
“We can get this done,” Donilon said. “In fact, the United States is working hard with the other parties to complete negotiations by the end of 2013.”