Daniel Twining: Is the Obama administration willing to back up Clinton's talk with action?
Minxin Pei: A nice picture, but do the pieces fit together?
David Rothkopf: Obama and Clinton's most significant
Richard McGregor: A deceptively ambitious -- and expensive
have been a first for U.S. diplomacy: The leaders of the world's two most
successful surviving communist parties met in Beijing this week, and, in some
respects, Washington can claim credit for bringing them together.
who heads China's ruling Communist Party, hosted his Vietnamese counterpart, Nguyen Phu Trong, for official
talks in the Chinese capital, with the two sides agreeing to work together to solve
their bitter territorial dispute in the South China Sea. With China breathing fire on the issue in the last 18
months, Vietnam pressed Washington to get involved, which in turn helped give Hanoi a platform from which to restart a dialogue with Beijing.
has been a gift to the United States in Asia, something that is evident in the
bullish tone of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's article in the current
issue of Foreign Policy. The United States
was often spurned by regional leaders in the 1990s, until the 1997 Asian financial
crisis took the wind out of their sails. In the first decade of the 21st
century, America was preoccupied with Iraq and Afghanistan, while Asia was
mesmerized by China's rise.
In the last two
years, however, the United States has been welcomed back into the region with
open arms, as numerous countries hedge against a rising China. And if
Clinton is to be taken at her word, the Obama administration is looking east
again, with expansive plans in mind. One of America's most important tasks over
the next decade, she writes, will be to "lock in a substantially increased
investment -- diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise -- in the
Asia-Pacific." It is an extraordinary statement at a time of domestic introspection
and defense cuts in Washington.
The first building
blocks of renewed engagement in Asia are
already in place. Defense ties with Singapore have been deepened. When U.S.
President Barack Obama visits Australia in November, he will be announcing a
new program of ship visits and basing in the north of the country. That same
month, the president will be in Bali for his first East Asian Summit
and in Hawaii for the annual heads-of-state meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic
Cooperation forum. All this, of course, is a prelude to the main game:
whether the United States and China can work out a modus vivendi between
themselves in the Asia-Pacific.
There is much that China will not like in Clinton's
article. As Minxin Pei notes in an analysis in the Diplomat, "the
Clinton statement will be seen in Beijing simply as another declaration that
the United States is determined to remain as Asia-Pacific's pre-eminent power.… The strategic message to every country in the region, particularly China, is
crystal clear: don't count us out and don't even think about pushing us out."
But can the United States afford to
make a substantially greater commitment to Asia at a time of ballooning
deficits? And what incentives does China have to accede to U.S. power at a time
when it finally has the firepower to accumulate its own? Pax Americana has
served Asia well since the end of World War II. Whether it can manage to bring
China under its umbrella is the greatest challenge it has faced in the past
Richard McGregor is Washington bureau chief of the Financial Times and author of The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist
Daniel Twining: Is the Obama administration willing to back up Clinton's talk with action?
of State Hillary Clinton deserves credit for laying out a comprehensive vision
for U.S. engagement in the coming Indo-Pacific century. She and her Asia team,
led by Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell, have been energetic in traveling to
the region and laying down markers in support of U.S. alliances with Japan,
South Korea, and Australia; strategic cooperation with India, including through
an important new U.S.-India-Japan trilateral cooperation; a deeper relationship
with Indonesia; freedom of navigation in the South China Sea; and engagement
with the Pacific island nations. This activism is a reminder that Asia policy
has a bipartisan base in Washington -- and that the United States never "left"
Asia during the George W. Bush years. Indeed, Bush's historic opening to India
in particular helped create a more favorable strategic environment for Barack
Obama's regional engagement.
The harder question is whether the Obama administration is
committed to maintaining a favorable balance of power in the Asia-Pacific --
without which Clinton's many laudable objectives will be impossible
to meet. Obama's own proposed budget would cut American defense spending by $1
trillion over the coming decade. Meanwhile, China is developing sophisticated
weapons expressly designed to exclude the U.S. military from the Asian
littoral. It is difficult to understand how the United States can ramp up its
security commitments and presence in Asia -- for which there is bipartisan
support in Washington and widespread regional consent -- even as its
commander in chief proposes hollowing out the country's armed forces.
It is also striking that Clinton's vision for Asia focuses
more on one country than on any other. That country is not America's closest ally
in the region, Japan. It is not the democracy of 1.3 billion Indians, whose
strategic community identifies a convergence of interests with the United
States in maintaining equilibrium in Asia, defeating terrorism in Afghanistan
and Pakistan, and maintaining maritime security. It is, more than any other
country, China -- a rising peer competitor -- that Clinton seems intent on
reassuring. The administration's recent refusal to sell Taiwan advanced combat
aircraft appears in line with this assessment.
This approach seems to get things backward; rather, it
would seem that the burden is on China to reassure America. After all, the United
States and its allies have been generating security in Asia for 60 years -- including
for China since its economic liberalization in 1978. By contrast, China's rapid
military modernization and external assertiveness today generate acute
insecurity in the eyes of its many neighbors, eroding the stability that has
underwritten Asia's economic miracle.
Clinton correctly notes that American economic leadership in
Asia is critical. Measured by trade in goods and services plus investment
flows, it is the United States -- not China -- that remains nearly all Asian
countries' economic partner of choice. Yet until last week, the Obama
administration had refused to send to Congress a free trade agreement with
South Korea that had sat on the president's desk since his inauguration. The United States has downgraded its economic dialogue with Japan and continues to slow-roll a
bilateral investment treaty with India. Technical-level negotiations on the
Trans-Pacific Partnership are no substitute for a robust strategy of economic
leadership in the Indo-Pacific.
Former Obama Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg was
fond of telling Asian elites that U.S.-China relations were like Anglo-American
relations a century ago -- and that like Britain then, the United States today
was preparing to peacefully cede leadership in international affairs to a
rising China. This message went down very badly across Asia. As the late Indian
international affairs scholar K. Subrahmanyam put it, Asians (including
Indians) are quite happy to live under American preeminence -- and refuse to
countenance its replacement by Chinese hegemony.
It will be costly and challenging for the United States to
maintain Pacific primacy in light of the China challenge. Good speeches help,
but actions matter more.
Daniel Twining is senior fellow for Asia at the German Marshall Fund of the United States and a former member of the U.S. State Department's policy planning staff.
A nice picture, but do the pieces fit together?
As a clear and comprehensive elaboration of American policy
toward the Asia-Pacific, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's essay, "America's
Pacific Century," may seem overdue. But it could not come at a more opportune
time for Washington. A combination of factors, some fortuitous and others not,
has enabled the United States to re-establish its preeminence in the
Asia-Pacific in the last two years after years of benign neglect during the
Bush administration. To be sure, Barack Obama's administration has already begun to
reap the fruits of its diplomatic re-engagement with the region. High-level
visits by American diplomats, in particular Clinton's numerous trips to the
region, have greatly improved the optics through which countries in the
Asia-Pacific view the United States. The assertiveness displayed by China in
recent territorial disputes has also alienated its neighbors and pushed them
closer to Washington.
Under such circumstances, a comprehensive policy statement
that reaffirms the United States' commitment to the region will greatly
reassure its allies and communicate America's strategic clarity to its
competitors, principally China. In terms of substance, the Clinton statement
breaks no new ground. The so-called "six key lines of action" -- as Clinton
describes them, "strengthening bilateral security alliances; deepening our
working relationships with emerging powers, including with China; engaging with
regional multilateral institutions; expanding trade and investment; forging a
broad-based military presence; and advancing democracy and human rights" -- are
well-known. Reaffirming them or spelling them out in newer phrases does not change
their substance or American policy.
But serious puzzles remain regarding America's policy toward
the Asia-Pacific. The most important is perhaps Washington's long-term
strategic objective. What long-term goals is the United States trying to
accomplish with the six lines? Maintaining American preeminence forever?
Preventing the emergence of a local hegemon?
Another puzzle is how the six lines of action fit together;
they are not always compatible with each other and, in fact, are often in
conflict. For example, deepening engagement with China definitely conflicts
with maintaining a substantial forward deployment of the U.S. military
(which Beijing views as a threat to its security), the promotion of human
rights and democracy (which China dislikes intensely), and the maintenance of
bilateral security alliances (which China sees as a relic of the Cold War).
The final puzzle is whether Washington has the resources to
carry out its policies effectively in the region. Obviously, the United States'
fiscal woes will greatly reduce its ability to fund its foreign-policy
initiatives. But with the American political establishment becoming more
inward-looking, the political capital need for bold foreign-policy initiatives
is in short supply as well. Take, for example, the proposal for the
"Trans-Pacific Partnership," an ambitious plan to establish a free trade zone
in the region. Countries allegedly included in this proposal may be excited,
but the trouble is that nobody in Washington seems to know what TPP stands for.
To make its proposal credible, the Obama administration needs to do a lot more
Minxin Pei is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.
David Rothkopf: Obama and Clinton's most significant
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's "America's Pacific
Century" describes in thoughtful and comprehensive terms the foreign-policy
initiative most likely to later be viewed as the most successful and
significant of the Barack Obama-Clinton foreign-policy era. In all likelihood,
Clinton will not remain as secretary beyond the end of next year, and it
therefore seems quite likely that her joint legacy with the president will be
dominated by the systematic, well-executed, often below-the-radar "pivot" she
describes in her article.
Although the conflicts in the Middle East and Central Asia have consumed the
lion's share of the bandwidth and resources of this administration and the
last, as Clinton notes, America's attention is shifting. This is due in part to the
reason she cites: the drawdown of U.S. assets in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it
is also due to the fact that the United States is moving away from a worldview that makes the
"war on terror" the top priority it was for George W. Bush's administration.
And additionally, it is due to the fact that increasingly even those issues
most important in the Middle East and Central Asia -- from the future of Iran's nuclear program
to shifting global markets for energy to the task of containing threats from
within Pakistan -- increasingly depend on actions and positions taken not by
regional players but by China and India.
As Daniel Yergin told me in our recent discussion about The Quest, his new book on the future of
energy, virtually all new demand for energy from the Middle East will come from
China or India. The major power whose influence is most likely to be the swing
vote in the court of international opinion -- not to mention the U.N. Security
Council -- regarding the future of Iran's nuclear program is China. Both India
and China have vital roles to play managing relations with Pakistan and
All of which illustrates starkly why the pivot to Asia must
take place. As does the fact that the current economic crisis in Europe is
perhaps the first in which China's intervention may be the most important of
all the major powers' in terms of funding or not funding the kind of safety net
or intervention that may be necessary in the marketplace. As does the
increasing role of China and India as consumers of resources from elsewhere in
the emerging world -- or their rising influence among emerging powers that seek
to have an influential, independent voice in international institutions.
Asia's economic growth and its population size, its
productive capacity and its demand, its technological leadership and the
geopolitical importance of its major actors, are all reasons why the Obama
administration was right to immediately and decisively make a new, strategic,
comprehensive Asia policy such a high priority. One might almost say such a
decision was inevitable. But of course, the previous administration made a very
different calculation, even as many of the same trends were clear to observers
even before Bush took office.
But the Obama administration's initiative has been more than
just timely, more than a simple recognition of the obvious. It has also been
smart and systematic. A centerpiece was, as necessary, engagement with China.
That effort has been ongoing, both publicly and privately, and at both high and
low levels. In other words, it has been just what was called for even if it
has not been smooth on every issue -- as indeed it never can be. But it has
also been wisely even-toned most of the time, sidestepping the
counterproductive melodrama and extremes that have marked some earlier
chapters in the relationship.
Further, the administration has very consciously sought
balance at every level -- between different elements of the China relationship
and between China and its neighbors. Building on important work done during the
Bill Clinton and Bush administrations, strengthening the relationship with India --
including embracing India's goal of becoming a permanent member of the U.N.
Security Council -- has been a special area of accomplishment. But the
administration has also made sure to deepen ties with Japan despite that
country's political dysfunction, stepping in quickly, for instance, in the wake
of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. It has assiduously worked the North Korea issue. And
it has, as Secretary Clinton notes in her article, not stopped with the headline-grabbing
countries of the region; from Burma to the Mekong River delta, from the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to the Spratly Islands, it has
recognized that Mies van der Rohe's dictum that "God is in the details" applies
as directly to diplomacy as it does to architecture.
Further, to Clinton's credit, she has overseen this
initiative on the president's behalf in the best possible way. She has actively
put in the miles, working behind the scenes when appropriate and being out in
front and the voice of the United States when it is called for. She has served
the president and the country by setting aside ego and rolling up her sleeves,
doing the tedious, day-to-day work of relationship management and attention to
minutiae that comprises her brief. She has also empowered and guided her team
at the State Department well, with important work being done almost constantly
and seamlessly at the deputy secretary, undersecretary, assistant secretary,
ambassadorial, and working levels.
The result is that the United States has never been more
respected in the region nor more acutely attuned to its issues of the moment.
The shift in focus, therefore, ranks up there with the other vitally important
changes overseen by the Obama national security team -- including the
restoration of America's international reputation, the shift from unilateralism
to multilateralism, and the shift from the "open-heart surgery" approach to the
war on terror to the arthroscopic approach (intelligence, special forces,
unmanned aircraft). Together all these represent a "pivot" -- to use
Clinton's word -- that is one of the most significant in recent U.S. foreign-policy history and may be seen not just as one to a "Pacific Century" but in
reality one from the 20th to the 21st century.
David Rothkopf is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and author of the upcoming Power, Inc. due out in early 2012.
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