Archive for the ‘Pacific’ Category
Last week, as the 3rd US-India Strategic Dialogue was going on, I co-wrote an article for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC with Ernie Bower looking at ASEAN-India relations as both sides commemorate two decades of their official partnership.
The purpose of the article was two-fold: first, highlighting the importance of India’s role in the Asia-Pacific and US interests in the region, and, second, noting both the opportunities and limits to potential cooperation between India and ASEAN (and the US as well).
We propose some areas where both ASEAN and India can work together, such as building infrastructure, improving people-to-people ties and private sector collaboration. The idea is to get from India’s “Look East” policy which dates back to the early 1990s to “acting East”, as several US officials have urged New Delhi to do.
But we are also not naïve about how factors like India’s domestic politics and its identity may constrain its ability to work with ASEAN and the United States and also disappoint those who expect New Delhi to play a dominant role in the region.
You can read the full thing here. I’ve gotten some feedback about the article, but I always welcome more and look forward to your thoughts.
Picture: One of the winners of the ASEAN and SAARC drawing competition for 2011. From UNISDR Flickr Account using a Creative Commons License: http://www.flickr.com/photos/isdr/6216677209/
Earlier this week, I attended an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on the upcoming Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vladivostok in September this year.
This is the first time Russia will host APEC since it finally entered the World Trade Organization (WTO) last year after more than 18 years of talks. And we were fortunate to have with us both Russia’s senior official for APEC, Ambassador Gennady Ovechko, and former White House Coordinator for APEC (and current CSIS political economy program head) Matthew Goodman.
What struck me most was not the list of priorities Russia has for the upcoming meeting, which Ambassador Ovechko explored in depth. Rather, it was the worry that Mr. Goodman expressed regarding the future of APEC as an organization. While he stressed the grouping has been important as a sign of US commitment to the Asia-Pacific, a workhorse for the pick and shovel work of economic integration, and an incubator of broader regional and global economic issues, he seemed concerned about its ability to sustain its momentum and relevance.
He attributed this worry to several reasons. First, the attention devoted to APEC, already much lower than it deserves, tends to ebb and flow and is generally less in an election year. Structurally, since APEC is a sophisticated organization with moving parts, it is easy to get lost in the maze of acronyms and the sea of groups and sub-groups. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the momentum in an organization like APEC is such that it needs to produce consistent and concrete results.
What does this all mean for Vladivostok in 2012 and beyond? Mr. Goodman had a few suggestions. He stressed the importance of continuity and encouraged Russia to move forward on several initiatives the United States made progress on last year, including on health and women. And he returned several times to a point about focusing on “a few key wins” within different priority areas instead of trying to get a whole spectrum of issues addressed.
It was not clear from Ambassador Ovechko’s remarks to what degree Russia had or would internalize these considerations. He had a lot of praise for APEC as a “consistent, business-minded forum”, and spoke of great enthusiasm in Moscow for the dynamism of the Asia-Pacific compared to the doom associated these days with Europe. But one hopes this commendation is tempered with some of the caution that Mr. Goodman evinced.
You can hear an audio of the proceedings here.
When Hawaii−born U.S. President Barack Obama famously declared himself America’s first “Pacific President” in a speech in Tokyo two years ago, the audience was charmed by his references to green−tea ice cream, childhood visits to Japan and boyhood years in Indonesia.
They were probably less impressed by America’s Asia policy during his first year in office. Mr. Obama showed up to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) with virtually no trade policy, acquiesced to Beijing unnecessarily on several issues and had a rocky start with U.S. allies and friends like Japan, India and Taiwan. Weeks before America’s new president was about to leave for his first official Asia trip, Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s patriarch and one of Asia’s leading strategic thinkers, warned that the United States risked losing global leadership if it did not remain engaged in Asia to balance a rising China.
Since then, Mr. Obama has tried to make amends by buttressing ties with countries generally aligned with the United States instead of trying to change the interests of those who are not. He has backed Southeast Asian countries against Chinese bullying in the South China Sea, enhanced America’s checkered commitment to regional multilateral forums and deepened relations with allies and strategic partners like Indonesia, South Korea and Vietnam. Meanwhile, flickers of hope have appeared in U.S. engagement efforts with North Korea and Myanmar. In recent months, his administration has indicated that despite defense cuts and economic challenges at home, the United States remains committed to lead in the Asia−Pacific.
Mr. Obama made more waves in his latest voyage across the Pacific. Hosting the APEC summit in Hawaii, he pushed his regional trade agreement, the Trans−Pacific Partnership, which advances a platinum Free Trade Agreement standard that addresses critical commercial rules and regulations. In Australia, he secured greater U.S. access to Australian bases, providing a staging point for the American military in the Indian Ocean and a sanctuary beyond the striking range of China’s growing arsenal of long−range missiles.
Equally important was what Mr. Obama did not do. He did not fan Chinese fears of containment and Southeast Asian fears of superpower rivalry by suggesting that these overtures were aimed at Beijing. In fact, he went out of his way to say directly that “the notion that we’re looking to exclude China is mistaken,” and that Beijing was an important part of setting principles for all actors to follow in the region, even if it would have to realign its policies to pursue future common goals. That struck a good balance between advancing a U.S. vision in Asia and leaving room for conditional Chinese involvement. Chinese officials, of course, still questioned whether American initiatives were “appropriate,” forgetting the fact that it was Beijing’s own missteps that had opened the door to a stronger U.S. presence in the region.
He also did not attempt to dominate the agenda at America’s first East Asian Summit (EAS) as some countries had feared. Instead, he backed other Asian nations’ insistence on a multilateral resolution of conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea after they had all spoken at a smaller EAS session on Saturday. Though Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was put on the defensive, he addressed the concerns in a constructive way that was a far cry from Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi’s notorious tantrum at the ASEAN Regional Forum in 2010. That was a relief to Asian countries, who wanted to make their worries heard without incurring Beijing’s wrath.
Mr. Obama still has a year in office before presidential elections next year, during which much can happen. But as he returns from his weeklong swing around the Pacific Rim, he certainly looks more the part of a Pacific President than he did two years ago.
This article was originally published in the Tufts Daily.