The United States and Asia : assessing problems and prospects.
Publication Date: January 2006
Publisher(s): East-West Center
Series: Senior Policy Seminar series
Coverage: Asia United States
The world is undergoing a profound transformation as Asia emerges as the center of the global economy. China's dazzling economic growth is at the heart of this process, but there is more to Asia's emergence than "the rise of China." Nevertheless, the region's economic influence has not to date been matched by corresponding political leverage. The primary vehicle for U.S. engagement with Asia remains its bilateral military alliances. For the most part, those alliances are strong and adapting to changes in the threat environment and to new military capabilities and doctrines. However, the U.S.-ROK alliance is currently under considerable stress. Seoul and Washington are trying to reshape and broaden their bilateral relationship, but the success of that effort is not guaranteed. Relations among the nations of Northeast Asia are fraught with tension. There are many sources of these tensions: structural changes in international relations, the personalities of political leaders, genuine conflicts of national interest, and transformations in these societies. Given their roots, these tensions will be present for some time. The key question is whether they can be controlled or whether they will lead to crises. Traditional regional flashpoints—the Korean Peninsula and, although currently relatively quiescent, the Taiwan Strait—add to the worries. Asian nations are debating the role of Islam in their societies. This is primarily a religious debate about the fundamentals of Islam and the role of Islam in lives and individual communities, but it has political repercussions. There are common forces at work, but Asia's diversity and the unique circumstances of each country require governments to fashion particular responses to the challenge posed by radical Islam. While there is no single template, every government needs both to counter immediate terrorist threats and to take long-term action to reduce the inequities and grievances that make it easier to recruit terrorists. There is broad agreement that robust growth rates in Asia will continue, at least in the medium term. Adjustments are inevitable, however. The region's high dependency on U.S. and Chinese growth, coupled with the large imbalances between the U.S. and Chinese economies is a significant danger. High energy prices, a possible slowdown in the U.S. economy, global imbalances, and structural weaknesses in China's economy are other important concerns. Many of the changes in Asia further U.S. interests, and Washington should support this evolution. The United States should play a positive and active role in the region, but it must also recognize the limits of its power. U.S. power and influence are greatly magnified when Washington works with other countries to accomplish objectives. The United States should not oppose the Asian community-building effort, but should insist that any Asian community be open and inclusive. The United States should support the creation of multilateral institutions that reinforce global norms and standards. Given the centrality of U.S. bilateral military alliances to its regional strategy, and their contribution to the "public good"' of regional security and stability, the United States should think carefully about the impact of its global realignments on the region. Ultimately, the United States needs to better understand the changes that Asia is experiencing. The region still values the U.S. engagement and role, and, while the current relative inattention in Washington to developments in Asia does some harm to U.S. interests, the damage is still manageable. However, that cushion may be eroding; Asia is not waiting for the United States, and Washington must actively re-engage if it is to maintain its influence.