Asian Powers Comment on U.S. Plans for Asia-Pacific Economic Integration

The United States is “pivoting” toward Asia. This strategy was formally publicized last month with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s essay on “America’s Pacific Century.” This week, President Barack Obama has been visiting Asia to push for a Trans-Pacific trading bloc and stronger military ties with US allies. How are major Asian powers reacting to America’s strategy to “re-engage” the Asia Pacific region? Today’s post  highlights Chinese, Russian and Japanese views on the economic aspects of this strategy.

CHINA
Chinese officials have so far made only brief comments on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), all of which express China’s support for regional economic integration but stressing its preference for existing mechanisms. Assistant Commerce Minister Yu Jianhua said any trade mechanism should be “open and inclusive,” while Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said economic integration should proceed in a “step-by-step manner.”

Commentary in the press characterized the TPP as a part of a wider strategy to contain China:

 Academic opinions leaned toward a “wait-and-see” attitude:

  • Wang Yuzhu of the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said, “Economic regionalism is China’s most pragmatic choice, because the international architecture is changing rapidly. China has to recalibrate its relations with the rest of the world.”
  • According to Lu Jianren, deputy director of the APEC Study Center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, “How the TPP negotiations will progress is still a matter of great uncertainty. What can be certain is it will be strategically detrimental to the old ASEAN Plus Three coalition, which has long been lagging behind in forming a free-trade zone that can allow a level of economic unity in the region.”

RUSSIA

As Russia gears up to host the 2012 APEC summit in Vladivostock, commentary on U.S. re-engagement in Asia was introspective, questioning Russia’s own unique orientation as both a European and Asian state.  Read more of this post

Caging the Dragon? Asian Regional Integration and U.S. Interests

By Brad Glosserman, Executive Director, Pacific Forum CSIS

Americans tend to be skeptical about or troubled by the notion of regional integration in Asia.

There is some basis for concern, but the advantages of integration are likely to exceed the cost to the United States.  An integrated Asia, the process of which has been shaped by the United States and like-minded partners, should strengthen the international system that Washington has labored to build over the last half century, reinvigorating and strengthening the norms and principles that have provided its foundation.

Defining “Asian integration” can be problematic for functional and geographic reasons. For my purposes, the term refers to East Asia, which I equate institutionally with ASEAN Plus Three. That narrowly conceived geographical scope allows me to demand more when it comes to functions. Meaningful integration means more than the loose confederation that defines ASEAN (its ambitions to create “communities” notwithstanding) but it doesn’t require the detailed legal framework of the European Union. At a minimum, it includes a regionwide free trade area, a political superstructure to express its collective will (no matter how sharp its teeth to demand conformity with its pronouncements) and recognition by the rest of the world that it is a meaningful political unit. Even that scaled-back objective may be too much. For many, Asian nations are too diverse, too committed to their (relatively) new sovereignty, and the benefits of integration are too diffuse to justify the costs. But if those formidable obstacles can be surmounted – and integration is proceeding, fitfully for sure, but there is progress nonetheless — most US observers worry that integration would come at their expense.

The Case Against Asia

There are three main objections to Asian integration. The first is that a regional economic unit would divert trade from the United States. Fred Bergsten (in “China and Economic Integration in East Asia: Implications for the United States”) estimates that “the United States could immediately lose as much as $25 billion of annual exports as a result of the initial static effects of the tariff discrimination that would result from truly free trade in East Asia (on the “10+3” model). These numbers could increase over time as dynamic economic effects, especially with respect to new investment patterns, are triggered.”

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Obama’s Asian Journey: Prospects for US Policy

President Barack Obama’s trip to Asia was a mixed bag of achievements and disappointments. This was the assessment of a panel of experts at a recent public event on “Obama’s Asian Journey: Prospects for US Policy,” co-hosted by the Sigur Center for Asian Studies and the Asia Society. Speaking on the panel, Deepa M. Ollapally, Alasdair Bowie, Gregg A. Brazinsky and Mike M. Mochizuki assessed the outcomes of Obama’s visit to India, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan, respectively:

INDIA

Obama’s visit to India was a case of “low expectations, high results.”

Concrete gains for India included: clear support for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council; lifting of nearly all embargos on dual-use technologies; and U.S. commitment to work toward India’s inclusion in a number of nuclear regimes, including the Nuclear Suppliers Group and Missile Technology Control Regime.

More importantly, the visit marked a shift in U.S.-India relations from the narrow, sectoral engagement of the past, to a truly broad spectrum relationship. Obama is the first US President to view relations with India as a multi-layered partnership: Read more of this post

Obama’s India visit: Beyond strategic symbolism

By Deepa M. Ollapally

Before India’s political pundits write off President Obama’s visit as nothing more than symbolic, they would do well to consider US- India relations under the Obama administration in its entirety. But in order to do that, they need to first shed their single minded focus on strategic affairs.

There is growing apprehension in India (and among some US analysts) that Indo-US relations have reached a plateau, and that no big strategic breakthroughs are on the horizon. First of all, it is unrealistic to expect strategic transformations at every summit.

Obama’s two predecessors were able to make history after the end of the Cold War by changing the course of US-India relations from one of decades-old disaffection to solid cooperation. Obama has inherited an excellent foundation for relations between the two countries, and there is little question that the US president has embraced India. Read more of this post

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