Three years into his administration, President Obama is defining his Asia policy. The Wall Street Journal reports:
One of Mr. Obama’s core objectives is to serve notice that the United States will serve as a counterweight to China’s growing economic, diplomatic and military influence.“This trip is very much about extending a clear signal that the United States is going to be fully present in the economic, security and political future of the Asia-Pacific region, and it takes place in the context of a rising China,” Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser at the White House, said in an interview Sunday.The president framed his central message on Saturday: “The United States is a Pacific power and we are here to stay.” […]But China has proven to be a continuous complication. On trade, Mr. Obama has repeatedly pressured China to allow its currency to appreciate, only to be told by Beijing that China is doing enough. On national security, China is extending its claims in the region, worrying U.S. partners and allies who both depend on China for trade but fear it may exercise its power in more forceful ways.As a result, China’s neighbors have implored the U.S. to deepen its involvement. “The nations of the region very much want us here,” Mr. Rhodes said.
Via Meadia approves. The United States is and will remain a great Pacific power, and the President’s views on this matter reflect the views and the interests of both parties. Interestingly, the President continues to move away from the rhetoric of decline and abdication that once marked the utterances of some of his associates and advisers. This is a President who has learned a great deal about the durability and the importance of American power — and not only in Asia.As the President clearly understands, American power in Asia rests partly on our own resources and military strength, and partly on the consent and support of the region. China’s neighbors do not want us to leave. The United States hopes to avoid rather than provoke confrontations with China, but President Obama clearly believes that an assertive American stance and good relations with key allies is the best way to keep relations with China on the right footing.In addition to the developments in the great game, the meeting also showed some advances on economic policy in the region:
On the economic front, Mr. Obama announced advances over the weekend in a regional free trade deal, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that excludes Beijing for the foreseeable future. Mr. Obama hailed the news Sunday that Canada and Mexico plan to move toward joining negotiations, adding momentum to U.S.-led trade talks.To get in, China would have to foster more competition between private companies and state-owned enterprises, and boost protection of intellectual property rights, conditions China will have difficulty meeting.The expansion could give China incentives to move toward more open markets and eventually join the pact, but makes clear the U.S. and many of China’s neighbors will move forward without Beijing.
The revival of an Asian trade agenda is another significant development in our Pacific policy. Bush’s “Coalition of the Willing” referred to countries aiding us in the Iraq War, Obama’s refers to our willing trade partners in East Asia. Deepening our economic integration with our future allies in the region is a smart and sensible policy, and has the dual benefit of encouraging China to make the economic changes necessary to balance the world economy. Obama has unveiled a host of new economic policies targeting China, hopefully the enhanced U.S. presence will help them to have some impact.President Obama campaigned like Jefferson, spoke like Wilson, and in Asia at least he is talking like Hamilton. A strong commercial policy linked to a realist set of alliances in the service of the balance of power is exactly the kind of Asia policy Alexander Hamilton would recommend.In any case, now that President Obama has put his cards on the table, the Great Game is about to become much more interesting.