The Asia-Pacific Region is the New Middle East

“The Asia-Pacific has become a key driver of global politics,” said then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an article published in 2011. She goes on to say that the region “is home to several of our key allies and important emerging powers like China, India, and Indonesia.”

From its outset, the Obama administration has been “rebalancing towards Asia,” recognizing the region's importance to the future of America’s security and economic growth.

Prior to a recent trip to India, Vice President Biden spoke on the importance of a growing mutually beneficial relationship with countries in the region, and ahead of his trip, included India in the economic and political coalition of Asia-Pacific countries the United States is striving to be partners with.

The reason the Obama administration is making the Asia-Pacific a priority lies in the strong possibility that the United States, and many other countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region, feel threatened by China’s growing political and economic power. China’s recent tactics towards the United States famously include “currency manipulation,” a phrase that was frequently brought up in the 2012 elections, which essentially means the Chinese yuan is fixed to be competitive against the dollar. Although in recent months there has been an increase in the value of the yuan, President Obama is discussed these concerns over currency manipulation with President Xi during a visit last June.

For Japan and many East Asian countries, China’s rise has resulted in not only economic insecurity, but also political insecurity. One prime example is the strip of islands known as Senkaku, a source of territorial disputes that have lately been rekindled. Analysts say that “China is trying to wear down Japan’s resolve in the dispute, and possibly even trying to chip away at Japan’s claim of having effective control over the uninhabited islands established in part by its own maritime patrols.” 

America’s expanding partnership with East Asia is also a result of our attempt to normalize the trade balance and reduce the trade deficit. As stated by former Secretary Clinton, “Our economic recovery at home will depend on exports and the ability of American firms to tap into the vast and growing consumer base of Asia.” Efforts to form partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region go back before the Obama administration, too. In 2005, the Bush administration liberalized the economies of Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore with the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPSEP).

In his speech before going to India, Vice President Biden said, “We are focused on the risks of disruption of commerce, proliferation, humanitarian disasters, conflict between nations, and the persistent threat caused by North Korea." Calling for trade fairness and a level playing field, Biden explained, “That means no intimidation, no coercion, no aggression and a commitment from all parties to reduce the risk of mistakes and miscalculation.”

Clinton and Biden alike argue that the hostility between the U.S. and China must stop, with both countries benefiting from a positive relationship. China will benefit from American innovation and technology, and the U.S. will benefit from a fairer legal apparatus that protects such rights as intellectual property so that people’s inventions and businesses are not recreated abroad unfairly. 

In this area, the Obama administration has matched its rhetoric with money. Obama created the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center (ITEC) to address unfair practices and barriers, and his most recent budget allocated $22 million to the cause. Overall the president has requested in his latest budget $1.2 billion for allocations in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Obama administration's rebalance to the Asia-Pacific highlights continued strides to repair and encourage new relationships across the globe. With the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, this administration will undoubtedly switch its focus from Europe and the Middle East to the region that is sure to provide the largest challenges of the 21st century.

For more information on the administration's rebalancing towards the Asia-Pacific region, click here