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The U.S. in the Asia Pacific
President Barack Obama recently gave a speech defining America’s renewed interest in the Asia Pacific. Following are excerpts…and then the Chinese rebuttal, as noted in an editorial in one of their government mouthpieces, Global Times.
President Obama’s speech to Australia’s parliament, Nov. 17, 2011
I’d like to address the larger purposes of my visit to this region – our efforts to advance security, prosperity and human dignity across the Asia Pacific.
For the United States, this reflects a broader shift. After a decade in which we fought two wars that cost us dearly, in blood and treasure, the United States is turning our attention to the vast potential of the Asia Pacific region. In just a few weeks, after nearly nine years, the last American troops will leave Iraq and our war there will be over. In Afghanistan, we’ve begun a transition – a responsible transition – so Afghans can take responsibility for their future and so coalition forces can begin to draw down. And with partners like Australia, we’ve struck major blows against al Qaeda and put that terrorist organization on the path to defeat, including delivering justice to Osama bin Laden….
Our new focus on this region reflects a fundamental truth – the United States has been, and always will be, a Pacific nation. Asian immigrants helped build America, and millions of American families, including my own, cherish our ties to this region. From the bombing of Darwin to the liberation of Pacific islands, from the rice paddies of Southeast Asia to a cold Korean Peninsula, generations of Americans have served here, and died here – so democracies could take root; so economic miracles could lift hundreds of millions to prosperity.
Here, we see the future. As the world’s fastest-growing region – and home to more than half the global economy – the Asia Pacific is critical to achieving my highest priority, and that’s creating jobs and opportunity for the American people. With most of the world’s nuclear power and some half of humanity, Asia will largely define whether the century ahead will be marked by conflict or cooperation, needless suffering or human progress.
As President, I have, therefore, made a deliberate and strategic decision – as a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future, by upholding core principles and in close partnership with our allies and friends.
Let me tell you what this means. First, we seek security, which is the foundation of peace and prosperity. We stand for an international order in which the rights and responsibilities of all nations and all people are upheld. Where international law and norms are enforced. Where commerce and freedom of navigation are not impeded. Where emerging powers contribute to regional security, and where disagreements are resolved peacefully. That’s the future that we seek.
Now, I know that some in this region have wondered about America’s commitment to upholding these principles. So let me address this directly. As the United States puts our fiscal house in order, we are reducing our spending. And, yes, after a decade of extraordinary growth in our military budgets – and as we definitively end the war in Iraq, and begin to wind down the war in Afghanistan – we will make some reductions in defense spending….
So here is what this region must know. As we end today’s wars, I have directed my national security team to make our presence and mission in the Asia Pacific a top priority. As a result, reductions in U.S. defense spending will not – I repeat, will not – come at the expense of the Asia Pacific.
My guidance is clear. As we plan and budget for the future, we will allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in this region. We will preserve our unique ability to project power and deter threats to peace. We will keep our commitments, including our treaty obligations to allies like Australia. And we will constantly strengthen our capabilities to meet the needs of the 21st century. Our enduring interests in the region demand our enduring presence in the region. The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay.
Indeed, we are already modernizing America’s defense posture across the Asia Pacific. It will be more broadly distributed – maintaining our strong presence in Japan and the Korean Peninsula, while enhancing our presence in Southeast Asia. Our posture will be more flexible – with new capabilities to ensure that our forces can operate freely. And our posture will be more sustainable, by helping allies and partners build their capacity, with more training and exercises….
We see America’s enhanced presence in the alliance that we’ve strengthened: In Japan, where our alliance remains a cornerstone of regional security. In Thailand, where we’re partnering for disaster relief. In the Philippines, where we’re increasing ship visits and training. And in South Korea, where our commitment to the security of the Republic of Korea will never waver. Indeed, we also reiterate our resolve to act firmly against any proliferation activities by North Korea. The transfer of nuclear materials or material by North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States and our allies, and we would hold North Korea fully accountable for the consequences of such action.
We see America’s enhanced presence across Southeast Asia – in our partnership with Indonesia against piracy and violent extremism, and in our work with Malaysia to prevent proliferation; in the ships we’ll deploy to Singapore, and in our closer cooperation with Vietnam and Cambodia; and in our welcome of India as it “looks east” and plays a larger role as an Asian power….
Meanwhile, the United States will continue our effort to build a cooperative relationship with China. All of our nations – Australia, the United States – all of our nations have a profound interest in the rise of a peaceful and prosperous China. That’s why the United States welcomes it. We’ve seen that China can be a partner from reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula to preventing proliferation. And we’ll seek more opportunities for cooperation with Beijing, including greater communication between our militaries to promote understanding and avoid miscalculation. We will do this, even as we continue to speak candidly to Beijing about the importance of upholding international norms and respecting the universal human rights of the Chinese people.
A secure and peaceful Asia is the foundation for the second area in which America is leading again, and that’s advancing our shared prosperity. History teaches us the greatest force the world has ever known for creating wealth and opportunity is free markets. So we seek economies that are open and transparent. We seek trade that is free and fair. And we seek an open international economic system, where rules are clear and every nation plays by them….
We recognize that economic partnerships can’t just be about one nation extracting another’s resources. We understand that no long-term strategy for growth can be imposed from above. Real prosperity – prosperity that fosters innovation, and prosperity that endures – comes from unleashing our greatest economic resource, and that’s the entrepreneurial spirit, the talents of our people….
We need growth that is fair, where every nation plays by the rules; where workers rights are respected, and our businesses can compete on a level playing field; where the intellectual property and new technologies that fuel innovations are protected, and where currencies are market driven so no nation has an unfair advantage….
And this brings me to the final areas where we are leading – our support for the fundamental rights of every human being. Every nation will chart its own course. Yet it is also true that certain rights are universal; among them, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and the freedom of citizens to choose their own leaders.
These are not American rights, or Australian rights, or Western rights. These are human rights. They stir in every soul, as we’ve seen in the democracies that have succeeded here in Asia. Other models have been tried and they have failed – fascism and communism, rule by one man and rule by committee. And they failed for the same simple reason: They ignore the ultimate source of power and legitimacy – the will of the people….
We help strengthen civil societies, because they empower our citizens to hold their governments accountable. And we advance the rights of all people – women, minorities and indigenous cultures – because when societies harness the potential of all their citizens, these societies are more successful, they are more prosperous and they are more just….
This is the future we seek in the Asia Pacific – security, prosperity and dignity for all. That’s what we stand for. That’s who we are. That’s the future we will pursue, in partnership with allies and friends, and with every element of American power. So let there be no doubt: In the Asia Pacific in the 21st century, the United States of America is all in.
The latest East Asia Summit will be held on Nov. 19 in Bali, Indonesia. Taking it to signify its return to Asia-Pacific, the U.S. seeks to turn the Summit into a forum concerning the South China Sea dispute. China has showed strong opposition to this move.
Coupled with strengthened U.S.-Australia and U.S.-Philippines military alliances, this move is only a part of the United States’ new Asia-Pacific strategy. These acts bring great pressure to China and it is now expected that China will take some countermeasures.
The U.S. is carrying out smart power diplomacy that takes China as its target in Asia. Stopping it is not realistic, but it is equally unrealistic to expect China to stand idly by and indulge Asian countries as they join the U.S. alliance to guard against China one by one. Confronted with such frictions, which has the most resources and means at its disposal? Is an all-out confrontation possible? These should be the real concerns.
A prominent change is that the U.S. is intensifying action in the Asia-Pacific region and is encouraging China’s neighboring countries to challenge China. This is a new application of soft power.
If an “anti-China alliance” is really built in Asia, the U.S. should provide more economic benefits to its followers. It should convince those countries that joining the U.S. is more profitable. Only providing verbal support for sovereignty issues in disputed waters and signing agreements to provide security protection is far from enough.
A new impetus for economic growth is absent from the stagnant U.S. economy. Its strategic demand to contain China conflicts with the realistic view of using China to stimulate economic recovery.
The strategic nature of competition between China and the U.S. in the Asia-Pacific will be murky for the time being. However, China has gained more stakes when dealing with the U.S. It is hard to say whether the U.S. holds more advantages in China’s neighboring area. The potential for economic cooperation between China and its neighboring countries is great. China should learn to use this to protect its political interests. Any country which chooses to be a pawn in the U.S. chess game will lose the opportunity to benefit from China’s economy. This will surely make U.S. protection less attractive.
Naval disputes are only a small part of East Asian affairs. The U.S. and other countries seek to defend private interests by taking advantage of them. As long as China increases its input, it will make countries either pay the price for their decision or make them back the doctrine of solving maritime disputes through cooperation.
East Asian affairs should be handled under the coordination of relevant countries. No one dominant force is wanted. China has more resources to oppose the U.S. ambition of dominating the region than U.S. has to fulfill it. As long as China is patient, there will no room for those who choose to depend economically on China while looking to the U.S. to guarantee their security.