It’s a pleasure to be here with the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs to discuss U.S. policy toward East Asia and the Pacific. I appreciate the opportunity to be here tonight, because I believe it’s important to explain our policies; to connect with Americans outside the Beltway and get your feedback.
I have worked on Asia policy in the State Department and at the White House for decades. Early in my career, I had the great privilege of working for former Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, when he was Ambassador to Japan. And so I learned quickly, and have seen countless times since, the importance, and the contributions of the Senate, and of individual Senators in our country’s international relations.
Congress may not always poll well at home, but to nations around the world, it embodies American democracy. And when members travel and meet with world leaders, people listen. So it’s important to have thoughtful, knowledgeable, eloquent leaders, especially on the Foreign Relations Committees. Leaders who speak with force and clarity to advance American interests and values.
And Marylanders are very lucky to have such a leader in Senator Ben Cardin, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific. I’ve valued his wise counsel and advocacy for strong U.S. involvement in the region. It is a privilege to work with him. He is in Vietnam as we speak, en route to the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, where he will participate in a range of foreign policy discussions.
And of course I must also recognize the contributions of Senator Barbara Mikulski, who is a strong supporter of diplomacy and development as Chair of the Appropriations Committee, and is a leader on the Intelligence Committee as well. Maryland is doubly blessed to have these two great Senators.
The Port of Baltimore below us is older than the United States – a reminder that your city has always been a player in international trade, and thus in America’s relations with the world. And that brings me to the foundation of President Obama’s policy toward the Asia-Pacific region.
That policy is built on a simple idea: the region is hugely consequential to the U.S. The broader Asia-Pacific region – from the Pacific Coast of the Americas, through the island nations of the Pacific, to Australia and the Asian continent, constitutes over half the world’s people and economic output. Within that area, the East Asia-Pacific region that I’m responsible for accounts for about one-third of the world’s people and one-quarter of global economic output… and the numbers are growing.
As a resident Pacific power and a trading nation, the United States depends on a stable, prosperous Asia. The Asia-Pacific region matters for U.S. jobs and U.S. security.
Yet, when we looked at how our government’s resources were distributed – diplomatic and development personnel and funds, military assets, and the time and attention of senior leaders – we realized that the distribution of our resources didn’t match the growing importance of the region and our goals there. The distribution was out of balance.
So over the last five-plus years, we have worked to rebalance – this means strengthening our alliances and partnerships, building up regional institutions, and engaging with emerging powers, such as China and Indonesia. Let me give you a few details on each of these three areas.
We have strengthened and reinvigorated relations with our five treaty allies in the region – Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Philippines and, despite recent unfortunate developments, Thailand.
We have upgraded our economic and trade engagement. For instance, we ratified the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement and have worked to fully implement it. We’re negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which includes allies and other partners as well.
And we have strengthened security cooperation with our allies, from our work with Japan and South Korea to counter the North Korean nuclear threat, to the new defense cooperation agreement signed during the President’s recent trip to the Philippines, to our rotational deployment of Marines to Australia. The strength of our alliances was highlighted by President Obama’s recent visit to Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines.
Our growing ties with emerging powers were highlighted by the President’s stop in Malaysia in April. At the same time, we have rededicated ourselves to collaboration with longtime friends like New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, and the Pacific Island nations, as well as renewed engagement with Burma.
Second, we are helping to build up the region’s security and economic institutions.
For example, take the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN – a group formed not by us, but by countries in the region that see elements of a shared destiny and which also have shared concerns.
We were the first non-ASEAN member to have a dedicated mission to ASEAN. President Obama participates annually in the East Asia Summit, a meeting of 18 of the region’s leaders convened and chaired by ASEAN. In the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, forum, we work closely with 20 member economies from across the Asia-Pacific to expand trade and investment, promote sustainable growth and strengthen regional ties. And as I mentioned, we are negotiating the TPP. This is an ambitious, comprehensive, and high standard agreement that will promote growth and create jobs both at home and in the region, and includes nearly 40 percent of global GDP.
These regional institutions and agreements are becoming an increasingly important part of the international system of the 21st century. This is worth putting in context, because the international system – a lot of which we take for granted – is unique in world history. For instance, never before have people, companies, and nations been able to travel and trade more freely. Most Americans take the ability to fly overseas for granted. They think about the cost, of course, but not about the global network of treaties, agreements, and institutions like the International Civil Aviation Organization that make it possible.
This international system, these global and regional organizations, provide another long-term benefit as well. Because beyond what you read about any single meeting or accomplishment, these bodies inculcate a mindset of working together. Working together on a daily basis can help nations peacefully resolve disputes, and advance each other’s development.
As countries see the value of working together on a growing range of issues, this mindset and the structures that support it become more and more self-sustaining. And so, too, does the shared understanding that rules and norms, and not size and power, determine the outcome of disagreements. While each group and each time is different, the benefits of global cooperation and regional integration are clear.
And today, in Asia and the Pacific, regional institutions are driving real accomplishments, whether:
Our support of regional institutions will be highlighted by the President’s participation in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in China, and the East Asia Summit in the fall.
We also have initiatives that bring neighbors in the region closer both to us and to each other, such as the Lower Mekong Initiative. This initiative helps Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam work together to tackle common challenges, including education, infrastructure, agriculture and the environment.
The third pillar of the rebalance that I mentioned is engaging with emerging powers. By this we have traditionally meant our engagement with countries like Indonesia (with which we have developed a comprehensive partnership and a hold annual joint commission meetings on a range of issues), India (with which I hold very productive East Asia Consultations as well as trilateral meetings on the Asia-Pacific with Japan) and of course, China. But a broader definition of emerging powers could include countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, and, hopefully someday, Burma.
Expanding people-to-people ties is important throughout the region, and especially with emerging powers. We have increased people-to-people ties through programs like the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative. President Obama launched this initiative on his recent trip to Asia, with youth from across the region to develop patterns of interaction among the region’s future leaders.
These three pillars support and reinforce each other.
Strengthening our alliances provides a foundation of security for the region, giving countries the confidence and the space to move forward on their collective interests and strengthen regional institutions. Unforeseen challenges, such as the coup last week in Thailand, can strain relations with an ally.
But other challenges can bring allies closer together. Amidst the terrible loss of life and devastation of Typhoon Haiyan, our support for the Philippines, along with that of other allies, has been a bright spot.
Building up those institutions, in turn, helps the region develop the rules of the road that I mentioned. And those rules – developed by and for the nations of the Asia-Pacific – provide the environment for trade, prosperity, and for solving problems.
Our engagement with emerging powers makes clear that the U.S. seeks partnerships and collaboration. It shows that we are committed to building positive-sum relationships. And it shows that we are prepared to welcome the peaceful rise of countries like China.
As the invitation to this event mentioned, relations with China are an important component of our policy toward the region. So let me share the Administration’s approach to our bilateral relationship.
How have we pursued the rebalance with China? By committing to develop a bilateral relationship where we expand areas of cooperation and constructively manage differences. By agreeing that both sides must continue to actively develop bilateral relations and avoid a drift toward strategic rivalry. And by strengthening our engagement with China at all levels, the helps to promote mutual understanding about each other’s intentions, thereby reducing the risk of miscalculation.
By expanding engagement at the highest levels. President Obama has met with his Chinese counterparts some 19 times, and Secretary Kerry and other cabinet members meet with their counterparts on a regular basis. These meetings help us build and maintain the relationships we need to seize opportunities and address concerns:
Our high-level Strategic and Economic Dialogue, chaired jointly by Secretaries Kerry and Lew and their Chinese counterparts, is a key venue for both sides to achieve progress toward these shared objectives. We will have two days of intensive senior-level engagement in Beijing this July. We will use them to candidly address areas of disagreement, while at the same time expanding areas of cooperation.
This Dialogue brings together senior teams from across both governments to tackle some of the most vexing bilateral, regional, and global issues. Issues include the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, climate change, elimination of Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles, food security, maritime security, global health, human rights, economic rebalancing, and energy security.
Our economies are increasingly intertwined, with investment flowing both ways:
We cooperate on protecting the environment:
We cooperate on socio-cultural issues:
But I believe we must do much more to expand cooperation in the years to come. The logic of our shared interest should compel greater coordination and cooperation.
We share an interest in upholding the rules-based international system under which China has achieved historic levels of economic development. The United States has advocated for and embraced China’s inclusion in multilateral fora like the World Trade Organization, the G-20, and APEC, which China hosts this year. These groups create an environment conducive to China’s continued economic growth.
And more broadly, we know that free access to information, free speech, and the rule of law have been proven ingredients for unlocking human potential in societies across the world. As China works to move up the value chain into innovative industries and the global creative economy, its incentive to reform will increase.
These are all reasons why I believe China should strengthen its contributions to the international system, accepting its constraints to gain its far greater benefits. The U.S. accepts constraints – we lose some trade cases in the WTO, and some votes at the U.N., but we accept that, because the benefits far outweigh the costs.
As the President said yesterday, “America benefits when those norms are not only being upheld by us individually, but where all countries buy in... And China now as a rising power needs to be part of that....”
We will always need to protect our interests where they diverge. We have, and will continue to have, real differences. The question is how we deal with them. The test of our engagement, of our diplomacy is whether we are able to expand practical areas of cooperation on regional and global issues and at the same time manage these differences candidly and constructively.
In fact, this is the challenge of diplomacy writ large – working together when we can, and working to resolve disagreements peacefully when they arise. And that diplomacy depends on the support of the American people. It depends on people like you, who understand that spending on diplomacy and development is just one percent – less than one percent – of the Federal budget.
You understand that we need to invest in these tools. As President Obama said at West Point yesterday, this is “one of the hard-earned lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, where our military became the strongest advocate for diplomacy and development. They understood that foreign assistance is not an afterthought, something nice to do apart from our national defense, apart from our national security. It is part of what makes us strong.”
Because when you only have a hammer, every problem becomes a nail.
Relations with the Asia-Pacific region matter to all Americans – for our economy, our security, and the advancement of our values.
And they matter to Baltimore, and all of Maryland. For instance, international students contribute over $400 million to the Maryland economy per year. The nearly-complete expansion of the Panama Canal is expected to bring more ships from the Pacific to the East Coast; the rebirth of American manufacturing creates more potential exports, and growth in the Asia-Pacific region should create more demand for our goods, and more two-way trade.
But your involvement – as business leaders, as academics, as engaged citizens – is essential to realizing these possibilities. So thank you. Thank you for the invitation, thank you for engaging with your friends and neighbors on the value of diplomacy; and thank you in advance for your thoughts and questions tonight. Let’s open it up for discussion.