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U.S. Engagement in the Asia-Pacific: Economic Growth and Security Benefits the Entire Pacific Rim

U.S. Engagement in the Asia-Pacific: Economic Growth and Security Benefits the Entire Pacific Rim


Secretary Kerry, USTR Froman Join APEC Foreign Ministers for'Family Photo During Meeting in Beijing


With Secretary Kerry in China and as President Obama heads to Asia for the second time this year, it’s a good opportunity to review what the administration has accomplished.  There will be plenty of news as the trip unfolds, so today, I want to tell you how we got here.

America is a Pacific nation, and it’s well known that the President decided in his first months in office to “rebalance” to focus more attention on Asia and the Pacific.  In the six years since, we’ve significantly strengthened America’s relationship with the region.

The rebalance policy supports America’s strong and growing interest in Asia and the Pacific.  Americans want to interact with the world -- to travel, learn, and do business; to promote peace, security, and democracy; and to protect the environment as well. Americans especially want to interact with the Asia-Pacific -- a region with dynamic cultures, innovative people, and growing economies.

When the President took office, the U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) was stalled.  He and the U.S. Trade Representative worked to make the agreement better for American workers and businesses and got it over the finish line.  Now, it’s our largest trade agreement outside North America.  It helps American farmers by giving immediate duty-free access to almost two-thirds of U.S. agriculture exports, and will eliminate tariffs on 95 percent of goods exports within three years.  American services exports to Korea are up 25 percent in just the first two years of the agreement, and investment between our two countries is up as well.

Our next trade and investment agreement in the offing covers nearly 40 percent of the global economy.  We are currently negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement with 11 other nations which will set high standards for protecting workers and the environment, and open up markets where American workers are highly competitive.  Coming behind that is a bilateral investment treaty with China, which we’re negotiating to increase our reach in Asia’s biggest market.  And even as those negotiations progress, we’re forcefully countering cyber-enabled theft of American intellectual property.

Economic engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations -- a group of ten fast-growing nations with over 620 million people -- is benefitting Americans today.  U.S. Ambassadors and senior officials advocate for American businesses -- like our recent support for GE as it successfully sought a $1.7 billion aircraft engine contract in Vietnam.  And we work to tell the story of the unique value of U.S. investments.  In Indonesia, for instance, the U.S. investment firm KKR helped cashew growers not just to export, but also to build a processing facility that created even more jobs in a rural area, and a pre-school for the children of those workers.

Let’s look at education and travel.  Through the President’s “100,000 Strong” initiative, we’ve helped increase the number of Americans studying in China by that amount and more.  More students come to the United States from China than from any other country, injecting money into our economy and developing relationships that last a lifetime.  Civil society leaders, diplomats and corporate executives today know each other from student programs in years past.  Programs like the President’s Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative and longstanding exchanges with other allies and partners will keep us close to the region for decades to come.

Tourists and business travelers from the Asia-Pacific, led by Japan, are pumping over $40 billion into the U.S. economy each year.  The U.S. government works to increase those numbers. In 2012, for instance, we began allowing travelers from our partner Taiwan to enter the United States without a visa, and in 2013, arrivals went up 33 percent.  We’re working to make travel from other parts of Asia easier as well.

Let’s look at peace and security because it provides the foundation for everything else the United States and Asian partners accomplish together.  The United States has helped guarantee peace and security in the region for over 70 years.  Today, we are working closely with more capable allies and partners than before, both in the region and around the world.

First, within the region, we’ve strengthened our alliances and security partnerships.  South Korea now pays an increased share of the costs of stationing U.S. troops on the Korean peninsula, supporting the readiness of our combined forces; Marines now regularly rotate through and train with their Australian counterparts; our Navy and other forces are gaining greater access to Philippine bases; and we’re working with Japan to modernize our bases and defense posture while continuing to protect the environment.  As a result of our focus on working more closely with these key allies, we are better equipped to deal with regional threats like North Korea and natural disasters like Typhoon Haiyan.

New security partnerships are also growing.  Helping Vietnam build its maritime capacity complements our cooperation with allies around the South and East China Seas.  We share the concerns of ASEAN and other countries over rising tensions and unilateral action to change the status quo that risk destabilizing international waters, through which so much American commerce passes. 

To support democracy and other universal values, we’ve worked with Burma through its remarkable, though still incomplete, transition -- President Obama will push for continued progress during his visit next week.  And we’ve supported Indonesia as it continues to strengthen its robust democracy, most recently with a transparent, well-run, high-turnout national election.

Perhaps the most important development in 2014 is that the rebalance is “going global.”  Our closer relationships are ushering in a new era of Asia-Pacific cooperation on challenges worldwide.  Right now, this is making Americans safer and reducing the risk and costs we bear in everything from fighting ISIL and countering the plague of Ebola to countering piracy around the world. 

Let’s look at our work with Asia to protect the environment.  This, like many challenges we face, depends on how closely we can work with China.  We are the world’s two largest consumers of energy and carbon emitters, and the two largest markets for illegal wildlife products.  We’ve made progress in addressing these problems, launching projects to capture carbon emissions, demonstrate smart grid technology and improve energy efficiency, strengthen vehicle emissions targets, and more.  We’ve each destroyed tons of illegal ivory as part of our effort to put poachers out of business.

Secretary Kerry this summer held the first Our Ocean conference bringing together partners from around the Pacific to protect the ocean and the people who depend on it from the effects of climate change.  President Obama, in coordination with Pacific island nations, created the world’s largest marine protected area, protecting the area from commercial fishing and other resource extraction.  This builds on investments in protecting coastal communities that the U.S. has made over the last four years.  And today in APEC, foreign ministers agreed to preserve ocean resources and combat illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing.

The bottom line is this -- America is a Pacific country and the Asia-Pacific matters to America’s future.  A growing Asian middle class is buying more American exports.  An Asia with more capable allies and security partners is keeping both sides of the Pacific safe and prosperous.

The President is heading to the region soon and Secretary Kerry and I are already here.  I hope you’ll continue to watch DipNote to see what we accomplish in the next 10 days, and in the months and years to come.

About the Author: Daniel R. Russel serves as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

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