Engaging Asia 2009: Strategies for Success

James B. Steinberg
Deputy Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Secretary
Remarks At National Bureau of Asian Research Conference
Washington, DC
April 1, 2009

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Thank you for the opportunity to be here with such an extraordinarily distinguished audience of many good friends and colleagues from past and present. I note that the State Department sent not one, but two deputy assistant secretaries for East Asia here to find out what it is that I wrote in the margins after they last saw this draft – (laughter) – and what they will be reporting back home about what I have to say. (Laughter.) I see at least one former assistant secretary, a former senior director, and then so many others who I’ve had the pleasure of serving with.

And so it really is a pleasure to be here and I really look forward to your comments and questions after I’m done, which hopefully we’ll have a little bit of time for.

I want to congratulate the National Bureau of Asian Research on your 20th anniversary. This is a momentous occasion and much has changed since 1989, which is what I want to talk about today. 1989 was a momentous year for a number of reasons, in addition to the founding of NBR, not just in Seattle, but in Berlin and Beijing and many other places around the world. Indeed, it’s a measure of how much has changed over the past 20 years. As most of you probably know, NBR was originally the National Bureau of Asian and Soviet Research, so that’s at least one part of your job that you no longer have to worry about. (Laughter.)

RICH ELLINGS: We just have Russia to worry about – no big deal.

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Well, and I actually – and I’ll come back to this, but you mentioned – and just as a measure of the significance of the region, you mentioned that President Obama is meeting with President Hu, just concluded their meeting. But if you look at the lineup of his meetings, he not only just met with President Hu, but he’ll be meeting with President Lee of South Korea, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, and President Medvedev. So if you count the Russians in the distinguished club of Asia, we have quite a serious representation at the highest levels of bilateral meetings going on at the G-20, which really does reflect this profound change in the world that I am going to talk about today.

I recently reread in my spare time Kenneth Pyle’s talk at the opening of the Pyle Center for Northeast Asian Studies back a couple of years ago. And in his talk, Professor Pyle said – this’ll be my theme for today’s talk, this is my text, as the preachers say. “The end of the Cold War opened a new era for Asia. The center of gravity of the global economy was shifting from the North Atlantic to the Asia-Pacific region. A region that had been a colonial backwater when the Cold War began was now the emerging new center of world power and influence. Asia, however, in the post-Cold War era, is in a kind of interregnum. It lacks a fixed regional structure, a recognized legitimate order to cope with its diverse cultural and political systems, and has vast differences of wealth and population, competition for energy resources, arms races, border disputes, conflicting historical legacies, rampant nationalisms, and limited experience with multilateral organizations.” A very tough diagnosis, but one I think which really represents the challenges that we all face in advising an effective strategy going forward.

The end of the Cold War stripped away the historic scaffolding that had covered a profound change in the global landscape that, in fact, had been underway and under construction for many years. And it’s more than just a change in the center of gravity of world affairs. It was a movement away from an international order based on relations between nation states to one increasingly characterized by transnational forces and transnational actors, one in which economic power increasingly rivaled military power as a measure of influence, in which non-state actors played an increasingly central role, transnational threats from terrorism to international crime to global public health and the environment took their place alongside state-to-state conflict.

Now in some parts of the world, the response to these tectonic changes was to seek a new approach to international relations which, while not abandoning the nation-state, sought to develop new forms of cooperation that offered more promising tools to master these transnational forces. From the deepening of the European Union and the creation of the Euro to the enlargement and adaptation of NATO, the adoption of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the institutionalization of the GATT into the WTO, the transformation of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe into the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and new structures like the Financial Action Task Force and the Proliferation Security Initiative, there had been efforts to innovate on both the regional and global level to develop new strategies for cooperation.

But for Asia, the last 20 years have also had elements of “back to the future” as the Cold War alignment has to some degree been replaced by something that resembles more of 19th than 21st century politics. This has been due in part to what has been one of the most important developments of the past 20 years – the remarkable economic growth and political consolidation in both China and India, the return to more traditional paths of nation building in these two great nations that had been retarded by colonialism and communism for centuries as they’ve now taken a new path forward.

It’s also been an opportunity, with the end of the Cold War, for more normal political development for other key Asian states, particularly Japan and South Korea, who though they still retain their deep ties to the United States, now have more room to chart an independent course with the end of the existential East-West conflict.

Now, this new landscape has opened up remarkable opportunities for the nations of the Asia-Pacific to develop their economies and build more hopeful futures for their people. But it also poses two new kinds of dangers.

The first is the risk that Asia will fail to develop the structures of cooperation that are necessary both to seize the opportunities and to master the threats that come with globalization and interdependence. The second is that the emergence of new, more powerful economic and military actors will generate rivalry and even conflict in manifestation of the classic security dilemma that has characterized much of history, well chronicled back – as far back as Thucydides, as Professor Pyle would have observed.

Both dangers pose real risks for the United States. If Asian countries are unable to develop the structures of cooperation to deal with transnational problems ranging from the global economy to climate change to nonproliferation, then the United States will be that much weaker and less able to protect our own security and economic future. And if conflict breaks out in the region, it will have direct and immediate consequences for us – not only because of our military alliances and security commitments, but more broadly because conflict of any magnitude could severely disrupt key aspects of the global order on which our well-being depends.

For this reason, the United States has a profound interest in how Asia navigates this post-Cold War transition characterized by rising powers and emerging transnational threats. Our strategy, therefore, has three elements: to sustain the traditional bilateral ties that have brought peace and prosperity for generations; to build new, cooperative ties to the emerging powers of Asia; and with our Asian friends, to build new structures of cooperation, both in the region and across the world which link Asia to the wider global order. And this morning, I’ll touch on each of these three elements of our strategy.

But before turning to the elements of the strategy, it’s important to emphasize that the whole strategy proceeds from a core understanding that the United States is not an external power in Asia, but an active and full participant. As my colleague Secretary Gates observed at last year’s Shangri-la Conference, the United States is a resident power in Asia, a point that was clearly underlined as we began this conversation by the fact of Secretary Clinton’s making her first overseas trip to the region.

Now for the last half century, the United States and its treaty allies in the region have relied on strong bilateral ties to maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific. And although the context of those alliances has changed with the end of the Cold War, their centrality has not diminished.

The U.S.-Japan alliance has been and will continue to be the cornerstone of our policy towards Asia. One of the first foreign officials President Obama met with since assuming office was with Prime Minister Aso on February 23rd. Secretary Clinton, as I said, made her first overseas trip as Secretary to State to Asia and began in Japan to underscore the strong U.S. commitment to this enduring alliance. During that visit, Secretary Clinton signed the Guam International Agreement, which will move 8,000 U.S. Marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam to position our military alliance on a stronger footing for the security threats of this century. Our shared values and shared interests extend beyond leaders’ meetings and personalities to a global partnership which can tackle the challenges facing both our nations from missile defense to climate change to international piracy. Japan’s hosting of a Pakistan donors’ conference in just two and a half weeks time and a Friends of Democratic Pakistan ministerial later this month demonstrates Japanese leadership on a critical issue of international security.

Our relationship with the Republic of Korea (ROK) have one of the most formidable and durable military alliances in the world. This alliance has preserved peace and stability in Northeast Asia and ensured nuclear restraint among Asian powers, and provided critical combat support during the initial months of Operation Iraqi Freedom. During the lifetime of this alliance, South Korea has been transformed from a war-battered, military dictatorship into a prosperous democracy with the world's most-wired population and one of the world's largest economies.

Beyond our security cooperation, our close relationship with South Korea has been tackling common challenges from climate change to the global financial crisis, where South Korea is now a key part of the G20 and a member of the Financial Stability Forum and are therefore actively engaged in these institutions today. In places like Afghanistan, we’ll be working with South Korea on development programs to help the Afghan people as we implement the new strategies on Pakistan and Afghanistan that the president announced last week.

Australia has been an indispensable partner to the United States over the decades, a partnership that has been reaffirmed by the recent visit of Prime Minister Rudd and the critical role that he is playing in helping to provide leadership in the G20 context. It’s a part of our long standing, and very open relationship with Australia that we can partner across the full range of issues of concern and interest to both countries.

And we continue to build strong ties with our key partners in ASEAN, in Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand, as evidenced by the Secretary’s recent visit to Indonesia and the strengthening of our more comprehensive approach with them.

As we continue to build and strengthen these traditional ties, the key second challenge that we face is to build a new era of cooperation with the two great emerging powers of Asia, China and India. It’s obviously been one of the most dramatic developments of the past 20 years to watch the transformation of China into such a powerful and significant actor in both the region and the globe. It has become one of the world’s largest economies, a top trading nation and has played a more active diplomatic role both in the region and the global stage.

We in the United States welcome China’s remarkable achievements in generating economic opportunity for its people. We also believe that China has a special responsibility to ensure that, as its economy and its overall national power grow, it does so in a way is not zero-sum for its neighbors and instead embraces cooperation to achieve common goals. As China emerges into its new global role, we hope that does so in a way that understands the vital need for the world’s leading nations to produce, what we in the academic world call, global public goods and take a more enlightened and more broad-ranging view of its national self-interest to help provide stewardship for our global commons. This includes working together on issues such as
climate change and the development of clean energy, as well as cooperation to deal with challenges like Iran’s nuclear ambitions and humanitarian crises such as those in Sudan and Zimbabwe. On these and other issues, China must be a part of the solution.

The United States, under the Obama administration, is committed to doing its part to build this new relationship and to supporting this dimension of China’s aspirations. We will work with the Beijing leadership to build a positive, cooperative and comprehensive U.S.-China relationship for the 21st century. That’s why just a few hours ago, President Obama and President Hu announced the launch of our Strategic and Economic Dialogue headed by Secretaries Clinton and Geithner on our side, and State Councilor Dai Bingguo and Vice Premier Wang Qishan on the Chinese side. This high-level Dialogue will serve to coordinate our policies and seek to solve regional and global problems. Dialogues will include such issues as human rights and China’s military modernization.

Our strengthened bilateral relationship with China must be accompanied by a vigorous commitment to building on the enormous potential for a new era in U.S.- India relations.

For over a decade, our relationship with India has been on a rapidly advancing trajectory. President Bill Clinton seized on the end of the Cold War and India’s rapid economic emergence liberalization to lay the foundation for this transformation. And under President Bush with my good friend and colleague Nick Burns this relationship was taken to a new level with the completion of the U.S.-India nuclear agreement. As is the case in all of America’s most enduring relationships, the U.S.-India bond is a bond between two democratic societies, not just two governments. And it’s not just limited to our capitals. The Indian Diaspora community in the United States, the influx of Indian students into our universities, the collaboration between our NGOs and civil society and growing economic ties – all have been pulling India and the United States closer for decades. President Obama and Secretary Clinton remain committed to expanding these opportunities for cooperation, for what I call the third stage of the lift off of our relationship.

As India approaches national elections in the coming months, we look forward to developing a comprehensive agenda – doing more bilaterally, regionally, and globally, across the full spectrum of economic, political and security challenges, including areas such as education, rural development, energy, and the environment.

Our strengthening of bilateral relationships, with both China and India, is not done seeking to balance or contain any individual country, but rather out of the conviction that good relations with all the countries of Asia serve our national interests.

Finally, to the third element of this strategy -- building structures of cooperation -- both in the region and across the world that link Asia to the wider global order. We recognize that the emerging regional architecture is an important part of how Asians see themselves and how the nations of the Asia-Pacific must set the norms for cooperation for decades to come. Given NBR’s headquarters in Seattle, you will well recall that the United States was a leader in the formation of APEC at the level of leaders during the beginning of President Clinton’s administration. And in 2011, we look forward to hosting APEC as a critical bridge across the Pacific that brings our peoples, economies, and leaders together.

During Secretary Clinton’s recent trip, she visited the secretariat of ASEAN and pledged to attend the ASEAN Regional Forum in July. She also announced that we will begin the formal interagency process to pursue accession to the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, and will explore how best to engage with the East Asia Summit Process. ASEAN is important to the United States and at the core of the emerging regional structures of cooperation throughout Asia to which we are deeply committed.

And in the ASEAN Charter, which was adopted in December 2008, ASEAN for the first time established a human rights body. And we look forward to working with ASEAN member-states to promote human rights and democracy in the region. That includes working together with ASEAN on difficult issues like Burma. Viewing relations with an authoritarian regime like Burma’s as a zero-sum game is in no nation’s interest. We want to discuss a common approach with ASEAN, with China, with India, and with Japan to find a policy that will improve the lives of the people of Burma, and promote stability in this key region.

One area that’s been an important forum for regional cooperation has been the Six-Party Talks to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. I’m delighted to have Jack Pritchard here with us today. Our Special Representative Steve Bosworth is deeply engaged on this issue and has been pursuing in-depth consultations with all our partners in the region. We recognize the importance of close consultation in a very transparent way with our partners to make sure that we pursue, as best we can, a common approach.

North Korea’s announcement of an imminent missile launch, which would violate UN Security Council Resolution 1718, highlights both the challenge we face and the importance of continuing to work cooperatively and closely with our partners, both to address this and to sustain the momentum towards denuclearization of North Korea.

In addition to using existing groupings to work collaboratively with the region, the United States will continue to explore how we can better coordinate multilaterally with our allies in efforts such as the U.S.-Japan-Australia Trilateral Strategic Dialogue that can benefit the entire region. One area we want to explore is better policy coordination among the region’s three largest economies: the United States, Japan, and China. Officials from the three governments might get together to discuss issues from the domestic stimulus packages that we’re pursuing to tackling cleaner energy to assistance coordination in key areas like Pakistan.

One example of new regional and global cooperation is the very successful anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. Japan, India, Korea, China, Malaysia, and Singapore have already sent, or will shortly send, ships off the coast of Somalia as part of the multinational effort to patrol critical sea lanes and contribute to policing the international commons. In looking at addressing future challenges, this model of letting the issue and capabilities determine the participating states can often serve as a useful guide, because the solution to many global problems will not always be in creating new formal institutions or new bureaucracies, but may involve flexible grouping of nations with shared interests and relevant capabilities.

We should use this spirit of cooperation off the coast of Africa to address cooperation in Asia itself. Although there are competing territorial claims over portions of the South China Sea, there also opportunities for joint exploration of natural resources under international law that could avoid conflict. Countries in the region should build on ASEAN’s 2002 Code of Conduct in the South China Sea that reaffirmed the freedom of navigation while pledging to address disputes through dialogue.

In addition to promoting cooperation within the region, we need to prepare global institutions to accommodate Asia’s emergence. One important venue is the G-20 meetings, which as I said, have featured the very prominent role played by Asian economies and will help lay the groundwork for more inclusive global decision-making, particularly on economic matters.

As we see the representation in the G-20 of so many key Asian countries: Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, and Korea – we can see that half of the G-20 sits on one side of the Pacific Ocean or the other.

Asian powers are also well represented in the Major Economies Forum to address climate change. And our new Special Envoy Todd Stern accompanied Secretary Clinton on her trip to Asia in February offering an opportunity to hear directly from key Asian states about strategies for jointly tackling energy efficiency and climate change as well as to learn more about their technology and resource solutions to this common problem as we move forward to the important meeting in Copenhagen at the end of this year.

We also need to look at the make-up of nations that sit on more formal bodies like the UN Security Council and the IMF to ensure that the great powers – many of them in Asia – have a proper voice in global affairs.

But with greater voice comes greater responsibility. Responsibility for policing the global commons, for contributing to global economic growth, for showing leadership in addressing transnational and international problems that require the cooperation of us all.

Working with our partners in Asia and on these shared interests, bilaterally and in multilateral groupings, will, over time, move us towards a cooperative framework that leaves the Cold War to history, and will usher in an era of ever closer cooperation to address the global challenges that face us all.

Thanks for your attention, and I look forward to your comments.

PRN: 2009/311