The United States, whether it realizes it or not, must keep pivoting toward Asia.
During the Obama Administration, the president famously outlined a policy of Rebalance, also known as Pivot to Asia, particularly the Asia-Pacific region. In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, Barack Obama stressed that this is the region with the “greatest consequence to the American future.”
Almost two years into Donald Trump’s presidency, Asia is still proving to be the vital region for the future of the U.S.’s security interests, economic prosperity and values.
On the security front, the region is home to China or, as the Trump administration’s National Defense Strategy suggests, America’s “strategic competitor.” China’s rise and its efforts to change the status quo, most obviously seen in its increasingly aggressive militarization on artificial islands (it’s already finished a project to build those islands up through reclamation efforts) and its Belt and Road Initiative, threaten American leadership of the global order.
It is an even more urgent need now to contain a potential hegemon than it was when the pivot began because the future of American global leadership is at stake.
In addition, Asia-Pacific is where the United States has long established its hub-and-spoke system of allies and partners with numerous military bases. Most of them are still caught in one of the four regional “security hotspots.”
In order to maintain a military presence in the face of China’s expansion, and to preserve the agility to tackle threats from afar and to uphold freedom of navigation and overflight, the United States needs to strengthen its network in the region, reaffirm its commitment, and support allies and partners in these conflicts.
Recent announcements that Trump will skip two of the most important events in region, namely the ASEAN Summit and the APEC Summit in November 2018 do nothing to solidify this narrative.
On the economy, while Europe has shrunk in its share of the world economy, Asia-Pacific, with its blooming population, is expected to be the main driver of global economic growth in the long term. The Asian Development Band even hails this century (until 2050) as “The Asian Century” economically.
Within Asia-Pacific, China, Japan, South Korea and the ASEAN are all among America’s top key trade partners. Therefore, this is the place for the United States to invest, seize new markets, create more jobs and address its trade deficit problems, which are all in line with Trump’s economic principles.
With the Trans-Pacific Partnership temporarily not in the picture, this administration can focus on new initiatives such as the US-ASEAN Connect, KORUS, and potentially new bilateral deals with the Philippines and Vietnam.
Finally, the United States has abundant opportunities to spread its values of democracy and human rights in Asia-Pacific. Japan and South Korea are already democratic successes, but transition is still considered slow in others. Some countries are still seen as authoritarian by American observers.
Moreover, while similar processes in the Middle East might struggle, the United States already has its advantages in Asia to carry this task: the pro-American sentiments in some countries (Pew indicates that more than 80 percent of Vietnamese hold favorable outlook towards Americans, and the majority believes Trump will do the right things) and the already well-embedded cultural connection (Asian-American are the are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States and American pop culture is well embraced in Asia).
Asia-Pacific is crucial to the United States in its quest to maintain security dominance, stimulate economic growth and advocate its own values. These interests has been carefully adopted into pillars of Obama’s Rebalance.
Under Trump, some moves have strayed away from that direction but the newly-advertised Indo-Pacific concept should uphold the same vision and, more importantly, turn it into actions.
Hoang Do is a graduate student at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.