Carter says US open­ing new phase of Asia pivot


The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is open­ing a new phase of its strate­gic “re­bal­ance” to­ward Asia and the Pa­cific by in­vest­ing in high­end weapons such as a new lon­grange stealth bomber, re­fresh­ing its de­fense al­liance with Ja­pan and ex­pand­ing trade part­ner­ships, De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter said Mon­day.

“I am per­son­ally com­mit­ted to over­see­ing the next phase of the re­bal­ance, which will deepen and di­ver­sify our en­gage­ment in the re­gion,” Carter said in a speech out­lin­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ra­tio­nale for try­ing to de­vote more at­ten­tion to Asia.

At a time of in­creas­ing con­flict and un­cer­tainty across the Mid­dle East, as well as grow­ing con­cern about Rus­sian in­ter­ven­tion in Ukraine, Carter’s re­marks seemed de­signed to con­vince Amer­i­cans, and per­haps more im­por­tantly, the coun­try’s Asian al­lies, of the Amer­i­can com­mit­ment to the so­called Asia pivot.

His speech at Ari­zona State Uni­ver­sity’s McCain In­sti­tute touched on themes he ex­pects to raise on a week-long trip to Asia, his first since be­com­ing Pen­tagon chief in Fe­bru­ary. He will visit Ja­pan and South Korea for meet­ings with top gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and also spend time with U.S. troops.

Carter urged Congress to give Pres­i­dent Barack Obama author­ity to com­plete a free trade agree­ment known as the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship, a 12-na­tion ac­cord that Carter said holds “enor­mous prom­ise” for jobs and eco­nomic growth in the United States. He said it is ex­pected to in­crease U.S. ex­ports by US$123.5 bil­lion in the next decade.

He called the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship, or TPP, one of the most im­por­tant parts of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­fort to shift more at­ten­tion to Asia and the Pa­cific af­ter more than a decade of fo­cus­ing on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said TPP is as im­por­tant to him as a new air­craft car­rier.

He de­scribed the Asia-Pa­cific trade ar­range­ment as an ur­gent pri­or­ity. “Time is run­ning out,” he said, as coun­tries in the re­gion forge their own trade agree­ments with­out the U.S.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is not the first to tout the im­por­tance of build­ing stronger re­la­tion­ships in Asia; the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion made sim­i­lar ar­gu­ments while ex­press­ing the same con­cerns about the im­pli­ca­tions of China’s rapid mil­i­tary mod­ern­iza­tion.

Yet Bush launched the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that would con­sume his ad­min­is­tra­tion and limit his op­tions in Asia. Obama came into of­fice com­mit­ted to end­ing the wars, but the rise of the Is­lamic State group in Syria and Iraq, as well as the col­lapse of Ye­men, has raised new ob­sta­cles.

Carter, who ad­vo­cated strongly for shift­ing more U.S. at­ten­tion to Asia when he served as the deputy sec­re­tary of de­fense in 2011-2013, said in his Ari­zona State speech that the Asia-Pa­cific is “the defin­ing re­gion for our na­tion’s fu­ture.” He rat­tled off nu­mer­ous statis­tics meant to high­light the im­por­tance of Asia to Amer­ica’s fu­ture, in­clud­ing what he called an ex­pec­ta­tion that half of the world’s pop­u­la­tion will live there by 2050.

Carter, who is ex­pected to visit China later this year, said the U.S. is deeply con­cerned about some as­pects of Bei­jing’s in­creas­ingly as­sertive ap­proach, and he said the cen­tral strate­gic chal­lenge of to­day’s gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­cans is to as­sure peace and pros­per­ity across the Asia-Pa­cific “as China con­tin­ues to rise.”

He dis­missed the pre­dic­tion by some that China will at­tain pre­dom­i­nance over the U.S. in the Asia-Pa­cific or that its eco­nomic growth will squeeze out op­por­tu­ni­ties for younger Amer­i­cans. He as­serted that the U.S. and its Asian al­lies have spent more than US$16 tril­lion on de­fense since the end of the Cold War in 1990, which he said is about 10 times more than the next high­est spend­ing coun­try, China.

“I re­ject the zero-sum think­ing that China’s gain is our loss be­cause there is an­other sce­nario in which ev­ery­one wins, and it is a con­tin­u­a­tion of the decades of peace and sta­bil­ity an­chored by a strong Amer­i­can role in which all Asia-Pa­cific coun­tries con­tinue to rise and pros­per,” he said.

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