Asia needs US to sup­port trade in the re­gion

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

The set­back suf­fered by the Trans- Pa­cific Part­ner­ship free trade deal in the United States Congress is a wor­ry­ing sign of Amer­ica’s fluc­tu­at­ing abil­ity to un­der­pin its na­tional in­ter­ests in Asia with a com­men­su­rate set of mul­ti­lat­eral re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

By declar­ing that trade is strat­egy, Sin­ga­pore For­eign Af­fairs and Law Min­is­ter K. Shan­mugam de­liv­ered a pithy and pointed re­minder to the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of the larger strate­gic con­text that should frame long- term Amer­i­can de­ci­sions in a re­gion cru­cial to Amer­ica’s se­cu­rity.

Iron­i­cally, it was Obama’s fel­low Democrats who blocked the TPP’s pas­sage, fail­ing to live up to a larger vi­sion link­ing trade and strat­egy.

That fail­ure is ha­bit­ual for as­sertive la­bor unions and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups, but law­mak­ers in charge of the na­tional des­tiny should be able to look be­yond such con­stituen­cies as they sur­vey Amer­ica’s place in the world.

That pre-em­i­nent place is not guar­an­teed. Amer­ica faces a geopo­lit­i­cal land­scape marked by the rise or re-emer­gence of coun­ter­vail­ing pow­ers such as China and Rus­sia.

The po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic in­sti­tu­tions which up­held Western in­flu­ence in gen­eral, and Amer­i­can supremacy in par­tic­u­lar, af­ter World War II are giv­ing way to new ar­range­ments in the long af­ter­math of the Cold War.

The re­cent cre­ation of the Asian In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank is a telling ex­am­ple of a re­gional ini­tia­tive that could by- pass Amer­i­can in­ter­ests un­less Washington sig­nals its de­ter­mi­na­tion to stay the eco­nomic course. The TPP would be a mile­stone.

The Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy es­tab­lish­ment must ab­jure any no­tions of be­ing in de­fault charge of the world.

No one else is, ei­ther, but ev­ery­one is liv­ing through in­tensely tran­si­tional times.

In that evolv­ing con­text, the Amer­i­can pivot to the Indo-Pa­cific would be in­com­plete if its mil­i­tary as­pects were to be di­vorced from the need to ac­com­mo­date ac­cel­er­at­ing change in a re­gion com­ing into its eco­nomic own.

Cer­tainly, Asia’s front­line economies owe much of their suc­cess to the sta­bil­ity cre­ated by Pax Amer­i­cana, which gave them strate­gic space to con­cen- trate on eco­nomic growth.

How­ever, t he mo­men­tum cre­ated by Amer­ica’s for­ward pres­ence, both mil­i­tary and eco­nomic, could be lost.

Amer­ica’s Asian part­ners are not coy about cel­e­brat­ing the legacy of the Amer­i­can peace and Washington’s role in the cre­ation of a rules- based in­ter­na­tional or­der.

How­ever, they have to ad­just their eco­nomic and for­eign poli­cies to stay abreast of change.

Amer­ica re­mains for many the part­ner of first choice, but the strength of that part­ner­ship will de­pend on its de­sire to play a decisive re­gional role.

It has the abil­ity; what needs demon­stra­tion is the will. This is an ed­i­to­rial pub­lished by The Straits Times on June 19.

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