President Obama’s ninth trip to Asia and the Pacific in November 2015 reflects the growing importance of the region to U.S. national interests and the Administration’s commitment to advancing our broader regional strategy, known as the Rebalance. With nearly half of the earth’s population, one-third of global GDP, and some of the world’s most capable militaries, Asia and the Pacific is increasingly the world’s political and economic center of gravity. The region’s dynamism, expanding trade and investment, growing ranks of capable powers, and increasing people-to-people ties with the United States present extraordinary opportunities that this Administration is leveraging.
At the same time, the region presents clear challenges in the years ahead, including concerns related to nuclear proliferation; intensifying maritime disputes; backsliding in democratic governance and respect for human rights in some countries; and transnational challenges ranging from climate change to terrorism to human and wildlife trafficking. It was in recognition of these opportunities and challenges for the United States that President Obama launched the Rebalance early in his Administration. Today, we continue to lay the foundation for U.S. engagement in the years ahead.
The U.S. Vision for Asia and the Pacific
The United States seeks to preserve and enhance a stable and diversified security order in which countries pursue their national objectives peacefully and in accordance with international law and shared norms and principles, including: the peaceful resolution of disputes; an open economic order that promotes strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth through a level, competitive playing field; and a liberal political order that promotes peace and human dignity, based on human rights and the rule of law. Our priority is to strengthen cooperation among our partners in the region, leveraging their significant and growing capabilities to build a network of like-minded states that sustains and strengthens a rules-based regional order and addresses regional and global challenges.
Achievements of the Rebalance
Since launching the Rebalance, we have made significant progress in advancing this vision. Among a number of accomplishments, we have:
- Strengthened our treaty alliances with Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK), and the Philippines, while maintaining our long-standing alliance with Thailand. We have enhanced our defense posture in the region and prioritized Asia for our most advanced military capabilities.
- Promoted stronger trade and investment links, principally through the new, high-standard Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with eleven other countries, to deepen economic integration and establish unprecedented environmental and labor standards;
- Deepened partnerships with Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and India, and strengthened our unofficial relationship with the people of Taiwan;
- Fostered a more durable and productive relationship with China, defined by expanded areas of practical cooperation on global challenges, and constructive management of differences.
- Strengthened the region’s institutional architecture to reinforce a rules-based order, including through joining the East Asia Summit (EAS) and sending the first resident U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN;
- Supported Burma’s ongoing transition to democracy and a closer relationship with the United States;
- Worked to advance people-to-people ties, through programs such as the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI).
All of these developments, along with many others, lay the foundation for America’s long-term engagement in Asia. But we have more to do to solidify and build on that foundation, including through the following lines of effort:
Deepening and Networking Relationships
The Rebalance rests upon the foundation of strong U.S. ties to countries throughout the region. We are working to strengthen cooperation among our allies and partners, leveraging their capabilities to address common regional and global challenges.
Our alliances remain at the heart of the Rebalance, and our treaty commitments to them are sacrosanct. On this trip, President Obama plans to meet with leaders of three close allies—the Philippines, Australia, and Japan—a reflection of their vital importance to the United States; the President also met with ROK President Park in October. With the Philippines, we are increasing cooperation through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and assistance designed to upgrade the Philippines’ maritime capabilities. With Australia, we are moving forward with Force Posture Initiatives, to increase bilateral and multilateral exercises and training. With Japan, as announced during Prime Minister Abe’s historic official visit this year, we are transforming the alliance based on our new Defense Guidelines. With the ROK, we are modernizing alliance capabilities and strengthening our ability to address threats from North Korea. In Thailand, we are encouraging the military government to restore democratic governance and civil liberties while maintaining our long-standing alliance. As we pursue these efforts, we are moving beyond the “hub and spokes” model of the past, toward a more networked architecture of cooperation among our allies and partners—including through expanded trilateral cooperation frameworks—built on shared values and interests.
The emergence of new partners that are active in the region offers significant opportunities to advance our shared vision of the region’s future. President Obama has worked to expand our ties with these countries, as a key component of the Rebalance. Malaysia and Singapore are vital partners in our efforts in the region—including through their membership in TPP—and the President will meet with the leaders of both during the trip. With Malaysia, we are deepening our security and defense cooperation, supporting its efforts in areas such as combatting trafficking in persons, counterterrorism, and maritime piracy. Singapore is a maintenance and resupply hub for U.S. military assets and the regional base for more than 1,500 U.S. companies, and a strong partner on a broad range of priorities including climate change, counterterrorism, counterproliferation, and regional maritime security.
During Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s visit to Washington in October, we committed to forging a new Strategic Partnership with Indonesia that strengthens our bilateral ties and advances shared political and economic priorities, including on maritime issues, counterterrorism and countering violent extremism, climate change, global health, and sustainable economic growth. In our 20th anniversary of bilateral relations, we have strengthened our long-term comprehensive partnership with Vietnam—as exemplified by General Secretary Trong’s visit to the White House in June—through deeper trade and investment links, including membership in TPP, and expanding cooperation in areas such as education, health, the environment, and defense engagement, including maritime security. And we continue to renew our relationship with New Zealand through our partnership in TPP and in Iraq.
As affirmed in the U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision that the President announced with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in January, expanding and deepening U.S. engagement with India in the Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean region is an important element of the Rebalance. We welcome India’s positive role in ensuring a stable, peaceful, and prosperous region.
As President Obama told Chinese President Xi Jinping during his state visit in September, the United States welcomes the rise of a China that is peaceful, stable, prosperous, and a responsible player in international affairs. Building a constructive relationship with Beijing that simultaneously supports expanding practical cooperation on global issues while candidly addressing differences between us is an important component of the Rebalance. We support China becoming an increasingly capable and active partner in addressing regional and global challenges, and in working with us and others to strengthen the existing international system of norms, rules, and institutions. The world benefits when China is invested in helping to resolve regional and global problems. We are encouraging China to move away from a growth model driven by exports and construction to one more reliant on household consumption, and are working to ensure that its economic policies establish a rules-based level playing field consistent with its international obligations. We are pursuing joint initiatives in areas of mutual interest such as climate change, global public health, sustainable development, nonproliferation, and countering transnational organized crime. At the same time, we are managing the real and complex differences between us—in areas such as cyber, market access, maritime security, and human rights— with candor and resolve. China cannot effectively wield influence while selectively opting out of international norms. These are issues of concern not only to the United States, but also to much of the region, and they will be an important part of the President’s agenda during the upcoming trip.
Promoting Regional Prosperity
America and Asia’s economic destinies are intertwined, and the United States is leading the effort to build an inclusive, high-standard, and rules-based economic architecture that advances shared prosperity.
Trade and Investment
TPP is central to our vision of the region’s future and our place in it, and the President will gather with the leaders of TPP countries in Manila during the upcoming trip to celebrate this historic achievement. Our top priority is to secure ratification of TPP and move swiftly toward implementation of the agreement. TPP is a critical step toward our strategic goal of revitalizing the open, rules-based economic system that the United States has led since World War II. We will use U.S. Government resources and technical expertise to ensure that our TPP partners implement and effectively enforce the obligations of the agreement, including through capacity-building assistance. To complement TPP, we are pressing forward the work of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in promoting regional economic integration, through programming on trade facilitation, customs modernization, and standards harmonization. We are working through APEC to reduce applied tariffs on environmental goods, advocate for more open services markets, identify barriers to digital trade and alternatives to localization policies, and develop best practices for trade secrets protection. Bilaterally, we will continue to negotiate investment treaties with key regional countries, and intensify our support to the U.S. private sector to identify and seize opportunities in Asia, by expanding staffing at our embassies in the region and pressing for policy and regulatory changes needed to realize trade and investment opportunities.
Balanced and Inclusive Growth
An international economic and financial system that promotes strong, sustainable, balanced, and inclusive growth and that is less prone to economic crises is crucial to Asia’s and our own prosperity. Through multilateral fora such as the G-20, the IMF, the Financial Stability Board, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank, and various bilateral dialogues, we are encouraging and incentivizing Asian economies to implement economic reforms that bolster domestic demand-led, sustained, and inclusive growth; undertake financial sector reforms that result in more resilient financial systems; and adopt high standards of transparency, economic governance and financial regulation that encourage cross-border investment and the free flow of private capital while promoting compliance with international labor and environmental standards.
Advancing a Rules-based Regional Order
The President’s meetings in Manila and Kuala Lumpur are an opportunity to advance the shared rules, norms, and principles that will help keep the region secure and prosperous.
Regional institutions are important to facilitating cooperation and collective action, and to promoting international norms. The President has made an unprecedented commitment to strengthening the role of organizations in the region, including APEC and those that are centered on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), such as EAS, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), and the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus). As the President’s participation in both the U.S.-ASEAN Summit on November 21 and the EAS leaders meeting in Kuala Lumpur on November 22 will demonstrate, we are working to strengthen the EAS’s role in its 10th anniversary as the premier organization for addressing political and security issues at the leader level, and bolster its institutional ability to respond to crises, implement leaders’ decisions, and direct the activities of other multilateral frameworks. The United States supports a strong ASEAN that can speak with one voice, including on difficult issues like the South China Sea. In recognition of our deepening ties, the United States and ASEAN will explore ways to further enhance our relationship at the November 21 U.S.-ASEAN Summit.
Good Governance and Universal Values
Effective and accountable governance, strong democratic institutions and the rule of law, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms provide the foundation for political stability and sustainable economic growth and development. We will continue to defend and advocate for universal values across the region through various mechanisms, including the TPP. Working with our allies and partners, we are helping to build capable and accountable institutions while also promoting democratic practices, access to information, transparent and responsive governance, and more inclusive participation by marginalized groups in politics and government. In particular, building on the historic election in Burma this month and the support we have provided to ensure the legitimacy of the electoral process, we will continue our partnership with the Burmese people and work with the government to encourage a peaceful, inclusive and irreversible democratic transition. We will also continue to explore and support ways of addressing the particularly egregious human rights situation in North Korea. We will continue to encourage regional responses to migration and refugees, smuggling, and trafficking. We also will prioritize investment in capable, independent, and engaged civil societies and youth development, including through the President’s Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), which since its launch in December 2013 has grown to almost 50,000 members. The President will meet 500 YSEALI members in Kuala Lumpur on November 20.
All countries in Asia and the Pacific rely on free and open access to the maritime domain. The President is committed to safeguarding customary international law, freedom of navigation and overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce, and peaceful management and resolution of disputes—the central principles on which the region’s security and prosperity rest—including through a global program of freedom of navigation operations. The United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, and we support the right of all countries to do the same. In close cooperation with our allies, we are working to build the capacity of regional partners to address potential threats in their waters, through enhanced maritime capability and maritime domain awareness. We are expanding our maritime capacity building assistance, committing $119 million to this effort in FY 2015 and seeking $140 million in FY 2016. We will promote the use of third-party dispute settlement mechanisms, such as those under the Law of the Sea Convention, to underscore that international law should be the sole basis for maritime claims in the region; we applaud the Philippines’ use of these mechanisms in dealing with law of the sea disputes in the South China Sea. During the trip, the President will continue to urge all claimants in the South China Sea to halt further land reclamation, construction of new facilities, and militarization of features they occupy, in order to reduce tensions and create diplomatic space for lasting, lawful, and peaceful solutions to emerge.
We seek to strengthen the cybersecurity of our allies and partners and to promote opportunities for all people to enjoy the benefits of a free and open Internet. We are working to strengthen regional support for the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance, expand the availability of information technologies to the region’s developing countries, work to ensure cybersecurity measures do not restrict the free flow of information across borders, and support efforts to boost rule of law protections online. We will strengthen our own and our partners’ capacity to detect, attribute and deter malicious activity. We are working with partners to build the region’s legal, policy, and technical capacity to deter cybercrime while respecting rights online, enhance our cooperation on cybercrime cases, and conduct training on intellectual property theft and cybercrime. In the meetings in Asia and at the G-20, the United States will underscore the applicability of international law to cyberspace and the importance of the voluntary adoption of additional norms of responsible state behavior in peacetime, and the development of cyber confidence building measures.
Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism
Terrorism represents a serious threat to many countries in Asia and the Pacific. The United States and the region’s leaders will discuss steps to deepen cooperation to address terrorism during the EAS meetings in Kuala Lumpur. Together with our most capable partners, the United States will increase cooperation with vulnerable countries in the region to improve their ability to: deter, detect, and interdict the transit of foreign fighters and weapons; capture, prosecute, incarcerate, and reintegrate offenders according to the rule of law; degrade terrorists’ financial resources; and counter radicalization to violence and reduce terrorist recruitment. A top near-term priority in this effort is strengthening border control and security, by improving interagency information sharing and coordination among countries in the region. Our longer-term objective is assisting partner governments and societies to address the drivers of radicalization and recruitment.
North Korea’s continued development of its nuclear and missile programs and proliferation activities poses a direct and serious threat to U.S. national security and that of our allies. Our priorities are: to work with regional partners to achieve the verifiable denuclearization of North Korea; to discourage, detect, and interdict North Korean proliferation activities; and to ensure all countries enforce UN Security Council resolutions related to North Korea. To address the broader risk of nuclear terrorism, we will institutionalize the successes of the Nuclear Security Summit process, including working with regional partners to reduce stockpiles of sensitive nuclear material, and enhance the security of such materials in storage, use and transport.
Promoting Cooperation on Global Issues
Our partners in Asia have much to contribute to addressing global challenges. We will seek to expand on our robust record of cooperation on key issues, such as:
Asia is home to several of the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters and to many populations that are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Securing ambitious emissions reductions commitments from these countries is critical to the success of the upcoming Conference of Parties in Paris. Building on the President’s leadership on this issue, and leveraging the capacity of our close allies and partners, we will encourage countries in the region to adopt ambitious climate targets; take bold action to meet those targets; cooperate internationally to address this issue; and work with us to strengthen climate resilience and preparedness for vulnerable populations. To this end, we will continue to strengthen our cooperation with China, including on clean energy research, development, and deployment. We will continue to work with APEC to promote efforts to reduce the energy intensity of regional economies, bolster the use of renewable energy and eliminate inefficient fossil fuel subsides. Bilaterally, we will foster the innovation and use of clean and renewable energy, and increase exports of U.S. energy technology and products, including nuclear energy, while also boosting investment from the region in large U.S.-based clean energy projects. Leveraging the financial and technical resources of the region, we will promote a range of climate mitigation, adaptation, and resilience activities.
Global Health and the Global Health Security Agenda
Health capacity and the capability to counter biologic threats varies widely among countries in Asia and the Pacific. Given recent outbreaks and the rise in drug-resistant malaria and tuberculosis, we will strengthen national and regional capacity to prevent, detect and rapidly respond to infectious disease threats, whether or not naturally occurring. The President’s Global Health Security Agenda is central to this effort. We will encourage our most capable regional partners, including Australia, Japan, and the ROK, to lead in partnering with countries in Southeast Asia. We will continue to urge other key partners to prioritize implementation of the Global Health Security Agenda. In addition to infectious disease threats, we will work to reduce the disparities among countries in the region in maternal child health, immunization coverage, and nutrition status.
We will work with countries in the region to advance sustainable development globally, in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2015. We will continue our efforts in areas such as health, education, agriculture and food security, democracy and civil society, natural resource management, and climate change resilience, as well as humanitarian and disaster relief. We will work closely with other regional economies to advance our shared global development objectives. We will work through and strengthen international financial institutions by pursuing enhanced lending and reform in the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund (IMF) to ensure they are more inclusive of dynamic emerging economies, including those in Asia and the Pacific. The President remains committed to working with Congress to complete the 2010 IMF quota and governance reform. We will also encourage existing multilateral development banks (MDBs) to co-finance projects with emerging MDBs to help them implement high standards, enhance project preparation and efforts to connect investors with bankable projects, and encourage best practices by the private sector. Through the Lower Mekong Initiative, we have established a multinational partnership with Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam to promote regional cooperation to achieve equitable, sustainable, and inclusive economic growth.
As the President said in November 2014 in Australia, the Rebalance is “a partnership not just with nations, but with people…for decades to come. Bound by the values we share, guided by the vision we seek, I am absolutely confident we can advance the security and the prosperity and the dignity of people across this region.”