The Asia Rebalance Is Here to Stay

by Daniel R. Russel
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

The security and prosperity of the United States are inextricably linked to the peaceful development of the Asia-Pacific. That’s why nearly five years ago President Obama decided to make engagement in this region a strategic priority of the United States. And that’s why 2013 has been a year of intense diplomatic engagement in Asia, as we continue to implement that vision.

The United States is committed to expanding the ranks of stable, democratic and prosperous nations in Asia. We can play a vital role in promoting education, security and opportunity with our partners, providing greater freedom for potentially hundreds of millions of people in the Asia-Pacific. By expanding free trade and economic growth with our Pacific partners we can create a shared prosperity that benefits us all.

In fact, our $555 billion in exports to the region last year supported an estimated 2.8 million jobs right here in America. As Secretary of State John Kerry always says, economic policy and foreign policy are one in the same and that’s why, from the start of his tenure, he has made building on President Obama’s strategic rebalance in Asia a clear priority.

Secretary Kerry recently returned from visiting Vietnam and the Philippines, concluding his fourth trip to Asia in the past nine months. In his first year in office the Secretary has met with all 10 ASEAN Heads of State as well as their foreign ministers; the top leaders of Australia, China, Japan, Korea and many of the Pacific Island states; co-chaired ministerial meetings with Defense Secretary Hagel, Treasury Secretary Lew and Commerce Secretary Pritzker; joined U.S. Trade Representative Froman in hosting the leaders of the Trans-Pacific Partnership; and participated in regional multilateral meetings.

As Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, I oversee the bureau responsible for implementing the rebalance and have attended all of these meetings. I can attest that sitting down with John Kerry is never a box-checking exercise — he’s determined to get things done and not afraid to swing for the fences.

But there is much more to our engagement than meetings. Teamwork among U.S. government agencies and the private sector was responsible for the speed and effectiveness of America’s response to the devastation of Super-Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, which Secretary Kerry saw first-hand last week in Tacloban.

The multi-million dollar program for expanding regional maritime capacities that Secretary Kerry announced in Vietnam this month builds on our extensive efforts to enhance prosperity and security in Southeast Asia.

Our renewable energy, environment and climate change programs address challenges like sustainable development and food security that Secretary Kerry witnessed last week on the Mekong River.

Our new educational exchange and youth initiatives keep us on track with the “youthquake” that will transform demographics in the region and which Secretary Kerry spoke to at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit this fall in Malaysia.

And, as Secretary Kerry hears from so many partners on each of his visits to the region, our role as a security guarantor — combined with our insistence on peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law and norms — keep tensions in the South and the East China Sea from escalating into conflict and ensuring stability and the free flow of commerce.

The United States is using its full complement of political, diplomatic and economic tools to advance our values and interests in this dynamic region. That helps explain why our partnerships with Australia, Japan and the Republic of Korea are in such good shape. That helps explain unprecedented Chinese cooperation on critical issues like North Korea, Iran and climate change. And, judging by the results of his recent visit to Hanoi and Manila, this approach is paying dividends that will benefit both the U.S. and the region through greater economic growth, security cooperation, expanded educational and people-to-people ties, and progress on governance and human rights. With our allies and emerging partners, our engagement is growing every day.

Secretary Kerry is clearly advancing President Obama’s strategy of rebalance initiated in early 2009 and developed over his first term. The rebalance continues to be a team effort led by the president, who has hosted a series of important meetings with Asian leaders throughout the year, including his unprecedented summit meeting with President Xi of China at Sunnylands, California. The vice president has likewise visited Singapore, Japan, China and the Republic of Korea in 2013 alone.

Some regional partners may fret when, for example, domestic U.S. politics prevent the president from taking his seat at meetings in Asia, but few serious people doubt America’s resolve or the Administration’s commitment to engagement in the Asia-Pacific.

Some may question America’s staying power, but the leaders of every Asian country I know are hungry for American innovation and entrepreneurship and are watching the U.S. energy revolution with excitement, if not envy. Never has America’s presence in the region been more welcome, and seldom — if ever — has it been more important.

The bottom line is this: The United States enters 2014 positioned to capitalize on a year of intense engagement and investment in a region — the Asia-Pacific — that is increasingly critical to our future and to global growth.