According to a preview
of the premier issue of East-West Dialogue, a publication designed
to stimulate discussion and commentary, East-West Center President
Charles E. Morrison and one of its senior fellows, Peter A.
Petri, believe that Asia is about to overtake the United States
in key economic areas.
Unhappily, Morrison and Petri write, this sea change in the global
economic picture is happening just as the climate of U.S. relations
with this surging region is cooling; “While government-to-government
relations have been positive, public attitudes have soured.”
The United States still has great influence in the region, Morrison
and Petri point out, but it won’t last forever. Time is
limited for the United States and Asia to find a way to cooperate
effectively on significant global issues.
Without strong and innovative efforts by American interests,
both public and private, to build true Pacific partnerships,
the United States could well be left behind.
This does not have to be, they say. A world economy led by Asia
and the United States as partners is still a viable possiblity.
The effort will not be easy, nor would it quickly eliminate tensions
in the region, but it would be enormously worthwhile to pursue.
Morrison and Petri write that the United States should build
a true, strong trans-Pacific framework for cooperation that goes
beyond one-to-one relationships with Asia’s economic powers,
a truly equal partnership with major Asian countries that span
the region. To do this, it can build on the potential of APEC,
the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation organization established
in 1989. Its potential as an instrument for broad and inclusive
cooperation was established by former President Bill Clinton,
who helped elevate APEC to a true leader’s-level institution.
Despite the fact that it has been weakened by over expansion
and poor economic results, Morrison and Petri believe “APEC
remains the most logical vehicle for region wide cooperation
and should be central to America’s strategy for an Asia-Pacific
The EWC experts caution not thinking too grandly: “While
APEC’s proposal for a Free Trade Area for the entire Asia
Pacific is appealing, it is not likely to gain traction in the
immediate future for a variety of reasons, including the fact
that Congress has failed to renew the President’s trade-negotiating
authority.” Nonetheless, they also argue that “Not
everything has to be handled by government and major quasi-public
institutions. Public diplomacy can assume a large role in sustaining
the Pacific Partnership.
We would usefully borrow a page from China’s playbook,” they
continue, “and launch a U.S. ‘charm offensive’ in
Asia. The emphasis should be on civil institutions: America’s
highly regarded business, cultural, and educational assets.”
The Fulbright Program is one example of these, and even though,
they write, it is sadly underfunded, it is “a good example
of how public diplomacy can work.”
Given Asia’s trajectory and the potential costs of a breakdown
in the relationship (between the United States and Asia), there
is little time to waste.
For more information or to participate visit forums.eastwestcenter.org/eastwestdialogue.