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by East-West Wire

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 partnership.”

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.




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