The next U.S. president should develop a strong but sensitive American presence in Asia, according to a panel of five foreign policy experts in Copley Formal Lounge on Wednesday.
The conversation, which concerned the future of the United States’ Asia policy, is the first event organized by weekly international relations journal The Caravel. Panelists included National Security Council Director of Affairs Michael Green, Chief Bureau Director In-sun Kang of Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, Brookings Institute Senior Fellow Richard Bush III and State Department Bureau of East Asian Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Walter Douglas.
Douglas said that a key component of America’s policy towards Asia will revolve around whether Congress passes the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a deal to loosen trade restrictions between several Asian countries and the United States. Both Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump have publicly opposed the deal.
“Going forward, our number one effort in the rebalancing of Asia is to get the TPP approved,” Douglas said. “The president is going to be working hard on that. You’ve seen the news reports and he is calibrating on how he is going to do it. We plan to leave that to the White House.”
According to Douglas, relations between the United States and Asia have been continuously improving through collaboration with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Free Trade Area, the current trade agreement in effect in the region, which the TPP would augment but not replace.
“We now celebrate 40 years of working with ASEAN. Under the Obama administration we placed a mission, like an embassy, to ASEAN in Jakarta and we have an ambassador there,” Douglas said. “We’ve really stepped up relations with ASEAN. Our soft power is such a strong force that people are willing to give us their support even where there is tension in their government’s relations with us.”
Green said the United States must consider its policy toward China as a part of a larger Asia policy and avoid employing simple, blanket theories to guide policy regarding the nation.
“Don’t make the mistake of going for a simplistic description of U.S.-China relations and belief in what China is,” Green said. “It’s more complicated.”
According to Bush, many countries in the region depend on and have good relations with both the United States and China.
“There are many countries in Asia who depend on China economically and so China’s condition is very important to them,” Bush said. “They, however, depend on the U.S. for security.”
Bush said Trump’s proposal for South Korea to receive nuclear weapons to ease the need for United States support at the border with North Korea would be ill-advised, despite potentially reducing the U.S. military budget.
“In the mid-1980s pro-labor Democrats were saying the same thing about Japan, that they are getting a free ride in security. They were wrong then and Donald Trump is wrong now,” Bush said.
The next presidential administration must be proactive when it comes to North Korea, according to Bush.
“Be ready for an early crisis with North Korea. I fully expect that North Korea will want to test the new administration in some way,” Bush said. “The more that can be done in advance of that actuality, the better.”
Green said the United States should appoint foreign policy officials who are very familiar with Asia, given the rising importance of the region for the United States. Previous administrations appointed a disproportionate number of individuals whose focus had always been Europe and NATO allies as representatives to Asia, according to Green.
“The next president has got to appoint secretaries and deputies who really know Asia,” Green said. “You can’t deal with the complexities of the region and create policies accordingly if the hired officials are Atlanticists.”
The Caravel Editor-in-Chief Andrea Moneton (SFS ’18) said events such as the panel will allow the publication to not only report on but also to look critically at foreign policy issues.
“We wanted to host an event and invite expert speakers to campus in order to move from a space where we cover international news and events about international affairs to one where we also participate in shaping the conversation,” Moneton wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Moneton said the event’s focus on Asian foreign policy was chosen as part of a larger effort by the publication to incorporate domestic politics into its work this election cycle, especially given that Asia has been a primary focus of foreign affairs discussions this election season.
“U.S. elections matter to the entire world. That’s especially true with this election cycle, where no U.S. engagements with the international community would be safe should Donald Trump be elected,” Moneton wrote.