At Georgetown University, Gaston Hall
Wednesday November 20, 2013
“America’s Future in Asia”
Thank you, Victor, for all your exceptional work to advance American policy toward Asia -- from your time on the NSC staff to your current contributions as Director of the Asia Studies Program at the School of Foreign Service. I’d like to thank President DeGioia, Provost Groves, and my former colleague, Dean Lancaster, for the opportunity to speak here today and for Georgetown’s unrivaled success in preparing America’s future leaders, especially so many of our policy makers.
President Obama is deeply committed to leaving our world more stable, more secure, more free, and more prosperous for generations to come. Those of you who are students today are uniquely poised to seize the transformative potential of tomorrow across our rapidly changing world. Nowhere are the challenges and the opportunities we face so great as in the Asia Pacific region. Two years ago, in laying out his vision for America’s role in the region, President Obama said, “Asia will largely define whether the century ahead will be marked by conflict or cooperation, needless suffering or human progress.”
Thus, rebalancing toward the Asia Pacific remains a cornerstone of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy. No matter how many hotspots emerge elsewhere, we will continue to deepen our enduring commitment to this critical region. Our friends in Asia deserve and will continue to get our highest level attention. Secretary of State John Kerry has traveled to the region several times and will return again in just a few weeks.
Secretary of Commerce Pritzker and U.S. Trade Representative Froman led important U.S. delegations there last month. Vice President Biden will visit China, Japan and Korea in early December. And, although we were all disappointed that the government shutdown compelled the President to cancel his trip to Asia in October, I’m pleased to announce today that President Obama will return to Asia this coming April to continue strengthening our ties across the region.
I’d like to take this opportunity to outline what we aim to achieve in the Asia Pacific over the next three years. Ultimately, America’s purpose is to establish a more stable security environment in Asia, an open and transparent economic environment, and a liberal political environment that respects the universal rights and freedoms of all. Achieving that future will necessarily be the sustained work of successive administrations. In the near term, President Obama will continue to lay the critical foundations for lasting progress in four key areas—enhancing security, expanding prosperity, fostering democratic values, and advancing human dignity.
Let me begin with security, which is the underpinning of all progress in every region. We are making the Asia Pacific more secure with American alliances—and an American force posture—that are being modernized to meet the challenges of our time. By 2020, 60 percent of our fleet will be based in the Pacific, and our Pacific Command will gain more of our most cutting-edge capabilities. As we are seeing in the Philippines today, our military presence in the region is vital, not only to deter threats and defend allies, but also to provide speedy humanitarian assistance and unmatched disaster response.
We are updating and diversifying our security relationships in the region to address emerging challenges as effectively as we deter conventional threats. We are urging our allies and partners to take greater responsibility for defending our common interests and values. By next year, we will complete the first fundamental revision of our bilateral defense guidelines with Japan in more than 15 years. Japan is also creating its first-ever National Security Council, and I look forward to working closely with my Japanese counterpart on regional and global challenges. In South Korea, we’re enhancing the alliance’s military capabilities to ensure that our combined forces can deter and fully answer North Korea’s provocations. With Australia, we are bringing our militaries closer by rotating Marines through Darwin and deepening cooperation in newer areas like missile defense and space and cyber security. And, we’re doing more with Thailand and the Philippines to address maritime security and disaster response. To diversify the network of security relationships in the region, we are strengthening trilateral cooperation with our allies and our security partners and encouraging them to cooperate more closely among themselves.
When it comes to China, we seek to operationalize a new model of major power relations. That means managing inevitable competition while forging deeper cooperation on issues where our interests converge—in Asia and beyond. We both seek the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue, a stable and secure Afghanistan, and an end to conflict in Sudan. There are opportunities for us to take concerted action to bolster peace and development in places like sub-Saharan Africa, where sustainable growth would deliver lasting benefit to the peoples of Africa as well as to both our countries.
We’re improving the quality of our military-to-military relationship with China, as we enhance our strategic security dialogues and cooperate on issues like counter-piracy and maritime security. Greater military engagement and transparency can help us manage the realities of mistrust and competition, while augmenting the high-level communication that has been a hallmark of this Administration’s approach to China.
As we diversify the ways in which we do business with China, we will continue to champion respect for the rule of law, human rights, religious freedom and democratic principles. These are the common aspirations that all people share. We will do this, even and especially when it is not the easy or expedient thing to do. I sat on the Security Council with China for four and a half years working on many of these issues. I know all too well that we have some fundamental differences that cannot be minimized. But, I also know that our interests on many of the major challenges of our time can and should be more closely aligned.
Nowhere is this more evident than in confronting the threat that North Korea poses to international peace and security. The regime threatens its neighbors. Pyongyang proliferates dangerous goods and technologies. It seeks to expand its nuclear weapons arsenal and its long-range missile program in flagrant violation of international law. Consequently, one of our most pressing security goals is to roll back the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and other WMD programs.
To that end, we are prepared for negotiations, provided that they are authentic and credible, get at the entirety of the North's nuclear program, and result in concrete and irreversible steps toward denuclearization. Pyongyang’s attempts to engage in dialogue while keeping critical elements of its weapons programs running are unacceptable, and they will not succeed. We will continue to join with international partners, especially China, to increase pressure on North Korea to denuclearize. We will do what is necessary to defend ourselves and our allies against any threat from North Korea, and we will maintain and expand, as necessary, both national and multilateral sanctions against North Korea. There will continue to be significant costs to future provocations.
Pyongyang has a choice: on the one hand lies greater isolation and crippling economic privation; on the other, a true chance for peace, development and global integration. Another growing threat to regional peace and security—and to U.S. interests—is the rise of maritime disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea. We aim to help governments in the region to communicate better with one another, so that incidents at sea do not unintentionally spark wider conflicts. We encourage all parties to reject coercion and aggression and to pursue their claims in accordance with international law and norms through the establishment of peaceful, diplomatic processes for preventing maritime conflicts. A good first step would be progress on a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea. How the nations and institutions of the Asia Pacific manage these disputes will be a harbinger of their ability to shape their shared security future.
Indeed, many of Asia’s most vexing security challenges are transnational security threats that transcend borders like climate change, piracy, infectious disease, transnational crime, cyber-theft, and the modern-day slavery of human trafficking. No one nation can meet these challenges alone. That is, in part, why we are increasing our engagement with regional institutions like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the East Asia Summit. These groups allow nations to develop ideas, share best practices, address disputes constructively, and nurture a sense of shared responsibility. Asia’s regional institutions are essential to delivering more effective solutions than any one nation can muster on its own.
These security goals constitute one key element of our Asia Pacific strategy. Yet, we have an equally essential economic agenda in the region. By the end of 2016, we aim to transform our economic relations with the region through: dramatically increased U.S. exports; the implementation of the most ambitious American free trade agreement in decades; and closer cooperation with China, India and other emerging economies in pursuit of sustained global growth.
Our own economic future is inextricably linked to that of the Asia Pacific. A full quarter of the goods and services exported by the United States are bound for Asia, and about 30 percent of our imports come from the region. More than a million Americans serve in jobs supported by our exports to Asia. And, that number has risen 50 percent in the last decade. We are committed to growing these numbers while making sure the benefits are broadly shared. As a Pacific nation, the United States is working to shape a more dynamic future for the entire region by promoting U.S. business and forging new ties of commerce.
Asia needs open and transparent economies and regional support for international economic norms, if it is to remain a world-wide engine of economic growth. Driving a global economic recovery that creates jobs here in the United States and addresses the kinds of trade imbalances that contributed to the economic meltdown in the first place will require hard work on both sides of the Pacific. For the United States, that means boosting our exports and continuing to bring down our budget deficit. For countries in Asia, it means shifting the focus from overseas markets to strengthening their domestic sources of demand.
Our foremost economic goal in the region is concluding negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and achieving Congressional approval. The 12 nations that are part of the TPP negotiations represent more than 40 percent of global trade. So, the rules we establish through this agreement will set the standard for future trade agreements. It will take on unfair practices by state-owned enterprises and the regulatory barriers goods encounter at and behind borders. This will help level the playing field for everyone. The TPP will promote workers’ rights, environmental protections, and build stronger safeguards for intellectual property, improving economic conditions for everyone, not just the few.
We welcome any nation that is willing to live up to the high-standards of this agreement to join and share in the benefits of the TPP, and that includes China. The TPP can be the core of a far broader agreement expanding to countries across the Asia Pacific. To help realize that vision, we are working to negotiate a series of agreements with ASEAN that will put those countries in a better position to join high-standard trade agreements like the TPP. ASEAN represents a $2.5 trillion economic block that contains some of the fastest growing countries in Asia, as well as some of its poorest.
Helping these dynamic economies improve their policies on key issues, like investment principles, will benefit them. It will also foster even greater trade and investment opportunities for the United States in Southeast Asia. By 2030, India is projected to have the largest population of any country in the world and the third-largest economy. During the past decade, India and the United States have developed a valued global partnership, and President Obama aims to make the next decade even more transformative. From the Look East Policy to India’s contributions to maritime security and its expanding involvement in regional organizations,
India has much to offer Asia and the world. Together, our nations launched a new clean energy partnership, mobilizing billions of dollars in public and private investment for solar, wind, and alternative energy projects in India. And, our governments have joined with private sector partners in both countries to launch a $2 billion infrastructure debt fund – the first of hopefully many future funds meant to attract financing for Indian infrastructure projects. We look forward to deepening our cooperation across the broad spectrum of our relationship.
The United States also seeks to elevate our economic relationship with China in the years ahead. Last week, China’s leaders announced plans for sweeping reforms that, if realized, could go a long way towards leveling the playing field for private and foreign investors and moving China’s economy towards market principles. That’s an opportunity we must seize.
But even as we increase trade and pursue a bilateral investment treaty, we will continue insisting on tangible progress in areas that matter to U.S. businesses and workers. These include: China continuing to move towards a market-determined exchange rate; increasing U.S. access to Chinese markets; and bolstering protections for U.S. companies’ intellectual property rights and trade secrets, especially against state-sponsored cyber theft.
Cyber-enabled economic espionage hurts China as well as the U.S., because American businesses are increasingly concerned about the costs of doing business in China. If meaningful action is not taken now, this behavior will undermine the economic relationship that benefits both our nations. As the world’s two largest energy consumers, energy producers, and greenhouse gas emitters, the U.S. and China also have a duty to lead together to tackle climate change and spur the global transition to a low-carbon energy future. Last June, Presidents Obama and Xi reached an historic agreement to phase out certain potent greenhouse gases.
In July, we launched initiatives under the U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group to scale up successful technologies and policies around heavy duty vehicles, smart grids, and carbon capture and sequestration. Given that Asian economies will be the strongest driver of energy demand in the coming decades, how the region meets its energy needs will have critical implications for global energy supply and climate security. We have a vested interest in shifting the global energy mix to cleaner, low-carbon, and more efficient energy technologies. As we work toward this goal in Asia, we will partner with regional leaders in renewable and clean-energy technologies, like India, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, to bring these technologies to the market.
We are also promoting cleaner-burning natural gas, as well as safe and secure nuclear energy, to meet the region’s rising energy demand with lower-carbon alternatives. Another key driver of global economic growth and development is the expansion of women’s participation in the workforce throughout the Asia Pacific. This single change has the potential to do the most good for the greatest number of people. In developed countries like Japan, fuller participation in the workforce by women could increase per capita GDP by as much as four percent. And, it’s no coincidence that in the Philippines, where they are making strong progress to close the gender gap, they also have one of the fastest growing economies in the region. The World Economic Forum has shown that those two factors are closely correlated. Simply put, the smaller the gender gap, the stronger the economic growth.
Fostering Democratic Values
Strengthening our shared security and promoting our shared prosperity are vital elements of America’s commitment to the Asia Pacific region. So too is advancing respect for the rights and values we hold dear. Since World War II, the United States has played a key role in fostering one of the most significant developments of the past century – the advance of democracy in Asia. In the early years of this new century, we must help to consolidate and expand democracy across Asia to enable more and more people to participate fully in the political life of their countries.
The rapid change we have seen in Burma in just the past two years is a portent of the possible. Not unlike North Korea, Burma was a pariah state, ruled by a military junta and responsible for egregious violations of human rights. When President Obama took office, Aung San Suu Kyi was in her fourteenth year of house arrest, and hundreds of Burmese citizens were imprisoned merely for exercising their right to free speech. Burma’s leaders faced enormous economic pressure and intense international isolation—until they chose another path. Over the last several years, we have worked closely with both President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi, and with the government and people of Burma as they’ve made historic changes.
Today, more than 1,000 political prisoners have been released, and we’re helping Burma build a credible electoral infrastructure ahead of its 2015 national elections. We’re supporting a process of constitutional reform and national reconciliation. As Burma moves toward greater openness and change, we are easing sanctions, while encouraging responsible investment and robust support for the people and civil society activists who suffered so long under the iron fist of dictatorship.
There is still a great deal of work ahead before Burma fully transitions to democracy. The challenge of overcoming ethnic tensions and violence—and of protecting vulnerable minorities like the Rohingya will require persistent vigilance. But, if progress continues, by the end of President Obama’s second term, we hope to have helped Burma reestablish itself as a regional leader and a thriving, prosperous democracy.
Not all countries will achieve progress so dramatically, but the steady work of political reform presses on in nations across the region. The United States will support those working to pry open the doors of democracy just a little wider -- from Cambodia to Fiji. We will continue to help nations strengthen institutions to uphold justice and the rule of law and to meet the basic needs of their people. Working with the Open Government Partnership and the Community of Democracies, we will help protect civil society and support its work to shape the region’s development. We will combat the corruption that makes it so difficult for ordinary citizens to run for office, start a business, or send their kids to school. And, in every country of the region, we will strive to improve protections for ethnic and religious minorities and help nations see the diversity of their peoples as a source of deep strength.
Fidelity to our values will guide us as we pursue closer relations with the countries of the Asia-Pacific, including those with which we differ. We will continue to champion the freedom to speak one’s mind, the ability to access information freely, to practice one’s faith without fear. And, we will speak out when governments trammel or toss aside basic rights and freedoms, which are the birthright of every human being.
Advancing Human Dignity
That brings me to our last set of goals— helping improve the well-being of the region’s most vulnerable people, who share the same desire for dignity as all mankind. We want an Asia Pacific region in which poverty continues to decline, citizens are healthier, children are educated, the environment is protected, and women can participate fully and equally in their societies. And, we are working in partnership with countries throughout the region to give life to this vision.
We know we can fight AIDS, reduce preventable child deaths, and improve food security across the Asia Pacific, because we’ve seen real progress in all these areas over the past five years. Further progress is possible where countries demonstrate the political will to invest in their own development and step up to do big things together. Our Feed the Future program has helped more than 400,000 rice farmers throughout the region increase their yields through the more efficient use of fertilizer.
Through the Partnership for Growth, we are working with the Philippines to strengthen the country’s foundations for economic development while improving their ability to mitigate the impact of future disasters.
Throughout the Pacific Islands, we are partnering with governments to address development challenges ranging from adapting to rapid population growth to reducing high poverty and unemployment rates. And, we are working with Indonesia and others to craft a measurable, ambitious development agenda for 2015 and beyond. With smart, targeted investments, countries in the Asia Pacific are leading dramatic improvements in development. Across the region, we are partnering with countries to address issues that affect all people, including public health challenges. In an era when someone can step onto a plane in Jakarta at breakfast and be in Los Angeles by lunch, we are increasingly focused on the threat posed by global pandemics. At the same time, we continue to support governments and health care providers across the region to improve public health.
For example, we are working closely with Bangladesh on our joint pledge to end preventable child deaths, and we are collaborating with Indonesia to improve maternal and infant health in rural communities. America has a stake in Asia’s children growing up to be productive members of society. That is why we are investing in early childhood education and expanding access to post-secondary school training at universities and vocational institutions throughout the region. We are working especially closely with the ASEAN nations on this goal, establishing several new programs to help the young people of Southeast Asia develop new skills and opportunities.
Equally, we have an economic and moral stake in elevating women as full partners in every facet of life in the Asia Pacific. Therefore, we are helping to prevent and respond to gender-based violence and to combat the scourge of human trafficking. Through the Equal Futures Partnership, we’re joining with countries across the region, the World Bank, the UN, and others to advance reforms that create more opportunities for women to participate in the political and economic life of their countries. In Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, we are involving more women in helping their countries better manage natural resources, respond to pandemics, promote educational reform, and improve food security.
Finally, we will do more to help foster sustainable growth by protecting the environment and conserving Asia’s natural resources, while implementing measures to help communities adapt to the impact of climate change. We are redoubling our efforts to protect threatened wildlife and reduce trafficking in endangered species in cooperation with regional forums like APEC. Our planet is a non-renewable resource that supports some 7 billion people—half of them in the Asia Pacific. We have a duty to those who will inherit this earth to put in place practices that will sustain and improve life for future generations.
I’d like to end today by highlighting a place where all these elements—security, alliances, economic ties, development, institutions and universal values— have recently come together in a major manifestation of America’s commitment to the region. The Philippines is our oldest ally in Asia. Our nations are forever bound by the blood we shed together, the families we built together, and the history we’ve made together. Last week, a super typhoon slammed into the Philippines, leaving thousands dead and millions more in dire need of assistance. As President Obama said, “when our friends are in trouble, America helps.”
Before the storm, our disaster relief experts from USAID were already on the ground. Pacific Command moved into action. We put hundreds of Marines from Okinawa on the ground in Tacloban almost immediately to help with the search and rescue. Within days, the USS George Washington Strike Group arrived with helicopters, small ships, water purification capacity, medical services, and equipment to clear roads and ferry aid to outlying areas. Over the weekend, joining with UNICEF, we were able to help the Filipino Government bring Tacloban’s municipal water purification and production system back online. It is now providing clean drinking water to more than 275,000 people.
We are cooperating seamlessly with our allies in the region, particularly Japan and Australia, who have stepped up to help a neighbor in need. Together, we are working round-the-clock to manage the immediate crisis and help the Filipino people begin rebuilding their country. Recovery will be a long process, but the United States will stand beside the Philippines every step of the way—getting people back to work, rebuilding homes, reopening schools.
Our pledge to the people of the Philippines reflects our broader pledge to the people of the Asia Pacific. America’s commitment won’t expire a few months or few years from now. The United States of America will be there, reliable, constant, strong and steady for the long haul. And together, with the people of the Asia Pacific, we will continue to advance the shared security, prosperity and human dignity that we all cherish.
Source: White House