Sunday, February 12, 2012

An economic pivot to Asean

Americans by and large believe that they are the world's indispensable power.
That is largely true. But the time of the United States as the sole indispensable global power is passing, in Asia at least, with the epic rise of countries such as China and India.

A power transition is under way as these countries’ economic strength gets translated into corresponding military clout. It is entirely possible that, one day, the US will become just primus inter pares - first among equals. But in order to maintain even that position, what Washington needs to do today is to deepen its economic engagement with Asia. That includes Asean, which is rich in economic potential. Without this economic underpinning of its presence, America’s military ’pivot’ towards Asia will not only remain incomplete but also fuel China’s suspicions that it is being contained strategically.

The reality is that the US still retains the economic power, military capability and cultural influence to set a broad-based Asian agenda which has space for all great powers, whether they have already risen or are rising. Within that framework, stable relations between the US and China - arguably the most important bilateral relationship globally - are key to peace and prosperity in the Pacific Asia.
Such is the strategic backdrop against which Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam presented to the US its choices in Asia.

In a keynote speech at the Singapore Conference in Washington on Wednesday, he invited the US to tap Asean’s potential. Citing the benefits that the US derives from its economic relations with Singapore - Asean’s smallest country and one with the fewest resources - he urged Americans to consider how much more they could gain by deepening their engagement with larger and more resource-blessed countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. Indeed, the weak US economy should look to Asean, which is on an economic upswing.

The economic benefits of engaging Asean have a bearing on America’s military presence around the world. When budget cuts start to bite, parts of American society respond instinctively by demanding that their country retreat from its military commitments abroad.

Since military retrenchment will reduce America’s role as the indispensable power, one important way of countering such calls is to show that the US economy is benefiting from places where the country is deployed militarily.

The Asia-Pacific region is certainly one such area. But as always, security requires a strong economic basis. Developing deep and lasting economic linkages is what the US now needs to work on. The Straits Times
Asia News Network

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