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Foreign Policy

Obama Administration Policy in the Asia-Pacific

Apr 29 , 2016

The following is the prepared speech by Antony J. Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State of the United States in his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington, DC on April 28. The text of the speech was made public originally on the U.S. State Department website. We make it available to our readers so they can get an overview of Obama administration’s policy in the Asia-Pacific, and in particular, its China policy.

Mr. Chairman, thank you very, very much. And to members of the Committee, thank you for having me here. It is very good to be back to discuss our rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region.

I just got back from my sixth visit to the region in a little over a year. With each trip, I have to tell you I have seen growing dividends of this effort to rebalance our focus on the region and to strengthen a rules-based, institutions-based order that is advancing our interests and increasingly not only in the region but globally.

As you said, Mr. Chairman, really nowhere in the world are our economic and strategic opportunities clearer or more compelling than in the Asia-Pacific—home to four of our top ten trading partners, five of the seven of our treaty alliances, the world’s largest and fastest growing economies—including 40 percent of overall global growth and nearly two-thirds of the global middle class—and some of the most wired and innovative people in the world.

Over the last seven years, our rebalance to Asia—that is, deepening our strategic, economic, and diplomatic ties with the region commensurate with its importance—has helped shape a positive trajectory. We’ve given substance to the rebalance by bolstering our treaty allies, deepening engagement with emerging powers, strengthening regional institutions, promoting trade and investment, enhancing our military posture, advancing democratic reforms, and creating new networks of trilateral and multilateral relationships.

There are multiple pillars to the rebalance. I just want to briefly go through those pillars.
First, we have invested in strengthening and modernizing our core alliances with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Australia. We have updated our guidelines for our defense cooperation with Japan, concluded new host nation support agreements with both Japan and the Republic of Korea, signed a Force Posture Agreement with Australia, and concluded a landmark Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the Philippines.

Second, we have deepened engagement with emerging countries in the region. We have built a relationship with China defined by broader practical cooperation on global challenges while, at the same time, directly engaging our differences to try to resolve or narrow them while avoiding conflict.

We have worked to deepen the bonds between the people of the United States and Taiwan. Our partnerships with Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore have grown to reflect our increased cooperation on regional and global challenges, everything from countering climate change to violent extremism.

And we have forged new relations with Vietnam and Burma as they start to turn the page on the past. I just saw this again for myself in Vietnam just last week. Thanks in part to the bipartisan leadership of this Committee, the U.S. and Vietnam are deepening and broadening our ties in areas that we could not even imagine a decade ago, even a few years ago, from military cooperation to human rights to peacekeeping.

Third, we have sustained and increased engagement with institutions of the region like the East Asia Summit, APEC, and ASEAN, including by sending our first dedicated Ambassador to ASEAN, hosting the first-ever U.S.-ASEAN Summit here in the United States, and hosting APEC in 2011. These are important forums for promoting collective action and facilitating the peaceful resolution of differences. They advance a regional economic, political, and security architecture in which the United States is a vital and permanent player.

Fourth, we have vigorously promoted trade and investment opportunities designed to unlock growth for the United States, as well as for our allies and partners in the region. We have implemented a free trade agreement with South Korea. We have worked with Burma to modernize and strengthen legal and regulatory regimes, helping set the stage for major American companies to enter that market.

Of course the heart of our economic engagement in the region economically is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will bring 12 APEC economies and 40 percent of global GDP together. TPP will eliminate more than 18,000 taxes on American exports and help level the playing field for American workers, while solidifying an economic arena in which every participant—regardless of size—agrees to fight bribery and corruption, abide by international labor standards, including the formation of independent trade unions, and commits to enforcement of environmental safeguards.

Fifth, we have enhanced our military posture in the Asia-Pacific—deploying nearly 60 percent of our Navy in the region by the end of the decade and some of our most advanced capabilities. We are increasing the maritime security capacity of our partners, and we are rotating American personnel into new and more places, like northern Australia and new sites in the Philippines.

Sixth, we are standing up for our values—for the basic rights and freedoms of individuals throughout the region. In Indonesia and the Philippines we are working with our partners to tackle corruption and strengthen institutions.

And then, of course, in support of Burma’s historic elections and peaceful transition of power, we helped establish the nation’s first non-partisan, independent, election-observation organization. We trained over 11,000 political party members to improve their ability to effectively communicate with voters. We continue to stress the importance of upholding the rule of law and express our strong concern about discrimination experienced by ethnic and religious minorities, including the Rohingya.

In response to our engagement and demands from the Vietnamese people, Vietnam has taken some positive steps on human rights, including releasing political prisoners, ratifying the Convention against Torture and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and agreeing to allow independent trade unions for the first time in modern history. Significant reforms remain to bring Vietnam’s domestic laws into synch with international human rights obligations and indeed with its own constitution.

Seventh and finally, we have invested in a new geometry of trilateral and multilateral networks to encourage cooperation among and between countries in the region.

At the core of these efforts is a very robust trilateral partnership with South Korea and Japan, under which we have convened the first-ever trilateral meeting at the Vice Minister and Deputy-level. I have now done that three times. And the benefits of this relationship are crystal clear in the face of the region’s most acute challenge: the challenge from North Korea and its provocative acts in the nuclear and missile domain. We are stepping up trilateral consultations on sanctions implementation, including under the new UN Security Council Resolution. We are working trilaterally to increase the capabilities of other countries to implement that resolution. And our three countries will continue to shine an intense light on North Korea’s deplorable human rights violations and pursue accountability for them.

We are also intensely focused on maritime issues, especially China’s assertive and provocative behavior in the South China Sea that is challenging respect for international law, freedom of navigation, and the peaceful resolution of disputes.

We have also deepened our commitment to the U.S.-Australia-Japan Trilateral Strategic Dialogue, hosted the inaugural U.S.-Japan-India Trilateral Ministerial dialogue.

These bilateral, trilateral, and multilateral relationships are not aimed at any particular country. They are not exclusive. We welcome any kind of flexible geometry of collaboration among countries that share important goals, including steps toward greater China-Korea-Japan cooperation and the growing unity of the ASEAN community.

We are building interconnected relationships not just among countries but among people. The YSEALI community, now 67,000 strong, connects dynamic young people throughout the region to the United States and to each other.

Mr. Chairman, these efforts represent a small but important slice of the work that we are currently undertaking. Seven years after President Obama rebalanced our sights on the Asia-Pacific, we are leaders of a region increasingly bound by common ideals, shared prosperity, and a collective sense of global responsibility.

I thank you very much.

Source: U.S. Department of the State

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