My latest column in The National Interest online is up, and it sounds a warning about the Obama administration's policy malaise on both the Asia/Pacific region and the #1 issue to countries in the Asia/Pacific region -- namely, trade:
Obama’s policy malaise on trade will not win him friends in a region hell-bent on deepening economic integration. U.S. policy on trade liberalization has stalled out so badly that rumors are swirling around the Beltway that U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk is contemplating resignation. Meanwhile, countries in the region are signing free-trade agreements with each other at a record pace. The European Union has inked a free-trade deal with South Korea, and is negotiating one with Japan. In contrast, the chances of the Korea-United States free trade agreement passing this Congress is hovering around zero. The comparison with China is particularly dispiriting....
The United States has not been eclipsed yet—the bevy of activity in the Pacific Rim is a lot more about hedging than balancing against the United States. Nevertheless, if President Obama wants to be taken seriously in the region, he needs to take the region’s issues more seriously. Trade is not merely about economics—it’s about foreign policy too. Just because Washington ignores a policy issue does not mean others do not think it important. As we are learning, some regions can bypass America altogether if they so choose.
In a very disturbing sign of the times, I see that former State Department official Evan Feigenbaum has written something similar for the Financial Times:
[T]he business of Asia is business. Without more vigorous trade engagement, such diplomatic efforts cannot secure America’s position in a changing Asia. The US could soon face a region less willing to accommodate its commercial and financial interests.
Many eons ago in graduate school Only recently Evan and I woul talk about the Asia/Pacific when we were matriculating in graduate school together -- and, more often than not, we disagreed with one another. The only times we agreed was when some serious s**t was going down. So take this consensus for what you will.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.