America's Incoherent Asia Policy

After last weekend’s APEC summit in Honolulu, the watching eye of the media has been firmly planted on US policy in the Pacific. Recent statements by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of a renewal in US interest in Asia, and Barack Obama’s chiding at Beijing’s trade practice have asserted that China is a top concern in US foreign policy. An article in Foreign Policy by Clyde Prestowitz uses a quote by Clinton to exemplify America’s desire to mold China into a global power that resembles the US:

[Clinton] stressed that “what will happen in Asia in the years ahead will have an enormous impact on our nation’s future, and we cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and leave it to others to determine our future for us.”

“We have to remove (economic) barriers, both at borders and behind borders, barriers like corruption, theft of intellectual property, and practices that distort fair competition.”

[…] I know from long experience in the trenches of the free trade and globalization battles that what Clinton is really saying is that China and the rest of Asia have to become more like the U.S. This is a hard sell. In fact, it hasn’t sold yet anywhere in Asia. Trying to make China into a copy of the not only isn’t going to work, it’s going to give rise to additional conflict that might force leaders like [Singapore’s Prime Minister] Lee into the uncomfortable position of having to choose sides.

Another article by Prestowitz concentrates on illogical American policies towards Asia. Focusing on US involvement in the South China Sea debate, recent US-China joint ventures, and the enhanced US military presence in Australia, Prestowitz urges US policy makers to adopt a more coherent outlook on China:

It would be one thing if there were a real threat to America in the Asia-Pacific region. But there isn’t. Whatever it does in the South China Sea, China is not going to invade the United States. Nor is it going to stop selling to the United States nor is it going to stop buying things it can’t make itself from the United States. U.S. oil does not come through the Straits of Malacca or the South China Sea.

In short, the threat China poses to America is not a military or national security threat. Indeed, it is not clear that China even poses a threat to America so much as America poses a threat to itself.

By insisting on adhering to a simplistic, outmoded policy of laissez faire globalization and refusing to adopt comprehensive competitiveness policies to respond to the mercantilism of China and most of the rest of East and Southeast Asia (along with Germany, Brazil, and others) the United States is acting as its own worst enemy.

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