From Pivot, to Rebalance, Now “Pacific Dream”
Image Credit: U.S. State Department (Flickr)

From Pivot, to Rebalance, Now “Pacific Dream”


Editors of the world rejoice!

Thanks to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry we have another useful way to refer to America’s “pivot” towards Asia. We can now thankfully “pivot” away from the idea of a “rebalance” (sorry had to get that last pivot reference in there).

Truth be told, I never cared for the “rebalance” term anyway, it seemed too politically correct when anyone who has been following events in the Asia-Pacific already knows, America’s focus on Asia is all about China.

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As part of his recent trip to Asia, Kerry delivered a speech that seemed to be a play on Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream” concept that has been widely reported in the media as well as in this publication.

“Now Beijing’s new leader has introduced what he calls a ‘China Dream.’ Today I’d like to speak with you about our opportunity in this increasingly global age to design and define our dream for the Pacific region, one in which nations and people forge a partnership that shapes our shared future.”

The most important point I took away from the speech was the idea of a "Pacific Dream."  Kerry laid out in the speech four principles “to ensure that Asia contributes to global peace and prosperity.” These included: “strong growth, fair growth, smart growth, and just growth.”

The focus on economics makes perfect sense. As America continues to advance the Trans-Pacific Partnership, linking the economies of Asia with America is one way to create stronger ties as well as economic bonds. But China’s absence in TPP has some questioning if America is seeking to contain China economically.

There have been some interesting reactions to the speech. One particularly from the Global Times is noteworthy:

“Kerry's speech has reinforced an impression: the core issue in the Asia Pacific is what kind of bilateral ties China and the U.S. can nurture. The U.S.' confidence in policies backed up by its military strength to contain China has been declining.

The U.S. will focus on maintaining economic dominance in the region to ensure its competitive advantage over China. The Trans-Pacific Partnership led by the U.S. will be a stage on which it will compete with China's economic influence.

Kerry didn't want to provoke China the same way his predecessor Hillary Clinton did, which is worth applause. China has maintained a consistent attitude toward the U.S., while the U.S.' stance toward China has always been the changing factor in bilateral relations.

If the US had not always calculated what geopolitical challenge China's development will pose but focus on how to improve its own economic vitality, the China-US competition would be seen differently. Most Chinese would see it as much better than the US using its military strength as leverage over China.

The economic competition between the two should be fair, or it will continue to be the source of tensions between the two.”

Although not the complete focus of the piece in the Global Times, the idea that the United States is trying to contain or was trying to contain China seems quite silly. The classic idea of containment died when the Soviet flag was lowered from the Kremlin for the last time. Using Cold War ideas to explain U.S – China competition is dated at best. In an age where the internet, social media, and global trade drive commerce around the world, how could the world’s second largest economy ever be contained? Containment as defined in the Cold War is dead.

Washington and China are certainly competing with one another for power and influence in the Pacific, and America is very clearly hedging its bets. In fact, a clear hedging strategy seems the appropriate and desired American course of action these days. Even as strategic issues grab headlines the two countries have strong reasons to cooperate, such as hundreds of billions of dollars in annual bilateral trade. Kerry's trade-centric strategy for the Asia-Pacific is a smart one. Washington gets an A in my book for its PR sense. It’s something China could certainly learn from.

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