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America's Pivot to Asia: A Report Card  (Page 5 of 6)

4. Empowering Regional Institutions

The Obama administration takes the view that strong institutions will underpin the desired stable regional order, and ASEAN and the East Asia Summit (EAS) are the two regional bodies that it is investing in.

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In this area, the U.S. has done most things right. It has sent an ambassador to ASEAN, and has promised high-level representation at regional summits, not least regular presidential attendance of the EAS. “It’s empowerment through showing up,” says Harold. Huxley adds that perceptions of U.S. neglect of Asian institutions pre-Obama have been overstated: the Secretary of Defense has attended the Shangri-La Dialogue every year since 2003, and support for ASEAN and the EAS has been long-standing.

China has also paid close attention to these regional bodies, but its divide-and-rule tactics have created conflict within ASEAN, not empowered it. This casts U.S. participation is a favourable light. But at the same time, America's ability to empower the Asia-Pacific weak institutional structure will always be very limited. “It’s widely recognized that ASEAN is going to succeed or fail as a result of its own efforts,” suggests Huxley. “There’s little that outsiders can do, except to take it seriously.”

Policy Area Progress Rating: 9/10

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