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  • The U.S.-Asia Relationship:Questions Going Forward
  • Simon Tay (bio)

President Barack Obama's ten-day tour of Asia's four largest democracies in late 2010 showed a continued commitment to Asia, even if difficult politics at home might derail the practicalities of increased regional engagement. For Americans, Obama brought home deliverables on jobs in India and helped lay the groundwork for trade agreements with Korea. For some Asians, there is a feeling of relief that U.S.-Asia relations will continue smoothly.

Yet while the trip was positive, there is no room for complacency. Even though the United States and Asia remain interdependent, significant obstacles to the development of the post–financial crisis relationship persist, in spite of leaders' best intentions. The post-crisis, post-American world faces many uncertainties and needs. Although exact policies cannot be fixed too far ahead, it is nonetheless possible to outline key perspectives and principles to guide the United States and Asia on their paths forward.

How Should the Global Financial Crisis Be Seen?

The crisis is not simply a blip on the screen from which the world has now recovered. It has fundamentally challenged the global economic system, which was built on Anglo-American principles and with the United States and the West at its core. The crisis has also accelerated the pace of change and the shift of power between the United States and Asia, especially to China, revealing imbalances in the global and Asia-Pacific economies. It has thus begun to create a dangerous divide between the United States and Asia that must be bridged by finding a new balance in the U.S.-Asia relationship.

What Will Come in the Post-Crisis Period?

There are many remaining uncertainties but also some fundamentals. A global system has been built and countries are interdependent, for better or worse. There are, however, no agreed-upon structures able to manage global interdependencies. The United States, while still the most powerful country in the world, can no longer manage the global system unilaterally. [End Page 8] Greater coordination is needed, and this must be both top-down from the United States and other large, powerful states and bottom-up from small and medium-sized counterparts to be effective and legitimate. Globalization will no longer be a one-way process of Americanization or Westernization; rather, it will be more a two-way process, something we might call "global-as-Asian." The United States must accept and gain from this phenomenon. Americans beyond the current elite must become more open to and aware of Asia, and become better equipped to participate as full partners in the region's rise.

How Should the United States Respond?

Americans should not accept that their country is doomed to terminal decline or seek to isolate the United States from the world. They must rebuild their economy with initiative, energy, and effort. The government must lead by reforming the policies and developing the conditions, infrastructure, and capacity for a future United States to emerge from the crisis. Companies must look to new opportunities, especially in Asia. There will be dislocation, discomfort, and some pain in this, but such initiatives are essential for the United States' recovery and sustained power. Yet, even as it recovers, the United States should not try to return to domination of the world and Asia. Rather, Washington should accept and manage Asia in a more multilateral and cooperative way—offering leadership but also recognizing its own limits and the benefits of having Asian countries contribute to common goals and interests. The United States must work toward post-American leadership.

How should Americans think of U.S.-China relations in the future? This will be the most critical relationship—not only for the two countries and the Asia-Pacific region but globally. The leaders and peoples of these two countries must embrace a win-win syncretism and reject win-lose, either-or thinking. The fundamental shift in thinking that is needed must be based on what I term the "power of &." To uphold the "power of &" is to believe that it is possible and indeed desirable for China to rise and the United States to remain powerful...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2960
Print ISSN
1559-0968
Pages
pp. 8-12
Launched on MUSE
2011-06-23
Open Access
No
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