With the inauguration of the 44th U.S. President ahead in January 2009, it is not surprising that 2008 has been a year full of proposals, how the U.S.-Asia policy of the next administration should look like. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has lost its role as the decisive strategic actor in the Asian region. It is now sharing the stage with China which has grown dramatically over the past 20 years. There has also been a considerable process of regionalization in Asia, documented best in the success of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the ongoing ASEAN plus three process that includes China, Japan and South Korea.
Being aware that the balance of power is shifting not in favour of the United States, there are several concepts, how the next U.S. administration should handle the situation in Asia. A realist concept – in which the rise of China is considered to be a great danger to vital U.S. interests in the region – suggests a policy of balancing against China. That means shaping the balance of power in favour of American interests. In contrast, an institutional concept pledges for a more cooperative, forward-looking policy towards China and Asia as a whole, saying that such cooperation would serve Asian (including Chinese) as well as American interests.
In the following section I will show the concept of a forward-looking U.S.-Asia policy represented by Wu Xinbo (2008, 155-163). I will also put it in the context of IR theory and will compare it with other approaches.
A Forward-Looking, Long-term Policy in a Changing Asia
Complaining that the U.S.-Asia policy under George W. Bush has been driven by events, rather than by a deep understanding of the changes going on in the Asian region, Wu Xinbo demands a change in Washington’s policy on Asia. According to Wu, the American political elite – of course including the next U.S. administration – should address three key questions: (1) how to perceive a changing East Asia and the emerging roles of China and the U.S. there (2) how to construct a more sensible policy towards Asia as a whole, and (3) how to deal with a rising China (Wu, 2008, 155). Wu’s main argument is that the U.S.-Asia policy should be build on a deep understanding about the changes that have occurred in Asia – especially the growth of regionalism manifested in the ASEAN plus three process – and that the United States should give up its long-time America-centred hub-and-spokes policy in order to become a partner of Asia, rather than a regional patron (ibid, 156-57). Wu argues that the United States should develop a forward-looking, long-term Asian policy which is compatible to the emerging world order. Therefore the United States should abandon the game of balancing China. Instead, Wu pledges for a more cooperative U.S. policy on Asia. In this context, America should support the Asian integration process and embrace multilateral structures (ibid, 157). According to Wu, the United States should neither be worried about their status in Asia nor be scared of the rise of China. His argumentation sounds simple. If the U.S. deals with Asia in a cooperative and constructive way, it will remain an indispensable partner to the region. Likewise, if the U.S. supports the Asian integration process and the development of multilateral structures, China’s rise will be more dependent on other nations and therefore less threatening to the United States (ibid, 158). Another U.S. fear, Asian integration undermining APEC, is also unreasonable if the U.S. is able to set a more realistic agenda for APEC (ibid, 159). An opinion shared by Funabashi (2008, 110-126) who argues that APEC should return to its original format, concentrating on trade, development and investment.