Time to double down on the Asia rebalance
April 23rd, 2014
02:06 PM ET

Time to double down on the Asia rebalance

By Daniel M. Kliman, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Daniel M. Kliman is a senior advisor with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) and a fellow at the Truman National Security Project. The views expressed are his own.

President Barack Obama’s Asia trip, which has started with a visit to Japan, will send an unmistakable signal: the United States remains committed to a region that has become the world’s economic and military center of gravity.

Yet once the afterglow of the visit fades, U.S. allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific are bound once again to question American staying power. True, the Obama administration’s signature foreign policy initiative – the pivot or rebalance to Asia – has achieved many of its initial objectives. Countries in the region recognize this. But they are ultimately more focused on what will come next. And with less than three years of Obama’s presidency remaining, now is the moment to lay out a vision for U.S. Asia policy through 2016.

Two opposing sets of forces have long co-existed in Asia. Deepening economic interdependence, a growing constellation of regional forums, and the spread of democratic values promote peace. At the same time, rising nationalism, territorial disputes, military buildups, and the adverse impact of climate change create an undercurrent of instability.

Successive U.S. presidents have responded to these competing forces by deepening engagement with the Asia-Pacific region in order to tilt the balance toward peace. For example, the Clinton administration revitalized the U.S.-Japan alliance, worked to integrate China into international institutions, and reset relations with India. Under President George W. Bush, the United States strengthened ties with Japan and South Korea and inked a landmark nuclear agreement with India. As part of Obama’s rebalance, the United States has joined key regional forums, established a new partnership with Indonesia, enhanced its military presence in Southeast Asia, and launched an ambitious (if unfinished) round of regional trade talks.

More from CNN: Why India feels jilted by Obama

The challenge today in Asia is that the forces of instability are becoming more prominent while the sources of peace are waning in influence. The United States must update an Asia-Pacific strategy devised in 2011 to reflect the geopolitical realities of 2014. And while President Obama’s trip to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines will provide an opportunity to take stock, the next stage will require creating a network of cooperation that spans U.S. partners and allies in the region and beyond.

This web of “likeminded” powers would not contain China, but could shape the context of its rise in ways that deter conflict and encourage China to embrace the resolution of international disputes through peaceful negotiation rather than military intimidation or outright force. The network could also help to integrate transitional countries such as Myanmar and non-democratic states such as Vietnam. European participation in the web would link it to a global order rooted in the rule of law and democratic values.

American leadership will play a critical role in building this network of cooperation. But what can it do to make all this a reality?

First, the United States should partner with Australia and Japan to establish an “Indian Ocean Submarine Center of Excellence” in Perth. With more submarines deployed in the Indian Ocean, often by nations with little experience of undersea operations, there is a need to develop common rules of the road. The school would bring together Indian Ocean navies that possess or plan to acquire submarines. Beyond reducing the possibility of future accidents, the center’s activities would advance naval cooperation among participating nations.

Second, the Obama administration should launch a dialogue among computer emergency response teams from the United States, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom. This dialogue would bring together premier cyber response teams from some of the world’s most information dependent economies. Participating teams would exchange best practices for maintaining secure networks and share assessments of online threats.

Third, the United States should encourage Japan, South Korea, and Australia to initiate a caucus of Indo-Pacific countries committed to a free and open Internet. The primary target of the caucus would be emerging democracies in South and Southeast Asia that remain ambivalent about the future of Internet governance and will command an increasing share of the world’s online population in the coming decades.

President Obama has arrived in a region that stands at a crossroads. His initial engagement has succeeded in keeping the peace. Yet with the forces of instability ascendant in Asia, the current U.S. approach risks falling short. The Obama administration should seize the moment and carve out a legacy by doubling down on the Asia rebalance.

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Topics: Asia • Barack Obama • China • Japan

soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. palintwit

    You can always take the trash (Sarah Palin) out of the trailer but you can never take the trailer out of the trash.

    April 23, 2014 at 2:14 pm | Reply
    • So true

      So true.

      April 23, 2014 at 2:22 pm | Reply
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    April 23, 2014 at 2:21 pm | Reply
  3. Joseph McCarthy

    We don't need to have such a military presence in that part of the world since Australia, Russia, New Zealand and Vietnam all have their own navies.

    April 23, 2014 at 3:45 pm | Reply
    • rupert

      Yes Joseph. I agree.

      April 24, 2014 at 6:23 am | Reply
    • alan svile

      You just have to understand that china is flexing her muscle in east and south china sea and china is annexing the Scarborough shoal of the Philippines which is just 80 nautical miles from the Island of Luzon in south china sea for oil exploration inside the Philippine territory..

      April 25, 2014 at 8:10 pm | Reply
  4. chrissy

    Lol @ Joseph...but...would ANY of those countries stand up FOR j a p a n? Answer of course is no....so yea i guess we do.

    April 23, 2014 at 4:47 pm | Reply
    • rupert

      @chrissy. Good point.

      April 24, 2014 at 6:21 am | Reply
    • George Patton

      Actually chrissy, J apan needs to become more self-assertive and stand up for itself and stop taking orders from Washington D.C.

      April 25, 2014 at 11:49 am | Reply
  5. John Smith

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
    In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
    During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
    In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

    April 23, 2014 at 9:31 pm | Reply
    • why we should care

      But the smartest and richest Iranian people have moved to America and are very happy here. What a shame you were stuck in Iran and could not figure out how to migrate to USA......... 🙂

      April 25, 2014 at 1:44 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Good post, John Smith. Thank you.

      April 25, 2014 at 9:30 pm | Reply
  6. John Smith

    Ahh, I want 22 trillion pepperoni pizzas by 2015.

    April 23, 2014 at 11:48 pm | Reply
  7. rupert

    I like coconut popsicles.

    April 24, 2014 at 6:24 am | Reply
  8. rupert


    April 24, 2014 at 6:31 am | Reply
  9. rupert

    Go well

    April 24, 2014 at 6:32 am | Reply
  10. rupert

    With orange

    April 24, 2014 at 6:32 am | Reply
  11. rupert


    April 24, 2014 at 6:33 am | Reply
  12. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    I believe that the USA's balance with Asia is settling exactly as planned, and that American military power is an important weight on the scale.
    There will be negotiations, and rumors of negotiations.

    April 24, 2014 at 8:36 am | Reply
  13. j. von hettlingen

    Of all the three proposals, the security around the Indian Ocean may be the most sensible one. This region is restive with many hotspots. So the transport route from the Suez Canal through the Indian Ocean to South China Seas should be secured.

    April 24, 2014 at 10:25 am | Reply
  14. rupert

    @joey. Disagree. No joey. I don't believe it was planned that way, nor do I believe it is a perfect balance. I totally disagree with your assumption.

    April 24, 2014 at 10:29 am | Reply
  15. chrissy

    @ rupert, you dont know one minute from the next what you think nor whom you agree with!

    April 24, 2014 at 11:20 am | Reply
    • No one

      No one cares what a Palin voter thinks either.

      April 24, 2014 at 2:28 pm | Reply
  16. Joseph McCarthy

    It appears that everyone here forgets that between 1937 and 1945 the J apanese committed many atrocities while they were trying to conquer China, including the POTUS Obama. He should never be so quick to offend the Chinese since they now own a huge part of our current deficit. If the Chinese were stop lending us money, the right-wing politicians in Washington would gut both Medicare and Social Security plus defund our infrastructure and our schools in order to keep up the military spending.

    April 24, 2014 at 12:49 pm | Reply
  17. Hoh Chi Minh

    Double down on Asia re-balance? What sort of nonsense are these Westerners talking (as usual)? Instead of trying to figure out how to get their jobs back, and sell less trillions of useless US treasuries to Asia, they are playing smoke-and-mirrors games, as usual. No wonder they are in so much trouble. Asia is making over 90% of the products that they are buying. That's pretty imbalanced. Smoking more Pot in the US is not going to re-balance anything.

    April 24, 2014 at 11:30 pm | Reply
  18. Hoh Chi Minh

    Instead of wasting his time farting around in Asia, Obama needs to make a list of the American CEO's that gave the most American jobs to Asia, 10,000 jobs each or more, such as the CEO's of Apple, HP, Microsoft, GE, Intel, GM, Ford, IBM, and other Fortune 500 companies, grab them by the scruff of their necks, and don't let them leave the basement of the White house until they get our jobs back. Now THAT would re-balance our American jobs portfolio.

    April 25, 2014 at 1:13 am | Reply
  19. bing520

    This is a policy to contain China, to force China to accept whatever the US designs for Pacific-Asia. The author specifically excludes any participation of China in building up a new order. Everything the author wants to do does not include China but want China to accept the outcomes. I doubt it will work.

    April 25, 2014 at 1:33 am | Reply
    • George Patton

      Let's all hope that you're right, bing520. China should never accept such an ignominious deal. We have no right in trying to dominate Asia, none at all.

      April 25, 2014 at 11:47 am | Reply
  20. Really?

    More useless posturing along with military spending. This administration looks no different than any other..... A better idea would be to spend that $$$ and effort at the home front, instead of encouraging a regressive government half way across the globe to be more aggressive.

    April 25, 2014 at 1:16 pm | Reply
    • why we should care

      Very good comment. 100 million Americans are being shoved from the middle-class into the poor-class, because our jobs went to Asia, and our President is wasting his time traveling around Asia talking rubbish? It shows us how disconnected our politicians and super-rich are from the rest of us. 2 completely different worlds. Sick and sad.

      April 25, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Reply
      • Joseph McCarthy

        The reason for that, we should care, is the simple fact that the powerful war lobby now runs things in Washington D.C. This is why we keep on trying to be dominant in Asia.

        April 25, 2014 at 7:26 pm |
      • why we should care

        Powerful war lobbies have always run things, throughout the history of mankind. In the old days, when we had kings, they made sure they always had a "powerful war lobby" so that they could dominate their neighbors and murder and steal at will, their secret to staying rich and living an opulent lifestyle! It was Gautama Siddhartha, son of a king, who saw exactly how his father ended up being so rich, and got sickened by it, ran away to meditate in a forest, and created the religion of Buddhism, in 200 BC. It was all about peace, love, kindness, moderation in all things. The Dalai Lama and his Buddhist monks were living such simple, peaceful lives in Tibet, for centuries, and then, their wonderful neighbor, China, with their "powerful war lobby" ran them out of Tibet and murdered half their monks. The behavior of humans truly sickens me............. 😦

        April 26, 2014 at 1:28 am |
      • why we should care

        So now do you see why the entire world is sickened by the behavior of both Russia and America, over the last 100 years? Same crap, different century! We might call it communism and capitalism, but the outcome is the same. Domination of several countries, neighbors, satellite republics (call it whatever you want!) using military tactics, threats, fear, resulting in the subjugation of one group of people by another group of people. And all because we are basically evolved primates, that have a genetic predisposition to control the clearing in the forest!

        April 26, 2014 at 2:29 am |
  21. Uncle Sam

    We were late for the last two world wars, let's try to be on time for once!

    April 25, 2014 at 5:40 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Good grief Uncle Sam, yours is one of the dumbest comments I've see here yet. Just who in their right mind wants WW3 where no one will survive for long? Only a stupid crazy fool does!

      April 25, 2014 at 9:29 pm | Reply
  22. alan svile

    WHAT IF CHINA SHUT DOWN OR CHOKE OFF EAST AND SOUTH CHINA SEA ?..You think we americans would be happy ?

    April 25, 2014 at 8:13 pm | Reply
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