A series of critical events compelled the US to turn its attention toward the Asia-Pacific region in 2011. Natural disasters, leadership changes, protests, power struggles, China’s rise and American influence led the headlines. This tumultuous year foreshadows an eventful 2012 for those with interests in the region. Looking forward, states and their citizens should be prepared for continued political, economic and environmental disruptions.
Gripping Natural Disasters:
- Flooding in Australia, Philippines, Thailand
- Earthquakes in Japan, New Zealand
- Water shortages in Tokelau and Tuvalu
Top Political Occurrences:
- Death of Kim Jong Il and uncertainty for the future of the Korean Peninsula
- Burma’s election of civilian government and promise of future elections with participation by Aung San Suu Kyi
- China’s Peaceful Development white paper release
- Disputes in the South China Sea
- Political standoff in Papua New Guinea
Key US Initiatives:
- President Obama and Secretary Clinton’s trips to the Asia-Pacific for bilateral and multilateral meetings
- US ‘turn’ toward Pacific and “forward-deployed diplomacy”
- Renewing and affirming alliances with Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam
Strides toward bilateral and multilateral cooperation in trade and security have been taken in 2011 in the Asia-Pacific region. ASEAN and APEC are coming into their own, and the ASEAN Community has much to look forward to. Despite Canada leaving Kyoto, there is still hope for international climate agreements with the US, China and India beginning to accept their responsibilities. Furthermore, free trade agreements and regional trade agreements continue to gain momentum; the growing list of countries participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a signal of the importance of regional trade and plans for continued growth.
International cooperation can appear to be wishful thinking with growing resource insecurity, continued border disputes, periodic political instability, increasing natural disasters and renewed aggressive rhetoric from the US and China. However, economic, political and social progress demands increased cooperation. Hopefully China can use its influence in the region and alliances with countries like Burma and North Korea for good rather than aiding authoritarian leaders in their maintenance of power and in the exploitation of natural and labor resources. Popular movements in the region, spurred on by current injustices, are also providing pressure for change from the bottom up. Together, these events could have a powerful impact on the plans for greater regional integration, security cooperation and economic development. Hopefully 2012 will be a year of cooperation for mutual benefit for the people of the region.