Blue Diplomacy: Interpreting the New Ross Sea Marine Protected Area

antarctica
Antarctica. Photo Credit: Genevieve Neilson

This week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Antarctica’s McMurdo Station, becoming the highest ranking U.S. official to visit the continent. His visit will bring international attention to the new Ross Sea Marine Protected Area (MPA) and showcase the Obama Administration’s commitment to conservation and acting on climate change. But, if Antarctica is already ‘protected’ by the Antarctic Treaty System and Madrid Protocol, why did 24 countries and the European Union need to sign onto the world’s largest new MPA? Taking a deeper dive into the issues surrounding MPAs, the Antarctic Treaty System and contemporary ocean policy leads us to understand that the Ross Sea MPA is a sign of a changing narrative in conservation where ocean health is linked to climate change.

In his book The Geopolitics of Deep Oceans, John Hannigan provides a timely interpretation of the changing discourse of oceans; from a place for ‘frontier’ activities to a place for ‘saving.’ In between, we’ve fought for sovereignty claims and worked on best ways to ‘Govern the Abyss.’ We can see several of these discourse changes in the management of Antarctica specifically.

At the height of the Cold War in 1959, the international community agreed to set aside an entire continent for scientific exploration, banning military activity including nuclear weapons. There are 53 parties to the Antarctic Treaty System, which also halted all new sovereignty claims on the frozen continent. This would prohibit any new bases by emerging countries and maintain existing power structures. In a sign of the discourse around oceans management and conservation, the original Antarctic Treaty System included land and ice shelves but not all of the surrounding waters.

In 1991, the Antarctic Treaty System was updated with the Madrid Protocol, which sought to limit adverse impacts on the Antarctic environment by designating it as a  “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.” Importantly, it showcased that resource extraction was important issue at the time and prohibited mining; a later addition to the protocol prevented marine pollution and provided provisions for waste management.

Finalized in Australia in October 2016, the Ross Sea MPA has created the world’s largest marine reserve and will enter into force in 2017. The agreement designates 72 percent of the MPA to be ‘no-take’ and only some sections will allow harvesting of tooth-fish and krill for scientific research for the next 35 years. The Ross Sea is home to almost 40 percent of the world’s Adelie penguins, 30 percent of Antarctic petrels and a huge amount of krill which animals like seals and whales rely on for nutrients (and even humans). The agreement was first introduced by the United States and New Zealand in 2011, and they will also negotiate details of implementation including monitoring and assessment plans. Therefore it will be critical for a positive bilateral working relationship to continue.

The Ross Sea MPA is another example for the changing discourse in oceans management, from working on effectively governing territories to harnessing power from multiple groups (from government leaders to nonprofits to celebrities) in order to save and protect oceans no matter how distant from our everyday lives. According to John Kerry, 2016 has been a “landmark year for ocean stewardship” particularly when the Ross Sea MPA’s 1.57m square kilometers is combined with the nearly 4m square kilometers of newly protected ocean area announced at the Our Ocean Conference in September.

The Ross Sea MPA is not controversial and has several benefits for the U.S. First, for areas that are not threatened but are protected, MPAs brings significant scientific value to have a pristine ocean environment available. Second, it is a political opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to environmental principles and contribute to an administration’s legacy. When there are no threats to powerful political or commercial interests, MPAs are more likely to have bipartisan support. Third, it improves the soft power particularly of the U.S. where climate initiatives or environmental protections in the past have been weak.

The Ross Sea MPA is also important because it may set a precedent for high seas MPAs to be negotiated. According to Hannigan (2016), we are now in a discourse of “Saving the Ocean” whereby the primary actors oppose exploitation of ocean resources in favor of full protection; preferably protection is pursued through “zoning the oceans, specifically the establishment of marine reserves and other marine protected areas” (133). Nonprofit and industry groups, marine scientists and government leaders like Palau President Tommy Remengesau have called for 20 percent of the ocean to be protected.

While I agree with marine protected areas and have written about their importance, expanding upon the square kilometers of protected areas for their own sake or simply demonstrating international harmony is not sufficient for creating what is needed, a behavioral shift among consumers or international supply chains. The momentum must continue through bipartisan and multi-stakeholder efforts with work to educate the public about what they can do in their own communities.

I was fortunate to be able to visit Antarctica in 2005 as part of an educational trip with young students and researchers. Albatrosses and other sea birds soared past our ship as we cut through what seemed an endless bounty of icebergs and sea ice. I saw what most people only see on television – killer whales hunting a seal trying to escape capture on a lone ice flow. Once on land, I scooted among the penguins’ trails and visited Halley Research Station run by Great Britain in the Weddell Sea. A sign that not everyone can or should visit the pristine environment, our icebreaker ship rescued a large tourist cruise ship stuck in the ice. I experienced firsthand the serenity and silence of Antarctica and its inability to advocate for itself.  

Ocean conservation is now a welcome part of the discourse on global climate change, part of what I’d like to call Blue Diplomacy. In a 2014 letter to President Obama, the Marine Conservation Institute said “the unprotected ocean is like a debit account where everybody withdraws and nobody deposits. By contrast, marine reserves are like savings accounts that produce interest we can live off of.” (Hannigan 2016, 128) In the absence of the strongest binding commitments and complimentary to the Paris Climate Accord, the Ross Sea MPA provides a relatively easy ‘win’ for scientists and government leaders alike. It is a signal that despite escalating competition for Asia-Pacific territory resources harkening back frontier days, international actors are awakening to the climate-ocean nexus and the interconnectedness of healthy fish stocks and reefs with a healthy climate.  

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Contestations of Memory: Comfort Women and East Asian Politics

“To ignore violative conduct is to invite its repetition and sustain a culture of impunity.”[1]

If survivors from a tragic event do not step forward to share their experiences, how will historians and the public know the truth about what happened? A lack of personal testimonials may invite suppression of memory or rewriting of history. It took nearly fifty years for women who survived the Pacific War ‘comfort stations’ of the Japanese military to reveal their maltreatment and forced experiences as ‘comfort women.’ As opposed to redress initiated by the state, a shift in academia from the 1980s led by several female academic researchers helped open a space for survivors to bring grievances against the Japanese state for crimes against humanity (including rape and sexual slavery) and South Korean state for support. Japan and Korea’s sanitization of their official histories of the Pacific War, denial of evidence of Japan’s state coordination of enslaving comfort women and stigmatization of former comfort women amounted to a re-interpretation of history and denial of the women’s memory; with the atomic bombing of Japan and the desire for the US to have a strong non-communist ally in the region after the war, Japan was able to shed its image as an aggressor relatively quickly and in its textbooks told the story of the Pacific War through its prism as a victim. The history of comfort women, and particularly the responsibility of the Japanese state, is still disputed; this debate has led to a damaging divide between experiencers and mythologizers of history.

In discussing the history of ‘comfort women,’ there are multiple angles from which to approach their experiences as well as the constructed memory in the ‘official histories’ of Japan and South Korea. Christine Chinkin (2001) in “Women’s International Tribunal of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery” addresses the importance of tribunals–official and unofficial–and community involvement so that states cannot “ignore or forgive crimes against humanity.”[2] Chunghee Sarah Soh (1996) in “The Korean ‘Comfort Women’: Movement for Redress” focuses on the inability of former comfort women to reconcile their past due in part to cultural legacies and the institutionalization of sexual slavery based on class, gender, ethnicity, and nationality; although, changes in national and international structures since the Cold War have helped translate the problem into a universal women’s issue. Shuko Ogawa’s (2000) “The Difficulty of Apology: Japan’s Struggle with Memory and Guilt” and Bonnie B.C. Oh’s (2001) chapter “The Japanese Imperial System and the Korean Comfort Women of WWII” attempt to explain the Japanese state’s perspective. Oh accepts the uniqueness of Japan’s situation while finding underlying cultural issues that impacted the role of the government; Ogawa advocates the importance of Japan coming clean on its history of comfort women in order to save face. In “History & Memory: Comfort Women Controversy” Hyun Sook Kim (1997) compares official Japanese and South Korean textbooks with testimonials of survivors and similarly identifies cultural reasons for both states to selectively ignore, repress and sanitize experiences of comfort women. This contestation of memory entails mythmaking and a division between official narrative of ‘lack of evidence’ and narratives of testimonials from those that experienced history.

By reiterating tales of female exploitation, historical roles of Japanese and Korean governments, and the states’ claim of a ‘lack of evidence’ these texts elucidate the difficulties that former comfort women, as those that ‘experienced the history’ have faced in reconciling their past and attempting to educate future generations. Because of the official treatment of their history the women feel as if the mythologizers of the past (i.e. Japanese government) are “uninterested in knowing the past as its makers have experienced it.”[3] Women have been unable or unwilling to tell their experienced history because of the stigmatization within the families, communities and society, particularly in Korea, from the time of their return. A government study in 1993 led to the Kono statement where Japan officially recognized its role in establishing comfort stations, coercing women into sex with the military; however, controversy still ensued as the government claimed reparations should be made through private rather than public funds meaning the state would not pay for–and so would remain separate from–the harm it caused. Moreover, the states’ alternative histories are positioned from different historical data; survivor testimonials have become “reified as ‘information’ and ‘data,’ and they are treated as hard facts and the truth about the past – ‘facts’ that must be verified.”[4] According to Kim, for decades personal narratives have been withheld or ignored due to “patriarchal and national cultural arrangements.”[5] Oh meanwhile explains that comfort women were seen as “gifts from the Emperor,” pointing to the underlying issue of “contempt with which women have been held in Japanese society and exploitation of their sexuality.”[6] Decades on, financial compensation has been sought (and some achieved), but more than that is the desire for Japan to accede full responsibility for their terrible experiences; from this full apology the women seek acceptance from communities and the state to prevent this situation from occurring again.

At different points the governments of Japan and South Korea modified their positions on comfort women yet internal and external cultural and political factors led them to maintain control on history. But what did the states have to gain from their (mis)treatment of these women? Initially the Korean government ignored issues of the ‘Chongsindae’ women; there was a “lack of documentary evidence” because Japan destroyed records, and the 1965 Normalization Treaty “foreclosed the Korean government from making any further claims for reparations for damages incurred during the colonial period.”[7] Soh indicates that the state’s treatment of the plight of comfort women fits with South Korea’s tradition of sexual and physical exploitation of women for tourism and labor industries. Both cultures maintain a reverence for ancestors which enables construction of memory; in Japan specifically, “ideological wars have been fought over the wording of history textbooks, commemoration of the war dead, and personal compensation demands from foreigners” victimized by the Japanese.[8] Conservatives in Japan then do not want to teach a history which they believe will prevent students from retaining pride in their country.

While Japan eventually admitted that comfort women were coerced and recognized that “it had violated international humanitarian laws by persecuting Korean women,”[9] this contestation of memory is far from reconciled. Disputes over compensation to victims have put pressure on Japan-Korea relations, while “ethno-nationalistic sentiments have given rise to a renewed sense of historically rooted mutual hostility and contempt.”[10] Korean and Japanese heads of state have prioritized and publicized the dispute over memory of the comfort women at different levels. Current Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently stated he would accept the 1993 Kono Statement while still enabling a review on how the apology was constructed.[11] Critics such as Ogawa claim that Japan will not be able to gain full acceptance in international institutions until it recognizes its past injustices with comfort women, who have been unable to receive closure with their past.

Contemporary politics reinforces Japan’s mythologization of its Pacific War experiences as a victim rather than the aggressor.  Recent high-level, bilateral summits between South Korea and Japan discussing security, development and now potentially the comfort women issue are a positive sign and represent a significant diplomatic concession by Japan. Events such as the fallout from Trans-Pacific Partnership discussions and the North Korea program have added to US concern over the behavior of its allies and its inability to control actors in the Asia-Pacific. Japan’s historical hesitation to confront nationalist tendencies has negatively impacted relationships with its neighbors and more importantly, has marginalized memories that can instill humility and prevent the event’s repetition.

[1] Chinkin, Christine. “Women’s International Tribunal of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery.” The American Journal of International Law. 95.2. April (2001).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Cohen, Paul A. History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), xiv.

[4] Kim, Hyun Sook. “History & Memory: Comfort Women Controversy.” Positions. 5:1. Spring (1997): 95.

[5] Ibid, 101.

[6] Oh, Bonnie B.C. “The Japanese Imperial System and the Korean Comfort Women of WW2” In Legacies of the Comfort Women. Edited by Margaret Stetz and Bonnie B.C. Oh. (New York: M. E. Sharpe Inc., 2001), 5, 9.

[7] Soh, Chunghee Sarah. “The Korean ‘Comfort Women’: Movement for Redress.” Asian Survey. Vol. 36, No. 12, Dec. (1996): 1230. 

[8] Ogawa, Shuko. “The Difficulty of Apology: Japan’s Struggle with Memory and Guilt.” Harvard International Review. Fall (2000).

[9] Soh, “The Korean ‘Comfort Women,’” 1236.

[10] Ibid, 1239.

[11] Akihiko Kaise. “Abe Administration Maintains Delicate Balancing Act over Kono Statement.” The Asahi Shimbun. (3/15/14) [http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/politics/AJ201403150044]

Pacific Partnership Forum Shows Necessity of Broad Dialogues for US – NZ Relations

Hon. Minister Murray McCully from New Zealand spoke about bilateral relations at the US-NZ Council Pacific Partnership Forum in Washington, DC. Photo credit: Genevieve Neilson
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully from New Zealand spoke about bilateral relations at the US-NZ Council Pacific Partnership Forum in Washington, DC. Photo credit: Genevieve Neilson

In several speeches in Washington last year, Former Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell emphasized that a demonstration of US commitment to the Asia-Pacific was to “physically show up” for bilateral and multilateral dialogues. Hillary Clinton embodied that policy when she became the most widely traveled Secretary of State in US history. Similarly, the New Zealand government – and industry – has continued to show its commitment to US strategic, cultural and political ties particularly since the signing of the Wellington Declaration in 2010. As a Future Partner, I attended the US-NZ Council Pacific Partnership Forum held in Washington, DC, May 19 to 21, an example of an event that builds understanding between the two nations. Because the US and NZ have a multi-faceted relationship, direct and open dialogues such as the latest Partnership Forum that involve multiple sectors and actors continue to be the best way to move the relationship forward in the interests of both states and peoples. To exercise ‘smart power,’ states should take advantage of grassroots innovation and incorporate open forums to inform foreign policy. 

In supporting the bilateral United States-New Zealand relationship, ministers, secretaries and other government officials have made no stranger of each others’ countries over the last several years. Former US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano were a few high profile visitors to NZ. In return, Prime Minister John Key, Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully, and Minister of Defence Jonathan Coleman have visited the US. Those visits culminated in the signing of the Wellington and Washington Declarations strengthening strategic and political relations, and the signing of joint statements related to immigration, human trafficking and border security.  While in Washington last week for the Forum, Minister McCully met with US Secretary of State John Kerry in a productive discussion that included the Middle East peace process, and the New Zealand Treasury team met with their American counterparts at the Department of Treasury.

A recurring message throughout the Partnership Forum was that while New Zealand and the United States once had strong differences in security policy, now the relationship is “excellent” and seemingly better than ever. While the contents of this statement were not disputed, the desire to reminisce about the bad times in the relationship engendered negative reactions from US Ambassador David Huebner and several New Zealand officials.

In a speech to Future Partners, Ambassador Huebner called on the new generation of leaders to be innovative and to move past old rhetoric. Former and current bureaucrats such as Stephen Jacobi and John Allen however were quick to remind Huebner that the ‘old guard’ has played a pivotal role in reshaping the bilateral relationship and remains a critical part of stable relations. Without understanding at least parts of the shared history of the US and NZ, one would not be able to appreciate the ostensibly open dialogue as well as playful banter that currently occurs. Future Partners from both NZ and the US were strong participants of the Forum, with at least one delegate causing a stir with her challenge of mainstream views of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.   

For the bilateral relationship, perhaps more valuable than the policy talk at the Forum was the people-to-people exchange. About half of the forty Future Partners delegates selected were former Fulbright Scholars. The Fulbright Program, university study abroad programs, People to People, and a multitude of other education and sports-related exchanges continue to have a major impact. Between the US and NZ, soft power is a much more valuable tool for both sides to build mutual understanding from the bottom up.

International relations can be about more than states as actors if  individuals and businesses are given an equitable platform to exchange ideas and opinions alongside government. As an exercise that includes all sectors, the US-NZ Pacific Partnership Forum enables government officials, industry and even young professionals to meet with their international colleagues. While the issues of sustainability and resilience were discussed, missing from this year’s Forum agenda were topics of collaboration on mitigating Climate Change and additional development topics related to renewable energy in the Pacific. With the next Forum to take place in New Zealand, one hopes that the event continues the trend of being an open dialogue that enables participants to shape ‘what’s next’ for US-NZ relations.

With Panetta’s Visit, US – NZ Defense Relationship Evolving Amid Pacific Rebalancing

Last Saturday, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta left for his third trip to the Asia-Pacific this year, scheduling stops in Japan, China and New Zealand.  Panetta’s visits to Japan and China are attempts to smooth relations between the states, and the trip to New Zealand is a follow-up from the visit earlier this year to Washington, DC by NZ Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman.  The trip will be the first time in 30 years that a US Defense Secretary has visited New Zealand, and marks a change in regional strategic dynamics.  A critical part of the Obama Administration’s rebalancing in the Asia-Pacific includes repairing and deepening strategic relationships with New Zealand (among other smaller and medium-sized states) and to sustain opportunities for regular, high-level dialogue.  While New Zealand does not have a sizeable defense force to contribute to US-led operations, the small democracy is a valuable ally that can serve as an ‘honest broker’ and voice of legitimacy in the Asia-Pacific.

 Pivoting for the Pacific’s Sake? Not Likely.

Recently, New Zealand has received undue attention from American diplomats and cabinet secretaries because the US has much to gain politically and economically (if not militarily) from the bilateral relationship.  Whether the National or Labour Party is in government, New Zealand has a reputation both regionally and internationally as a state with a strong pacifist orientation that advocates for its values and the wellbeing of its Pacific neighbors.  As a founding member of and voice within the Pacific Islands Forum, New Zealand can be a significant agent for American interests during the leaders’ meetings.  Moreover, New Zealand’s promotion of US naval patrols, development assistance, trade relations, diplomatic connections and so forth would enable the US to exercise greater power projection in the region.

 The 1984 Labour government’s nuclear-free announcement reflected in part New Zealand’s continuous desire for an independent foreign policy based on “conflict avoidance and resolution, humanitarian assistance, human rights, and environmental defense.”  The declaration prohibiting American nuclear ships from their ports was a policy move that was necessitated by public opinion and new Labour supporters and representatives.  Since its proclamation, the nuclear-free policy has been largely nonpartisan. 

 While the strategic dimension of US-NZ relations faltered from the 1980’s, it never disappeared, and was supplemented by intelligence collaboration.  In addition to a strong commitment to special forces training and deployment (particularly the New Zealand Special Air Services), the intelligence-sharing between the US and New Zealand has remained significant since 1946. Despite disagreement with the US government over the invasion of Iraq, intelligence sharing remained consistent.  In fact, after 2001, New Zealand increased its intelligence budget by 30 percent while decreasing its overall defense budget.

 Maritime defense, domain awareness, and disaster rescue operations are essential areas of mutual concern for New Zealand and the US in the Pacific, particularly given the Christchurch earthquake, China’s soft loans to Pacific island nations, and overfishing.  For the first time in 28 years, the New Zealand Defence Force participated in the Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) in July-August, the largest international maritime exercise.  Interoperability is a key component of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy in the Pacific, and as Nathan Smith writes, the exercises served both diplomatic and more practical purposes for New Zealand and Australia.  Security concerns for New Zealand focus on the sea lines of communication due to heavy reliance on maritime trade; the country’s small blue-water navy is primarily geared for search and rescue and maritime interdiction.  Despite not being allowed to berth ships in Pearl Harbor due to the nuclear-free policy (in contrast to former foes Japan and Russia), Kiwi sailors did not seemed fussed, and took advantage of the nightlife offered by Honolulu.

 As we have seen through the signing of the Wellington and Washington Declarations, the current National Government is in agreement with the Obama Administration’s Pacific rebalancing.  Moreover, the close relationship between US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and NZ Ambassador to the US Michael Moore, and the work US Ambassador to NZ David Huebner has done in Wellington are examples of peoples and governments that seek mutual benefits and understanding.

 Improving understanding rather than compromising on ideals

A question that NZ Defence Minister Coleman will face in meeting with Secretary Panetta is how much more New Zealand will be able to commit to the bilateral relationship without sacrificing its ideals.  There will almost surely be a small demonstration in Wellington during Secretary Panetta’s visit about the TPP, or anti-US policies led by local anarchists from Aro Valley, as there is during most high profile visits.  However, in most cases it seems that the New Zealand government knows when and when not to compromise on foreign policy issues, with bipartisan support for free trade agreements.

 New Zealand can leverage an improved defense relationship with the US to secure better terms for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and other future trade agreements (including a potential US-NZ FTA as sought by New Zealand).  The latest negotiation terms for the TPP are not public; however controversial public issues being debated concern intellectual property rights and copyright law, both of which have been met by public protests and contestation from New Zealand and Australia.  If the US gets what it wants in terms of defense initiatives, it may soften some of the demands of the TTP and open a path to a US-NZ FTA.

 Setting the nuclear-free policy aside, both National and Labour governments have been fairly amicable to US defense relations.  So what more could New Zealand gain from a “stronger and deeper bilateral defense relationship” as set out in the Washington Declaration?  With both sides facilitating the establishment of “regular, senior-level, strategic policy dialogues between the US DoD and NZ Ministry of Defence and NZDF,” New Zealand can not only legitimate the US strategic involvement in the region but can continue to bolster its own authority.  Welcoming perhaps the strongest ally with shared values and democratic ideals can serve to boost Kiwi clout and spur domestic confidence.

 Development assistance in the Pacific is another area of mutual interest with opportunity for growth.  Australia provides half of all official development assistance to Papua New Guinea and Pacific island countries (AUD$1.17 billion) and New Zealand spends more than half of its country programs budget on Pacific island countries. At the latest Pacific Islands Forum, the US showed that it is ready to lift a portion of the development aid load in the Pacific; US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton announced $32M in new aid programs 18 years after ending such programs in the Pacific.

 As former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Secretary Panetta should be attuned to the value that New Zealand provides as a voice and ear in the Asia-Pacific.  One Kiwi commentator wrote that New Zealand should be weary of his arrival in the country, and that the US will ask too much from Kiwis.  However, the RIMPAC ship porting issue notwithstanding, strategic and diplomatic relations between the US and New Zealand have moved forward since 2007.  Leadership of both states are keen to return to an era of stronger defense ties to help guarantee their security and to enhance stability in the Pacific.  Having met already this year in Washington, DC, the meeting this week between defense bosses is likely more of a touch point to ensure regular high-level dialogue occurs.  With the Washington Declaration in place and successes to build on from the past year, the additional avenues for deepening defense cooperation may be limited but may be milestones nonetheless.

Huntsman on Pragmatic US Foreign Policy in a Competitive Age

On Monday September 17, the Asia Society and George Washington University’s Sigur Center for Asian Studies hosted the event “In Conversation with Jon Huntsman.”  Moderated by David Shambaugh, the discussion covered questions for former Governor Jon Huntsman about the US political process, public service, US foreign policy, and current affairs in Asia.  While many of the topics Huntsman discussed involved reminding the audience that the geopolitical and economic position of the US is sliding, he remained optimistic that America’s values are still the “envy of the world” and urged younger generations to participate in the domestic and international policy process.   While being realistic about the challenges that the US faces, Huntsman offered areas to improve the country’s global image.  Both at home and abroad, the US must seek collaboration with partners to correct issues such as mistrust that perpetuate a fearful narrative of competition.

 ‘Cleaning up’ the economy and politics

 At least three times, Huntsman mentioned crony capitalism, and emphasized that the US has a lot of “cleaning up to do.”  He offered solutions to help mitigate the “trust deficit” in the US, such as Congressional term limits, eliminating super pacs, and expanding participation in democracy by improving voter turnout.  For an effective foreign policy, according to Huntsman, Americans “need to be united on the home front.”  With a weak economy, the US has no leverage in international trade negotiations which seek fewer restrictions on trade barriers. 

 With the world lacking leadership, the Obama Administration has attempted to project its strategic turn to the Asia-Pacific.  However there will always be a concern that the US may be unable or unwilling to sustain its role in the region given the lack of a concerted world view.  In line with current government officials, Huntsman believes that the future of the US does not lie in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in Asia.  Huntsman proposed that the youth of today should have linkages with Asia in the same way that earlier generations had with Europe, participating in a shared culture and exchanges.  Seemingly optimistic, Huntsman said it boils down to the “people to people” relationships and connections to reinforce and strengthen US foreign policy.

 Working with rather than against China

 In the preamble to a question, the moderator invited discussion about how in recent times, the US has had to balance cooperation with competition – what Shambaugh calls “coopatition.”  Certainly, balancing cooperative efforts, not appearing to ‘hold China back’, and maintaining global and regional primacy is not an easy task.  Huntsman interprets  US-China dynamics pragmatically; when working with China on causes of mutual interest (such as China’s WTO accession), the US is able to manage the competitive dynamics of the relationship.  However, the US is failing to put at the forefront the issues on which the two powers can collaborate effectively. 

 The bilateral relationship between the US and China is understandably more similar to a global relationship; recognizing and changing the narrative will be a large undertaking given the lack of domestic American enthusiasm for China.  As the two leading global powers, when the governments of China and the US meet they must discuss a range of international issues such as the financial crisis in Europe, freedom of navigation, the Arab spring, and so forth.  There is a need to “humanize” US-China relations, and to move away from the “easy” fear factor narrative and “toward the opportunity factor.” 

 Overall, Jon Huntsman provided an honest, albeit moderated, conversation about the state of US foreign policy regarding China specifically and Asia more broadly.  Drawing on his experiences in different US administrations and most recently as Ambassador to China between 2009-2010, Huntsman offered unique insights, personal anecdotes and policy points like a candidate just off the campaign trail (or potentially still on that trail).  Perhaps he is still reflecting on his failed presidential campaign, including the debates in which  antagonistic opinions were rewarded while his more reasoned approaches to policy left the crowd cold.  If, as Huntsman claims, there are “impressive personalities coming forward in China” that hold pragmatic viewpoints, the American public should watch the leadership transition and hope that the US can engage its largest potential threat – or opportunity.

Navigating an Asia-Pacific in Transition

On Wednesday, June 13, the Center for New American Security held its annual conference at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C. This year the theme was “Rethinking US Security: Navigating a World in Transition”.  For a conference with open registration, CNAS drew big ticket scholars and public officials such as CNAS co-founders Assistant Secretary of State Honorable Dr. Kurt Campbell and Former Under Secretary of Defense Honorable Michele Flournoy, and notably Dr. Bruce Jentleson, Dr. Robert Kagan, Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter, World Bank President Honorable Robert Zoellick, as well as many others.  With the goal of linking security strategy with diplomacy, this post will give a snapshot of the keynote address by Hon. Campbell entitled “The Asia-Pacific Century”.

Given that, according to Campbell, the lion’s share of history this century will be written in the Asia-Pacific, he posed the following question: can the US sustain a high level of engagement with the Asia-Pacific?  As the most senior State Department official on the subject, Campbell of course sees it to be the ‘destiny’ of the United States to do just that.  He offered a list of elements for the US to be successful.

  •  Perpetuate bipartisan commitment throughout government, and notably in Congress.  Overall, there is immense confidence throughout the world about the “enormous capabilities” of the US; however the main worry is whether or not bipartisan commitment can be sustained.  There is a need to continue to build consensus to demonstrate national strength and forward engagement.
  • Sustain opportunities for regular high level dialogue.  Continuous institutionalization of dialogue at the bilateral level reminds both the US and its partners about the benefits of engagement.  The travel from the US to parts of Asia can be long, and the trips strenuous, but, according to Campbell, “Our Asian friends expect us to show up.” 
  • Promote and support American manufacturers, giving them the “ticket to the big game” in Asia. The US should continue to be an optimistic voice in the international economic system and a strong trading partner. Campbell gave the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement as a good example of cooperation.  Improved lower level engagement is also needed.
  • Strengthen alliances to work as a launching pad for further action in the Asia-Pacific.  Some say alliances are antithetical to new institutions, but Campbell believes otherwise. They provide a foundation for engagement within a strong alliance network.  The US is seeking to deepen its ties with countries such as the Philippines and Thailand. It is “inconceivable that we can be effective without alliances”.
  • Enhance a number of bilateral relationships throughout the Asia-Pacific.  The Obama administration has steadily improved relations with Indonesia (an emerging leader of ASEAN), Vietnam, India, and New Zealand.  It is important for the US and India to work more in tandem on a range of issues. Furthermore, there is room for improvement with Europe-Asia engagement; the US should help Europe to facilitate those ties.
  • Endure positive relations with China. The most significant problem that the US faces is how to sustain a robust relationship with China. The bilateral relationship is, in Campbell’s view, more complicated than former relations between US and the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War.  Asia-Pacific states need an agreeable relationship with China; by working together, the US and China can demonstrate our wisdom and maturity to other states.
  • Need to continue to develop formal, multilateral institutions.  For multiple reasons, the success of multilateral institutions is profoundly in the interest of the US.  The current institution-building process – in a period of transition and tumult – is similar to that after World War 2.  Campbell stated “I want to have the US sit at those [negotiating] tables” to build norms and manners of engagement. ‘Minilateral’ forums can help build trust while tackling key issues. US-Japan-Korea is the most important trilateral relationship, and the US is heavily invested in the future development of the Japan-Korea relationship.
  • Pursue a comprehensive defense strategy.  Find additional ways to partner and engage with states in the region.  ‘Defense Diplomacy’ has been and will continue to be critical in Southeast Asia due to traditional and nontraditional security issues.  Actions taken by the Obama administration to establish training, military rotations, joint facilities and so forth with actors such as Australia, Philippines, and Singapore are “a down payment on this process”.
  • Invest in people. The US Department of State, Department of Defense and the greater government need employees that are deeply knowledgeable about Asia, with language skills.  Effective and sustained engagement will require advice and the pursuit of experts.
  • Stay true to American values and democratic principles. For Campbell and his team, the Chen Guangcheng experience required intense diplomacy; without a dedicated team there may have been greater conflict with China.  Because of American involvement in such human rights cases, including working with Aung San Suu Kyi, “We continue to be a beacon of hope and a reminder that there is a better world.”

After his address, Hon. Dr. Kurt Campbell walked offstage to be swamped by the press, including, among others, CCTV and a reporter for a Japanese newspaper.  Not only were the military, government employees and other civilians in the crowd interested in Campbell’s address; perhaps even more so those with direct links to the Asia-Pacific were hanging on his every word.  Over the past year, the Obama administration has continued to emphasize its commitment to the Pacific ‘turn’ through all aspects of international engagement, including defense, diplomacy, international trade, etc.  Strategic allies and general partners in the Asia-Pacific are overall pleased with the US desire to sustain engagement in the region.  In part, this is due to the economic rise of China and its quest for greater regional influence through increased military modernization, expansion of relationships in the region and strengthened voice in international institutions.  From the list of essential elements for successful sustainment, most all require bilateral, multilateral and institutional cooperation – and hence cannot be accomplished by US action alone.