Over the past two years, the
Increasing American military power in the region may be necessary, but it is not sufficient to ensure peace and prosperity in the region. The following ideas should inform America's Asia policy going forward:
First, American policy must be about more than containing China. Any approach that appears to mimic Cold War containment policies creates equivalence between Washington and Beijing among the peoples of East Asia. America's formidable soft power comes from the contrasts — not similarities — between the United States and its potential rivals. Last week, outgoing Defense Secretary
Second, "rebalancing" is impossible without allies. Between the United States and China lie
Third, domestic politics shape international relations in East Asia. Politicians in China, Japan and South Korea use territorial claims to whip up public support.
Fourth, the American people deserve a vigorous debate over East Asia policy. The nomination of former
Finally, we should not assume that the nations of East Asia are on an unstoppable rise to global dominance or that the United States is in inexorable decline. For example, China's one child policy has limited population growth at the price of a rapidly aging population. This means that more resources must be devoted to pensions and health care, and that wages will rise due to a smaller workforce. Japan, Taiwan and South Korea face even more serious demographic dilemmas. Such developments could limit the economic success that made these countries major global players. None of these countries attracts immigrants as the United States does.
President Barack Obama is becoming the elder statesman of the region, as new leaders have recently come to power in China, South Korea, North Korea and Japan. He should take advantage of his status to shape a strategy that promotes democratic values, bolsters allies and avoids over-reacting to heated nationalist rhetoric. He should also explain to the press, the public and Congress why East Asia is vital to America's security and economic health, and why America can remain an important player in the region for the foreseeable future.
Steven Phillips is a professor in the History Department at Towson University. His email is email@example.com.