Shadow Government
A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

How the Republicans can advance U.S.-Asian relations

While U.S. voters were not particularly interested in foreign policy (certainly not Asia policy) during this election, Asia is always interested in U.S. voters. The economic growth of countries such as China and India, and the technological and innovative dynamism of much of the rest of Asia, are significantly impacting the structure of the U.S. ...

MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images
MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images
MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images

While U.S. voters were not particularly interested in foreign policy (certainly not Asia policy) during this election, Asia is always interested in U.S. voters. The economic growth of countries such as China and India, and the technological and innovative dynamism of much of the rest of Asia, are significantly impacting the structure of the U.S. economy. Newly elected Republicans have a chance to help the United States continue to benefit from Asia's growing prosperity.

While U.S. voters were not particularly interested in foreign policy (certainly not Asia policy) during this election, Asia is always interested in U.S. voters. The economic growth of countries such as China and India, and the technological and innovative dynamism of much of the rest of Asia, are significantly impacting the structure of the U.S. economy. Newly elected Republicans have a chance to help the United States continue to benefit from Asia’s growing prosperity.

Though the election was not about foreign policy, it is worth noting that former Vice President Dick Cheney’s early 2009 critique of Obama’s counter-terrorism policies first exposed the chinks in the administration’s armor, demonstrating signs of life for a Republican Party declared dead and providing moral support to others in his party who soon voiced their own powerful critiques. Still, this election was about economics and the size and structure of government, not foreign policy. So, I am about to practice economics and politics without a license.

While voters still do not seem to trust the GOP, the party can regain their trust by reclaiming the mantle of economic leadership. Newly-elected Republicans can insist upon free market, pro-free trade policies that can push the president to create a friendlier climate for foreign investment in the United States as well as to ratify a free trade deal with South Korea and pry open other Asian markets for U.S. investment and exports.

By committing to fiscal responsibility, Republicans can provide a more credible case for the global rebalancing that economists agree needs to happen. A collective economic rebalancing, rather than a trade war or legislating punitive tariffs, is the answer to our current economic troubles with China. And a broader commitment to U.S. leadership in trade liberalization throughout Asia will contribute to setting the United States back on the road to economic growth and low unemployment.

But the United States is on the horns of a dilemma in Asia, one that new Republican leaders must resolve. Our huge debt and uncertain fiscal position calls into question our ability to sustain a robust diplomatic and military presence in the region; if fiscal austerity includes cuts to the defense budget, Asians will continue to conclude that we are not going to be present in Asia for the long haul. In the context of Asia policy, then, the key challenge for Republican leaders both in Congress and aspiring to the presidency is to strike the right balance between pursuing long-term measures to restore fiscal health without making short-term cuts on defense spending that create deep regional unease.

The first chance for Republicans to reconcile long and short term goals with respect to Asia is during Obama’s trip to the region. They should pledge to work with him if he agrees to ratify the FTA with Korea, hold his feet to the fire if he panders to special interests on the issue of outsourcing to India (or what I like to call trading based on comparative advantage), and pledge to support him if he commits to keeping our alliances strong by making the military investments we need to keep the region stable.

Daniel Blumenthal is the director of Asian studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

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