Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group and author of Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World and other books, visited Asia Society on Tuesday evening for a globe-spanning conversation touching on U.S. policy toward Asia, the geopolitical leadership vacuum, China’s business environment for multinational companies, and relations between the U.S. and China, among other subjects.
“I think American policy in Asia thus far, even in the last year, has been comparatively successful – in the context of Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Israel-Palestine, Iraq, Ukraine, Russia,” Bremmer said. “Assuming it happens, and I think it will, the most significant achievement in foreign policy under the Obama administration would be the establishment and the conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
“I think it’s very clear that America’s interests overwhelmingly, long term, are Asia, Asia, Asia,” Bremmer continued. “Clearly, Asia’s where we should be spending the majority of our time. Are we doing that? No. Do we have a strategic vision for Asia? Not nearly as much as we should.”
Video: “Asia actually looks pretty good” (3 min., 29 sec.)
Bremmer was joined on stage by Asia Society President and CEO Josette Sheeran.
Asked to evaluate U.S. foreign policy and the geopolitical order more broadly, Bremmer proposed four reasons why regional conflicts and tensions are on the rise: Europe’s focus on the Eurozone to the exclusion of other international issues; Russia’s desire to regain international influence; the misaligned interests of powerful Asian leaders Xi Jinping, Narendra Modi, and Shinzo Abe; and above all, the reluctance of the U.S. to act as the world’s lone superpower.
Bremmer said it is “just not true” that the United States is becoming “more European in its foreign policy orientation” – more multilateralist, less militarist.
“America, in many ways, is becoming more Chinese in its foreign policy: much more unilateralist on core military and national security issues, and much more willing to stand back and not get engaged in things that aren’t seen as core,” Bremmer said.
“Obama doesn’t want to be the world’s policeman. He’s very happy being the world’s private investigator,” Bremmer quipped. “That’s not a very popular position to have.”
Video: American Foreign Policy Becoming “More Chinese” (2 min., 44 sec.)
Responding to a question from Amb. Nicholas Platt, Bremmer noted that multinational companies have become much more skeptical about their prospects in China.
“In the last year, I would say I’ve talked to three Fortune 100 CEOs in the United States that have told me that if they knew then what they know now, they would rather not have invested a dollar in China – in terms of [intellectual property] and cyber and joint venture partnerships that become problematic,” Bremmer said.
Among the 40-some CEOs of Japanese firms he knows well, Bremmer said, “Their view of China, and investing in China, is very different today than it was five or ten years ago.”
“Now, it is, ‘We may not want a Japanese brand in China. We may not want to do more investing in China. This may be a problem for us.’ Political risk is really affecting their decision-making process,” Bremmer said.
Bremmer said he believes geopolitics will be conditioned in large part by the way that the U.S.-China relations develop.
“In the last year, U.S.-China relations have largely gotten better,” Bremmer said. “If you ask me to project that five to ten years out, I think that is one of the most uncertain, unknowable things in the world.”
Bremmer argued that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will give the U.S. and its Asian allies some leverage in managing their relations with China.
TPP countries should consistently express to China that the agreement “is not meant exclude you. We are prepared to lay out how you might join,” Bremmer said. And those countries “need to set the standards sufficiently high so that China has to move.”