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Will Crisis Divide Asia from America?

Simon Tay addresses "the India-China equation," and conflicting visions of American leadership, in Hong Kong on Sept. 2, 2010. (3 min., 24 sec.)
by wpoon
3 September 2010

KONG, September 2, 2010 - Asia and America are facing divisive trends that will
force them to recalibrate their previously interdependent and mutually
beneficial relationship, observes Simon
, Chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. He told
the Asia Society
Hong Kong Center
that as a result, it was critical that Asia and America considered a shared future
rather than reverting to hubris or isolationism.

the global financial crisis, both sides of the equation, US and Europe, and Asia, were going up. This win-win economic
interdependence was felt strongly, but that has now changed. I hope that Asia will grow and mature, but I don't believe we are
ready to go it alone. I think we can't go back either. The old status quo, of a
very dominant America and a
very subservient Asia, has gone. We have to
look forward to a kind of new relationship."

noted that despite President Obama's sentimental interests and strategic
intentions, the US will
continue to be distracted by domestic priorities at the expense of increased
engagement with Asia. "We face, in America, not
just an economic phenomenon but also a political phenomenon--a country that
seems to have more doubts than ever before." Tay attributed this crisis of
confidence to an erosion of America's
soft power, itself the result of domestic fatigue over American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan
and an inability to resolve flashpoints such as North
Korea and Iran.
Domestic concerns are also at the fore, given the proximity of the upcoming
mid-term elections. 

Asian regionalism has been growing: "Since the Asian crisis, the region has not
just recovered but found ways to cooperate more deeply than ever before. We
have persisted and drawn strength from crises. Asia is coming together, and--excluding the East Asia Summit, where America
might again be in the frame--much of this Asian regionalism has been without America."

China's "charm and
power" is also of note. Tay cited China's
regional aid and assistance program, the economic potential "that every country
in Asia wants to tap into," and its brewing
political and cultural influence.

a result of these trends, Tay underscored: "The future is that America will
relatively be less powerful. America
has great reserves and great resilience, and should bounce back. It may
recover, but the rest of us are going to catch up. In this new future, the easy
answer for Americans might be a sense of isolationism. For Asians it might be
the reverse: a sense of hubris, that having weathered this crisis, having
developed regionalism, we truly are ready to be our own region."

however, urged Asia and America
to consider a shared future, citing mutual economic and security imperatives. He
envisioned a future in which "America
is engaged but no longer number one. It means that we have to continue our
efforts at Asian regionalism, even as we recognise our rivalries and potential
flashpoints. America
is an essential, important north star in our region, it has provided stability,
it has been the guarantor. Like it or not, the stability that we have enjoyed
so far has been built, in part, on the American presence. And I think that
stability will come in for some shaking. The future, however, will not be the
same as the past--or even the present."

Reported by Natali Pearson, Asia Society Hong Kong Center