For the 21st Century, A New Asia Pacific Community

Panel hails US shift in focus, but stresses more needs to be done

Yuan Ming, Director of the American Studies Center at Peking University, reacts as Former U.S. Secretary of State John Negroponte makes a point during the Asia Society Hong Kong Center's inaugural public forum, February 10, 2010.  (Bill Swersey/Asia Society)

HONG KONG, February 10, 2012 — Moving forward into the 21st century, the United States must redirect the focus of its foreign policy towards the economically explosive Asia-Pacific region. This was the central point of the first of Asia Society Hong Kong's inaugural public forums, Transforming Ties: U.S.-Asia Relations in the 21st Century.

Asia Society co-chair Ronnie Chan moderated the discussion on the future of U.S.-Asia relations by leading U.S. and Asian officials and experts.

Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte opened the conversation by affirming the current American administration's commitment to focusing on U.S.-Asian relations. Negroponte noted that Obama's speech to the Australian parliament this past November signaled a significant shift in U.S. policy away from its historically Euro-centric policy (and its recent Middle East entanglements) and towards a greater focus on Asia. That Obama also went to the East Asian Summit, which former Presidents have avoided, really showed his intent to "sit down with his peers in the region."

Negroponte also stressed the importance of institutionalizing inter-Asian relationships. "The notion of community is absolutely critical and probably the most important difference between the Asia-Pacific and the transatlantic institutions," he said. "The Asia-Pacific region has not developed these multilateral institutions, although clearly it's on everybody's mind. The goal should be something that links together the entire Asia Pacific region, but in its own way."

Toyoo Gyohten, the President of the Institute for International Monetary Affairs and Japan's former Vice Minister of Finance for International Affairs, then spoke openly about his worries for the future of U.S.-China relations. "Despite not being American, or Chinese, unfortunately, I feel obliged to talk about U.S.-China relations, as China will dominate U.S. foreign policy." Gyohten said he felt that China sees the fall of the United States as fated to happen, so time is on their side.

He added, "We cannot totally eliminate the risk of a clash of civilizations between two superpowers. How can we avoid this? The U.S. needs to restore a fair, open, vibrant, and competitive society, and to redefine its global leadership role. China must establish a national ideology that can be accepted and respected around the world, and create the ethos of a global leader."

In response, Yuan Ming, the Director of the American Studies Center at Peking University, noted that each semester she teaches a large seminar, "American Society and Culture," to about 400 students. She noted, "In the last year I did a poll: Do you really believe America will fall? Eighty percent said no. Well-educated students. And when I travel around, I raise the same question, and the answer is always the same."

Former Prime Minister of South Korea Lee Hong-Koo paused to contemplate the grim reality of relations in Korea. "I think that it's time to realize that unless the question of Korean division is resolved," Lee said, "there really can't be lasting peace and prosperity in the region. Only lasting leadership and collaboration between the U.S. and China can bring this about. We have to try to understand one another."

He added, "I think Asia Society is doing its part to create the right attitude. If Ronnie Chan and Henrietta Fore can manage the Asia Society so effectively, why can't the U.S. and China work together?"

Finally, Chan presented the panelists with the statement: "China is not a natural enemy of the West, unless someone forces China to become an enemy."

All were agreed, but Ambassador Negroponte added, "We mustn't make adversity or enmity between China and the U.S. a self-fulfilling prophecy. We need to build an Asian-Pacific community with due regard for the importance of national identities and differences. And I must add, this creates a magnificent agenda for the Asia Society."

Reported by Maddie Gressel