For Asia and the US, A Cloudy Crystal Ball

Bernard Schwartz Fellow Nobuyoshi Sakajiri

NEW YORK, January 27, 2009–The spectre of turbulent times and economic uncertainty hovered over a launch event for the Asia Society's 2009 Bernard Schwartz Resident Fellows. New Bernard Schwartz Fellows Simon Tay and Nobuyoshi Sakajiri addressed the topic "America's Future in Asia" in a lunchtime discussion that also featured Walter Russell Mead, Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, and was moderated by Asia Society Executive Vice President Jamie Metzl.

The speakers agreed that because no one really knows what the full extent of the global financial crisis is likely to be, it's difficult to predict how it will ultimately affect Asia and America's shared future. One relative certainty that emerged from the talk is that continued economic growth for every Asian country is of vital interest to the United States, and should be the basis for how America formulates policy towards the region as a whole. As Tay stressed, the potential for public perception of the US-Asian relationship as a zero-sum relationship, particularly in the face of domestic challenges, underscores the importance of continued and expanded dialogue not only with China but with all other Asian countries.

In his opening remarks, meanwhile, Sakajiri reiterated the centrality of US relations with China, but added that he looks forward to moving beyond simple bilateral relations and into a more multilateral era with the incoming Obama administration.

As the critical interdependence between the United States and Asia came into focus, a picture of economic, political, and social interdependence also emerged. For his part, Mead expressed optimism about the long-term outlook of the global economy, while cautioning that in a number of Asian countries, forces that would lead to more social instability are delicately held in check by rapid economic growth. Tay also noted that for many countries, political promise and stability depend on economic growth.

Although Afghanistan and Pakistan weren't central to the discussion, the panelists affirmed that those countries arguably remain the most difficult foreign policy problems facing the United States. In the midst of so much uncertainty and transition, it is clear that America's future in Asia will require increased dialogue and consistent, focused attention.

Reported by Danika Swanson

Video excerpt: Nobuyoshi Sakajiri and Simon Tay discuss the improving relations between China and Taiwan, and what they mean for the US and Japan. (4 min., 7 sec.)