The U.S. Relationship with Asia Has Changed

As China’s economy and geopolitical influence grow over the next decade, the U.S. must adapt its foreign policy accordingly. On February 26 ASNC organized a panel featuring author and former diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, who served as Singapore’s Ambassador to the UN. He was joined by Steven Vogel, a UC Berkeley professor who specializes in East Asian political economy and the Asia Society’s Vice President for Global Programs, N. Bruce Pickering.

Mahbubani, who currently serves as Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, emphasized the increasing importance of multilateralism and international organizations in Asia and advised strengthening the UN and restructuring the Security Council.  He also noted that people around the world enjoy a higher quality of life than ever before, especially in Asia.  In the next seven years, he predicted the size of Asia’s middle class will increase from 500 million to 1.75 billion and China will overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest economy.  These shifts are not necessarily negative for the U.S., as growing “convergence” with Asia may aid Americans economically. The impact of this convergence is the subject of Mahbubani’s new book, The Great Convergence: Asia, the West, and the Logic of One World

Vogel shared Mahbubani’s optimism and agreed that the U.S. must reexamine its policies in Asia, but cautioned against expecting too much from the UN and other international organizations. While he acknowledged the merits of Mahbubani’s convergence theory, Vogel also cautioned conflating interconnectedness with convergence, pointing out that increased connectivity doesn’t necessarily lead to similar interests and lifestyles. 

Both speakers characterized the present as a “plastic moment,” agreeing that both China and the U.S. appear to be taking more interest in multilateralism.  China’s growth may mean that the world will soon be multipolar, but China-U.S. relations are not only competitive, but also collaborative and thus much different than the U.S.-Soviet relationship during the Cold War. The current political landscape is much more complex as the influence of Japan and India are rising along with China. Vogel and Mahbubani ended the discussion agreeing that the idea of “one world” is both a prescription as well as a description, acknowledging some convergence and suggesting that the U.S. and China tailor their policies accordingly.

Reported by Sam Metz