Baker: U.S. Should Not Fear 'Asian Century'

Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III Discusses Policy Hotspots With Asia Society in Houston

HOUSTON, April 12, 2012 — The 21st Century will be the Asian Century, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III says, but that should not be cause of alarm for the United States.

In a wide-ranging onstage conversation with Asia Society Texas Center board chairman Charles C. Foster, Baker voiced optimism that the growing tilt toward the East in world economic and political affairs does not reflect a drop in U.S. influence in the world. He cautioned, however, that North Korea, Afghanistan, and Pakistan remain problem regions for this country.

“The rise of China and India and Brazil is not so much a case of the United States declining, as it is of those other countries moving up,” said Baker, whose appearance kicked off a weekend of grand opening festivities for the Asia Society's new venue in Houston. “They are moving up because they embraced our paradigm of a free market. That’s something we ought to be willing to welcome and not be fearful of.

“That’s not to say you let your guard down. Some people are concerned about China’s military buildup. I am not concerned about that at this point, but I think we need to be vigilant.”

Baker views the changes in China as unique and profound.

“The economic transformation of China in the last 25 years is incredibly historic. I don’t think you can find a parallel. I am one of these people who think it is extraordinarily important that the United States and China have the best possible relationship they can have,” he said.

Among areas of concern for the United States, Baker highlighted the decades-long animosity between Pakistan and India.

“One of the most dangerous places in the world in terms of a potential nuclear exchange is the subcontinent. And they now both have nuclear weapons.

“It’s very hard to think of having 110,000 pairs of boots (U.S. service personnel) on the ground in Afghanistan if you don’t have Pakistan covering your back.”

While he considers Iranian nuclear capability a dangerous development, Baker said he approved of the Obama administration’s policy of sanctions, which he sees as beginning to “bite.”

Baker saw fewer options for the United States in dealing with North Korea, which he described as “a mess.”

“It’s a real problem, first of all because it’s so flaky," he said. "And it has the bomb. It doesn’t have anything else — it can’t even feed its people.

“China is the only country that has any real influence with North Korea. At the end of the day I think it is going to be up to China to keep the North Koreans in the box. We don’t have a military option there at all.”

Baker said he believes the U.S. would benefit from disentangling itself from Afghanistan.

"I rarely find myself in agreement with the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, but I agreed with him when he argued in the internal councils of the Obama administration that we ought to have a policy of counter-terrorism in Afghanistan, not a policy of counter-insurgency where you try to build a civil society. We don’t have anybody to work with," Baker said.

“We have 110,000 pairs of boots on the ground, and we don’t have any money. We’re broke. I think the American people are tired of these engagements overseas, particularly where you can’t draw a direct nexus between what we’re doing there and our security.”

Reported by Louis Parks




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