Dear Prime Minister Harper – A Good Time for an Asia Strategy

The Obama administration has gotten serious about Asia. It's time Canada to do the same, writes Chin.
By: /
November 24, 2011

A trip this week to Paris for trans-Atlantic meetings indicated that officials in Europe are getting serious about China, and Asia.  That Europe is searching for leverage with China. 

When Eurozone finance officials gather in Brussels (as they will on November 29) to discuss how they can woo China to invest in the European Financial Stability Facility, they will do so, knowing that Europe’s economic and political credibility are also at stake.

European representatives know that China needs both a stable export market for its goods, and a place to diversify its reserves.  About 25 percent of China’s reserves are in Euros – and Beijing wants security guarantees for its investment.  This gives Europe some leverage.  But are European states prepared to use it, when they are in need of a money infusion?

European officials have yet to devise a long-term strategy for China, but to their credit, at least they are discussing it.  Furthermore, European capitals are considering how to strengthen their ties with the fragile democracies of Southeast Asia, as a counterweight to China’s rise.

Even more important, the U.S. administration has also upgraded its efforts in Asia of late.  This is both understandable and undeniable.  Some might say, “It’s about time.”

Recent outreach from President Obama (at the APEC and East Asian Summits, and in Australia), also from Hillary Clinton, as well as the administration’s efforts to boost the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the arms-length distance that it has maintained to the European debt crisisindicate that what we’re looking at is more than a series of “Pacific Rim swings.”

Over the past weeks, the US administration has taken concerted measures to harden its stance toward China, from a harder push on the exchange rate and U.S. trade interests, to hard power maneuvers with allies in the Asia-Pacific to firm up the U.S. “hub-and-spoke” security structure in the Pacific.

For Beijing, it definitely feels like what Roland Paris describes as a “politely-veiled containment strategy.”

Behind the US repositioning lays domestic electoral politics.  Barack Obama has decided that he will not leave himself to be painted into a corner as the defender of China by the Republican presidential candidates, including Mitt Romney, who have taken to China-bashing about the Chinese taking US jobs.

At the same time, despite the hardening, US representatives note that the President is committed to strengthening America’s relations with China.  That building a more comprehensive and deeper relationship, including the ‘trust’ that has eluded the two countries to date, is now the priority.  It also means reassuring traditional allies in Asia of the ongoing stake of the U.S. in the region.

There is little doubt that the Obama administration has gotten serious about Asia.

Is it time for Prime Minister Harper to do the same?  To formulate a longer term strategy for engaging Asia, and particularly China?

World circumstances indicate so.

Photo Courtesy Reuters