With the announcement of ‘America’s Pacific Century’ in 2011, economically vibrant and politically active Asia-Pacific region, and particularly China, was publically recognised as the new top priority in the US foreign policy agenda. The subsequent policy response, the so-called US rebalancing to Asia, has become topical from economic, security and political perspectives. For example, the US has pursued the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in the economic sphere, increased its military presence in the security sphere, and improved partnerships in the political sphere. These developments were carefully followed in Europe, accompanied by a growing fear that the US was leaving Europe behind. At the same time, there also appeared questions concerning the ability and willingness of the US to meet the risen expectations related to the rebalancing.
The US Research day will concentrate on looking at the US – Asia-Pacific relations from political, economic and security perspectives. Special emphasis will be paid on the US – Asia-Pacific relations in the wider perspective of US power and world/regional order, as well as on US relations to China and other emerging powers more specifically. What are the prospects and challenges of US collaboration with various Asian powers? How will the regional order, including existing alliances, develop? Does the US rebalancing to Asia have a future, and if so, of what kind? How will the rebalancing develop after the Obama administration?
Opening remarks: Mika Aaltola, Programme Director, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs
Speakers: Adam Quinn, Senior Lecturer, University of Birmingham
Li Xing, Professor, Aalborg University
Comments: Elina Kalkku, Director General, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland
Chair: Michael Haltzel, Visiting Senior Fellow, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs
Summary of the seminar:
Mika Aaltola, Programme Director at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA), gave opening remarks highlighting the role of the Center for US Politics and Power (CUSPP) as the sole research unit in Finland focusing purely on political and security aspects of the United States in the Nordic-Baltic region. He noted that the Center has an important role enhancing the research of US politics and power that suffered from a decrease in interest after the end of the Cold War. While the interest towards strategic knowledge on US and Russia lessened, the deepening and enlarging European integration started to lure researchers. At the same time, global economic balance shifted in favor of East Asia. However, Aaltola reminds that U.S. political primacy has remained important in many parts of the world and we still need strategic understanding of its role.
Visiting Senior Fellow at the FIIA, Michael Haltzel, chaired the morning session. He noted that since U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recognised Asia-Pacific region as a new top foreign policy priority in the Foreign Policy Magazine in November 2011, the achievements of the new policy have been questioned.
In his speech, Adam Quinn, Senior Lecturer at the University of Birmingham, addressed the context of the U.S. Grand Strategy, and U.S. goals and challenges in the Asia-Pacific region. In global context, Quinn describes the U.S. as a runaway leader in terms of distribution of international power. Even though U.S. power is in decline, he still sees the U.S. as central to a network of global institutions, which gives it many advantages and a structural influence over other actors. Quinn notes that the mainstream point of view is that the U.S. should try to maintain its global leadership and concurrently the responsibility of strategic stability, but that it simultaneously is accepted that tradeoffs between goals and available resources are needed. Mainstream thinking also holds that rising new powers must be assimilated to global rules and norms. When it comes to China’s rise, the ideal would be to help China become a responsible stakeholder in the international system. However, Quinn notes that the realization of this development would depend on China’s domestic politics and the changes in the levels of nationalism in China and its neighboring countries. Quinn concludes that the U.S. has great interests vested in China’s continued economic growth and stability.
Xing Li, Professor at the Aalborg University, continued the morning session by speaking about hegemony and the world order. He sees China as a center of the rising powers, which is now looking at how other countries and regions adapt to the change. He believes that the hegemony of the existing world order is in crisis and that the authority of the U.S. and its order is weakening. Prof. Li notes, that the hegemony of the U.S. was based on the economic system of Bretton Woods institutions, political and security alliances, global trade networks, global value and norm systems and ideology. According to Prof. Li now rising states, like China, threaten these patterns of global relationships. He leans towards the Neo-Gramscian definition of hegemony that views U.S. as the only country being able to shape the world order, but he takes one step further creating a new concept: interdependent hegemony. Under conditions of interdependent hegemony, alliances are usually forged around certain issues rather than being based on a set of shared norms. Prof. Li notes that whether China will accept or resist the existing order or create a new one, will depend on what role China chooses to play. He regrets that the U.S. Congress has blocked the rise of China’s share in international institutions.
Elina Kalkku, Director General at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, pointed out that people in Europe thought that the U.S. pivoting its interests to Asia would mean the end of U.S. interest here. However, the economic crises and the political crises in Ukraine and the Middle East still call for U.S. attention. She remarks, that it is natural for the U.S. to have a policy geared towards the Asia-Pacific area, especially because of the size of trade and investments across the Pacific Ocean. Political cooperation can follow the economic cooperation in Asia, as happened in Europe earlier, Kalkku reminds. When speaking about the international system, she noted that exaggerated nationalism presents great risks to domestic and global stability in Europe and in Asia, so we should not think that conflicts between countries are over. She concludes by proposing an enhancement of the code of conducts in order to avoid unnecessary risk-taking and escalation in the Asia-Pacific.
The presentations were followed by a lively discussion, dealing with questions concerning, for example, what kind of order China would advocate in the future.