Sunday, October 23, 2011

US Strategy: All Eyes Turn to Asia-Pacific

There has been a lot of buzz surrounding US engagement in the South Pacific over the last few weeks and months. The US sent its largest delegation ever to the Pacific Islands Forum’s Post-Forum Dialogue in Auckland in September; this month USAID opened a new Pacific Island Regional Office in Port Moresby, the US Coast Guard assisted New Zealand to provide emergency water supplies to Tokelau. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta weighed in on the US presence in the Pacific on a recent visit to the region with Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell to meet with ASEAN ministers. November will bring the APEC Summit in Hawaii, and the East Asia Summit in Bali.

Given all these recent events and appearances, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote an article for the November issue of Foreign Policy entitled “America’s Pacific Century”. The article details America’s adapting strategy in the Asia-Pacific. Clinton’s early claim that due to geography, “the US is both an Atlantic and a Pacific power,” illustrates how she views the role of diplomacy. US Ambassador to New Zealand David Huebner adds good insight into the article on his embassy blog.

The Obama Administration seeks a US-Asia alliance similar to the US-Atlantic alliance. Using “forward deployed diplomacy”, the Administration’s strategy follows six lines of action:

“strengthening bilateral security alliances;
deepening our working relationships with emerging powers, including with China;
engaging with regional multilateral institutions;
expanding trade and investment; forging a broad-based military presence; and
advancing democracy and human rights.”

To improve and safeguard bilateral relationships and alliances, according to Clinton, the US needs to update its alliances.

“In this effort, the Obama administration is guided by three core principles. First, we have to maintain political consensus on the core objectives of our alliances. Second, we have to ensure that our alliances are nimble and adaptive so that they can successfully address new challenges and seize new opportunities. Third, we have to guarantee that the defense capabilities and communications infrastructure of our alliances are operationally and materially capable of deterring provocation from the full spectrum of state and nonstate actors”.

The US is notably focused on updating the intricacies of its alliances with Australia, Thailand, South Korea and Japan. Additionally, as “part of a broader effort to ensure a more comprehensive approach to American strategy and engagement in the region” the US is building new partnerships with “China, India, Indonesia, Singapore, New Zealand, Malaysia, Mongolia, Vietnam, Brunei, and the Pacific Islands”.

Regarding multilateralism, Clinton believes there is still work to be done on all sides to strengthen collaborative political, economic and social efforts across the Pacific. “A more robust and coherent regional architecture in Asia would reinforce the system of rules and responsibilities, from protecting intellectual property to ensuring freedom of navigation, that form the basis of an effective international order.” The US gains from multilateral settings because “responsible behavior is rewarded with legitimacy and respect, and [states] can work together to hold accountable those who undermine peace, stability, and prosperity.” Thus US engagement with ASEAN, APEC and EAS are critical to the renewed Pacific strategy.

In maintaining economic statecraft as “a pillar of American foreign policy”, the US seeks to increase its exports to the Asia-Pacific. Because the Asia-Pacific currently “generates more than half of global output and nearly half of global trade” it is only natural that the US continues to push for progress in this area. Clinton asserts improved trade flows will assist improved diplomatic ties and vice versa:

“Increasingly, economic progress depends on strong diplomatic ties, and diplomatic progress depends on strong economic ties. And naturally, a focus on promoting American prosperity means a greater focus on trade and economic openness in the Asia-Pacific.”

“Our hope is that a TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) agreement with high standards can serve as a benchmark for future agreements -- and grow to serve as a platform for broader regional interaction and eventually a free trade area of the Asia-Pacific.”

Because American political and economic resources were allocated to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last decade the US has been unable (or perhaps just unwilling) to give the Asia-Pacific region the attention that it deserves. Therefore Clinton calls this renewed engagement with the region a ‘turn’ in policy.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

UN Peacekeeping Operations: Watch This Space

The Brookings Institution held a discussion entitled: United Nations Peacekeeping Operations: Fit for Purpose? featuring Anthony Banbury, Noam Unger and William Durch on October 18, 2011. The discussion was timely given the current budget deficit of the United States government, the continued request and need for UN peacekeepers, and the “Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act” sponsored recently in the House of Representatives. Discussants provided examples from their personal experiences in or alongside UN Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO) to help us understand the constraints the operations face and the way forward.

According to Anthony Banbury, Assistant Secretary-General for Field Support at the United Nations, the “short answer” to the discussion’s question is “increasingly so”. The UN is trying to transform PKO field operations based on its own experiences; however any reforms or improvements are also up to member states because they must get passed by the General Assembly. Financial circumstances are linked to UN policies, but not in a way that is efficient for PKO.

The approach for creating and proposing field operations must be considered more holistically, according to Banbury. At times, UN Member States make robust mandates for field operations, which can include strict security requirements for personnel and other costly measures, without grasping the cost structure in advance. Logically, UN officials should instead provide several proposal options for the international community to choose from, presented with the dollar amount required and at different cost levels. The UN understands that the international community is concerned for the cost of PKO; they have the ability to improve synergy in combining functions to make the process more efficient. The Global Field Support Strategy – to be approved by the UNGA – illustrates the way in which the business model is changing to incorporate cost considerations. Banbury believes that once it is approved and changes are made, in 1-3 years, the answer to whether or not UNPKO is fit for purpose “will be yes”.

The past 15-20 years have seen a significant increase in the number of PKOs, led by the UN as well as NATO and other coalitions which have helped shape the way the US views such operations. Brookings Institute Fellow Noam Unger emphasized that since September 11, 2001, the US has maintained a security rational to support PKOs; the US targets weak and failing states in particular for field operations, proclaiming that they provide unstable environments which can engender terrorism or radical sentiments. However, because of growing public enthusiasm for accountability in light of budgetary pressures and financial preservation, funding to the very programs aimed at political and social stability is under attack. Lobby groups on both sides of UN funding arguments continue to lobby the government, and Unger believes that the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act will not get passed into law. Unger boldly stated that if the act did get passed, then there is “something seriously wrong” with the legislators. In any case, the Obama Administration signaled it would veto the act if it did get passed by both houses of Congress.

While in-fighting continues in the US Congress and the government gears up for an election next year, the US must not lose sight of the importance of its international commitments to a more peaceful and equitable world. The Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI) and process changes discussed above illustrate a more positive and proactive collaboration among UN officials, US government and other states involved. One goal for the PKO missions is to be able to finish when the strategic need goes away (as opposed to consent being revoked); I am looking forward to the day when that occurs much more often in field missions as well as when that same principle is applied to the capacity and capability of UNPKOs.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

“The US is a Pacific Nation,” Obama Greets Korean President Lee at White House

This morning’s Arrival Ceremony for the official state visit of Republic of Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak and his wife Mrs. Kim Yoon-ok coincided with a newly ratified free trade agreement between the US and South Korea. Guests were invited as part of an initiative called ‘White House Tweet Up’. I found out about the event just in time to secure entry and to be one of the many constantly snapping photos on the Lawn.

Undeterred by the pouring rain, hundreds of us waded through several security checkpoints and puddles to stand on the White House South Lawn to watch the occasion. The waiting began early; I arrived at 6:45 AM, stepped onto the lawn around 7:20 AM, and the Presidents arrived at 9:10 AM. After a heavy downpour, an announcement was made that “due to inclement weather, the Arrival Ceremony will be moved indoors.” Some guests left, while others simply wandered the grounds for photo opportunities. I stood firm and was rewarded for my steadfastness when at 8:40 AM it was announced that due to improved weather, the ceremony would indeed be held outdoors, as planned. Within minutes, men and women from the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines bearing guns, musical instruments and flags began marching toward the White House to start the ceremony

Secretary of State Clinton, Treasury Secretary Geithner and Vice President Biden were some of the highest ranking officials in attendance. President Obama and the First Lady greeted and escorted President Lee and his wife as they exited their vehicle.

With servicemen holding umbrellas over their heads, Presidents Obama and Lee gave very brief welcoming statements to the crowd and to the world. They both praised each other’s peoples, national ideals, and the bilateral trade agreement. According to President Obama, ties between the two states are stronger than ever, and as a “Pacific nation” the US seeks to continue collaboration with South Korea.
President Lee’s arrival is timely given yesterday’s ratification by both houses of Congress of the free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea. For some industries (particular worries are in the manufacturing sector), the trade agreement will take away American jobs; however according to the Washington Post, “producers of dairy, pork and poultry products, chemicals and plastics are all likely to increase exports to Korea”. In addition to the Arrival Ceremony, there was a press conference in the Rose Garden, and President Lee will address a joint session of Congress. While the morning began with a soggy start, sunny, fall skies now overhead have perhaps foreshadowed a prosperous bilateral exchange in the forecast.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Moore - Free Trade Agreements for NZ

On Monday October 3, the Asia Society sponsored a ‘Diplomatic Dialogue’ at the New Zealand Embassy in Washington, DC with Ambassador Mike Moore. As the keynote speaker, Ambassador Moore discussed the current state of US-NZ relations as well as an update on the NZ economy and the Pacific region. Mr. Moore stressed the historical emotional and defense bonds between the US and NZ and focused on bilateral and multilateral trade Ambassador Moore was optimistic despite NZ’s recent credit rating downgrade and the fall in the Kiwi dollar. Despite growing local and international movements against free trade, the US and NZ press on toward a more connected Pacific economy.

As the former head of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Ambassador Moore did not hide his bias for multilateral trade pacts and the WTO in particular. While being passionate about future WTO discussions and deals, he expressed his disappointment in the Doha Round of talks and the ‘unfinished’ business remaining from the Uruguay round. Ambassador Moore offered bilateralism as an alternative solution, with regionalism being the next step forward.

“New Zealanders,” according to Moore, “are natural traders. We can’t eat all our meat, can’t spin all our wool, and can’t drink all our wine.” Because of stalling and lack of agreements made at the WTO and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, NZ pursued bilateral trade agreements. Most notably, New Zealand concluded trade agreements with Australia, ASEAN and China. According to Moore, trade with China has nearly doubled in two years since the conclusion of the NZ-China Free Trade Agreement. Furthermore, NZ is starting trade talks with Russia and India. “Otherwise,” Moore stated, the economy would be in decline and “New Zealand would perish”.

Touting the ease of doing business in New Zealand, Ambassador Moore reiterated the government’s strong belief in the power of free trade and the future of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The National government aims to move the TPP swiftly forward and “clinch a deal” that would provide an impetus for future multilateral talks in Geneva. The aim of the TPP according to Moore is to improve the global supply chain, whereby goods are ‘made in the world’ instead of a single country. However, there are movements and critical responses against the TPP in New Zealand, Japan and elsewhere in support of local workers and industries.

Trade can be exploitative, and global trade in particular has the potential for damaging smaller producers. Ambassador Moore left out any harmful effects of free trade on the New Zealand economy, particularly how it might impact local workers. As an agricultural-based economy with exports that are mostly primary goods, New Zealand must be cautious when entering trade negotiations with larger states including the US. While Fonterra may benefit from greater access to the US market, there is always a potential for US industries to flood the Kiwi market with cheaper subsidized goods. Free trade can be a double-edged sword and the governments involved must closely examine the potential impacts on domestic industries and create alternatives or offset the impact for those who may be squeezed out of business at least in the short-to medium-term.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Time to Shine: In Search of Solar-Powered Innovation

The latest US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon competition held in Washington, D.C. finished this past weekend with local entrants University of Maryland taking the overall win, followed by Middlebury College (2nd) and New Zealand (3rd). The event showcased student creativity, innovation and teamwork with undoubtedly positive results for all. While there are plans for each of the competing twenty houses to be shifted to different parts of the country and the world, only time will tell whether or not the new technologies used during the competition will make it to the mass market. This post will focus on two houses – New Zealand and China. Photos from the event will follow.

Called “First Light,” New Zealand’s house is modeled after the classic Kiwi bach, or what Americans call simply a beach house.  This was the first time a New Zealand team, or any from the Southern Hemisphere for that matter, made it into the competition. First Light gets its name from the fact that NZ is the first to experience the sunrise each morning. Using recycled sheep’s wool as insulation, a Maori waka-inspired lamp shade and landscaped in a way to provide a tour of native NZ horticulture, the house has a uniquely Kiwi feel. A sun roof in the center of the house provides warmth as it heats up the concrete dining table and floors. The tinted windows on all sides protect residents and their belongings from the sun’s strong UV-rays. The innovative drying cupboard/closet utilizes solar heated water pumped through a heat exchanging. Overall, the house inspires a green lifestyle and makes one yearn for the ‘crashing waves’ that the NZ team kept telling us to imagine.

Garnering plenty of excitement and interest from visitors, “Y Container” from Team China was created with the purpose to recycle damaged shipping containers. Six twenty-foot containers were cleaned, broken down and fused to make the frame as well as to provide insulation for the home. Transportability is the key feature of Y Container; the house can easily be transformed and moved so its residents can ‘live anywhere’. Inside the house, the space takes on a similar mantra, with stacking, triangular furniture enabling easy conversion from chair to table and back again. Also, with the walls on a sliding track, they can be moved around the house to enlarge or shrink the living and bedroom areas. The y-shaped modeling itself can be modified to a different shape or additional units can be added. An integrated heating system recovers heat from the solar thermal collector to use for hot water and the floor heating system. Whether or not the technologies used are groundbreaking, the concept, design and implementation of Y Container struck visitors as a new way forward for recycling the items used every day in international trade.

In addition to the US-based Solar Decathlon, the competition expanded to include Solar Decathlon Europe (sponsored by Spain, with next one in 2012) and a future Solar Decathlon China to be held in 2013. The initiation of a Solar Decathlon China demonstrates China’s continued ability to outpace the globe in its market share of solar panel production and acknowledges that it is an increasingly strong partner in creating and encouraging use of renewable energy. The US and Chinese governments signed a memorandum of understanding in January 2011 stating that they “have a common goal in fostering sustainable economic and social development while encouraging the use of renewable energy sources and recognize that solar energy development and use is an important part of their collaboration …” As well as being a strong producer of solar panels and other renewable energy technologies, China seeks to be an innovator in the field; by increasing public and private sector funding and adding to the pool of students dedicated to such technologies, China may well be on its way to meeting that goal.
New Zealand's bach-inspired First Light

Team China's Y-Container
Multi-purpose furniture inside Y-Container

Hybrid car "refueling" station demo

Sunday, October 02, 2011

China's Peaceful Development

China's Peaceful Development, officially the latest white paper from China released on September 6, 2011 by the Republic of China’s Information Office of the State Council, offers a glossy view of how Beijing wants the international community to interpret its domestic and international policies for economic and social prosperity. As the BBC observes, the document’s “main point is summed up in the three-word title.” As is usually the case with public strategy and policy documents, this white paper is written for China’s competitors rather than as a strict guideline for operation. Peace, harmonious society, economic and social prosperity, sovereignty and acceleration are the document’s often repeated slogans. With the West increasingly concerned about China’s rise, every month brings new books and articles on how the US should compete, deal with, submit to or collaborate with its ‘partner’ in the G-2. China claims not to desire regional or global hegemony but instead seeks a cooperative and collaborative world of states that respect each other’s internal business and share its goals of economic and social prosperity.

Some of the echoing themes in the paper are the following:

• China has respect for other states’ sovereignty, and how the international community should not interfere with a state’s internal matters;

• China acts as a responsible international player, participating in UN operations, providing development assistance to other states, and continuously meeting its targets for the Millennium Development Goals;

• China is a peaceful state and does not pursue war or conflict; it is the only nuclear power to declare that it would not “be the first to use nuclear weapons, or use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or nuclear-weapon-free zones”;

• While still a developing state, China continues to make a significant effort to reduce the environmental impact of its industrialization; it is the first developing country to create a National Climate Change Program and set goals for current and future emissions reductions.

According to the document, the domestic strategy for peaceful development is about ensuring the basic needs of its population and getting to a ‘middle’ stage of development. In order to reach its goals of domestic harmony and prosperity, China plans to focus on policies which will tweak its economic patterns. First, Beijing intends to accelerate a shift in the growth model; to improve domestic consumption patterns, the state will mix drivers of investment, consumption and export. Second, it aims to exploit domestic resources and domestic consumption patterns. Third, it aims to accelerate the creation of a harmonious society and improve access to social services, education and employment, etc. so everyone shares in the responsibility of being prosperous and harmonious. Fourth, in trade and production China’s focus will be on the quality rather than the quantity of trade, production and investment. Finally, China aims to utilizing bilateral and multilateral agreements, while also safeguarding sovereignty. The creation and maintenance of a peaceful domestic and international environment is essential for Beijing’s wellbeing at this stage; the government has a tight grip on social and economic control and by enlarging the middle class it hopes the economic freedoms will continue to overshadow the lack of social freedoms.

The white paper’s foreign policy steps for China’s peaceful development do not provide any surprises. Political, economic, cultural, and environmental and security concerns are all pathways for cooperation and peaceful relations. Respect, trust, and collaboration in these five areas will lead to the promotion of a ‘harmonious world’. Furthermore, like other state actors, China explicitly stipulates that its core national interests provide the basis for its foreign policy decisions, and they include the following: “state sovereignty, national security, territorial integrity and national reunification, China's political system established by the Constitution and overall social stability, and the basic safeguards for ensuring sustainable economic and social development”.

 According to the white paper, “mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and coordination” lead to a more equitable international order and stability. In the hopes of gaining an advantage, China perpetually proclaims that it “does not seek regional hegemony or sphere of influence, nor does it want to exclude any country from participating in regional cooperation”. China is realist in that it maintains its core interests and seeks to pursue them, but seems to follow a softer realist pattern by explicitly stating that it does not seek power regionally or globally. In fact, it aims to preserve the existing balance of power held by the US and contribute to stability in this way. China sees itself as aiding in regional prosperity and harmony during its peaceful development, rather than as a challenger or new hegemon.

 “China's prosperity, development and long-term stability represent an opportunity rather than a threat to its neighbors. China will uphold the Asian spirit of standing on its own feet, being bold in opening new ground, being open and inclusive and sharing weal and woe. It will remain a good neighbor, friend and partner of other Asian countries.” China claims that it is and will remain a developing country for some time, and it needs peace and stability to follow through with its national development plans. China does not foresee greater prosperity in an international system of conflict, but of peace and cooperative exchanges.

 Peace and economic globalization are worldwide trends that every country seeks, or should seek, in this age. Countries cannot solve crises (manmade or natural) unilaterally because they share common security issues. “The international community should reject the zero-sum game” because it is only through cooperation and collaboration that goals every nation seeks will be pursued effectively. “We want peace and not war; development and not stagnation; dialogue and not confrontation; understanding and not misunderstanding”.

 China hopes the international community will “support rather than obstruct China’s pursuit of peaceful development”. However, the international community would be incapable of obstructing that development in any case. The global economy is too intertwined with China’s production and distribution of goods to be able to obstruct its development. While demand for certain types of non-essential consumer products has decreased due to the global financial crisis, at this stage no country can replicate China’s powerful grip on low-cost production. The fluctuating exchange rate between the USD and CNY, increasing scarcity of labor and demands for improved working standards and wages may eventually drive particular industries out of China. Some of China’s neighbors or countries in Latin America may attempt to pick up these industries, but inevitably consumers will not be able to get the same low prices. Internationally workers continue to seek and hope for improved social and economic status as well as safe and hospitable working conditions, and rightly so. Neither labor nor the environment can sustain the perpetual damage. In addition, the Chinese domestic market provides an apt place to mitigate the effects of the drop in international demand for Chinese-produced goods.

 So, what does this white paper mean for state relations in the Asia Pacific? China’s actions in the region should be worth more than its words although both are mostly positive for improving the situation in the region. China’s desire to boost cooperation with ASEAN members, invest in the United States, and go it alone in aid to the Pacific reflect China’s strategic evaluation of its relationships and investments and attempts to utilize them for their benefit like any other major power. Since the latest Chinese white paper release, Australia declared it was time to review its links with Asia “in the so-called Asian Century” while New Zealand is also contemplating its future. China will continue to attempt to get its own house in order while spreading cultural diplomacy and economic ties throughout strategic regions across the globe; it will maintain that it is trying to be a good neighbor and international actor by participating in UN processes and operations and multilateral mechanisms and forums. Importantly China will also seek to improve its domestic environmental conditions and decrease its carbon output; while the US takes steps backwards or small, hesitant steps forward arguing about budgets, China continues to call for energy conservation and emissions reductions, and is even suggesting that the US and China cooperate in new clean energy technology. Overall, the US welcomes the trend towards a perceivably more open and clean China with higher standards of living and working conditions. Being in China’s relative neighborhood, Asia Pacific states have much to gain or lose depending upon the path China takes over the next decade; the path toward ‘peaceful development’ and its policy steps are welcoming as long as they appeal to and provide for the real wants and needs of the Chinese people.