Thu, Jul 12, 2012 - Page 9 News List

For Clinton, a new effort to rechannel the rivalry with China

By Jane Perlez  /  NY Times News Service, Tokyo

Another chore for Clinton will be to allay anxieties about whether Washington, given mounting budget constraints, can follow through on its promises.

“The 2013 question that we hear a lot more of is: Can the United States sustain a higher level of commitment as we go forward in the Asian-Pacific region?” US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell said at a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington last week.

Administration officials acknowledge that more ground in Asia has been ceded to China during the Obama administration, a decline that began as the administration of former US president George W. Bush became preoccupied with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In an echo of Cui’s statement in Hong Kong, Ernest Bower, a US expert on the Southeast Asian economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that the US was ASEAN’s largest trading partner in 2004, with total trade of US$192 billion.

However, now China, which was an inconsequential trading partner of ASEAN as recently as the late 1990s, is by far the region’s largest trading partner, with two-way trade of US$293 billion in 2010.

Obama, fearful that the US risked being shunted aside in Asia, embraced an initiative last fall known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership that aims to create a new free-trade group among some Asian countries, several Latin American nations and the US. Canada and Mexico were invited to join the talks at the recent G20 summit meeting in Mexico.

However, by not inviting China to participate, Washington again raised suspicions among Chinese economists and political analysts about its intentions.

“It’s much ado about nothing,” said Fred Hu (胡祖六), chairman of the financial advisory firm Primavera Capital Group, and former chairman of Goldman Sachs in China. “How can you have a credible trade organization if you exclude the biggest trading nation?”

Clinton’s Asia tour is seen in the region as being prompted in part by China’s success in turning itself into the engine of Asia’s economic powerhouse.

At the turn of the century, “China’s rise was viewed by many of its neighbors as a potential threat,” said Peter Drysdale, editor of the East Asia Forum at the Australian National University in Canberra. “But when economies from South Korea to Thailand revived and the regional production-sharing networks matured, and China embraced an activist economic diplomacy to open its markets toward Southeast Asia, everyone seemed to benefit.”

Now Washington is worried about being left on the outside, looking in.

“Asian integration without the United States is the real competition,” said Liu Xuecheng (劉學成), one of China’s leading experts on the US.

That, he said, is “the real challenge to the United States.”

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