After consolidating its military ties in the region it is developing an economic strategy to ensure complete dominance of the Asia Pacific
The 2011 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Hawaii came at a time when the world economy is still fragile. As the host, the United States devoted ample enthusiasm to the meeting and expected a range of key results to be attained, as the Asia-Pacific region is becoming increasingly prominent in Washington's foreign strategy, thanks to its extremely important geopolitical and strategic implications.
On the eve of the APEC meeting, Hillary Clinton said that the US and its European allies had successfully established the post-war transatlantic system, and now a trans-Pacific system is needed.
"Just as the US played a central role in shaping that architecture across the Atlantic, we are now doing the same across the Pacific," she said.
In 2010, the strained regional situation, caused by issues such as the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue and the South China Sea disputes, facilitated the US' strategic "return" to East Asia. Washington not only further strengthened its alliance system and security architecture, but also became deeply involved in the Mekong sub-region and the South China Sea, establishing its unshakeable dominance in East Asian and Asia-Pacific security.
The US is developing a new economic strategy for Asia Pacific, so as to dominate the regional economic order, as the Asia-Pacific region is still the engine for the world's economic development. Despite the effects of the global financial crisis, East Asian economies started to recover progressively in 2010, with a number of emerging economies maintaining their strong growth momentum.
The US has faced the risk of being isolated from the regional cooperation framework as Washington has lagged behind in terms of signing free trade agreements with Asian countries. From 2000 to 2009, the number of free trade areas (FTAs) in Asia increased from three to 54, with another 78 now in negotiation, but the US has only signed FTAs with Australia, Singapore and the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the Asia-Pacific region.
Therefore, by taking advantage of being the host and aiding the APEC multilateral mechanism, and by actively participating in the multilateral process of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), particularly in the important rule-making process, the US is trying to promote its regional integration, strengthen its penetration in the Asian economy, and consolidate its core position and expand its influence in the Asia-Pacific region.
It is hard for the US to embark on the means of "politicizing trade" within the framework of APEC, so the US has focused on the TPP.
President Obama announced the outlines of a TPP between the US, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam on the sidelines of the summit.
And despite domestic resistance, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, made an announcement before the APEC summit that Japan was interested in participating in the TPP.
If Vietnam, Malaysia and other Asian countries join the TPP, economic interdependence between the US and Asia will deepen further.
Washington has said that the nature of both APEC and the TPP is to promote trade liberalization and the TPP negotiations can help to promote the APEC process.
But the US is advocating "high access standards" for the TPP, which are in its favor.
The TPP negotiations are also considered a means for the US to suppress the 10+3 (ASEAN+China, Japan and the ROK) process that China has been advocating.
The Asia-Pacific trade and power layout is still undergoing changes. How to define the future is a common concern of both China and the US.
Washington has become increasingly anxious over the rise of China and its future development direction in recent years, while China, too, is anxious about its own peripheral security environment.
China has long maintained active participation in APEC and has its own outlook on the future of APEC and has neither the strength nor intention to vie with the US for dominance in Asia-Pacific affairs.
The author is a researcher with the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
(China Daily 11/14/2011 page8)