SINGAPORE: US must find new ways to engage Asia

A meeting of experts on US-Asia relations in Singapore at the 39th Williamsburg Conference have noted that the status quo of recent decades in US engagement in Asia cannot be sustained and must adapt to the changing reality of the region. “The US faces more challenges and limits, and among Asians there is an increasing […]


A meeting of experts on US-Asia relations in Singapore at the 39th Williamsburg Conference have noted that the status quo of recent decades in US engagement in Asia cannot be sustained and must adapt to the changing reality of the region. “The US faces more challenges and limits, and among Asians there is an increasing sense that their development must be more sustainable, balanced and complete as a region,” said Simon Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA), which along with the Asia Society jointly organised the conference. The predominance of the US and the prevalence of Asian disunity cannot be sustained, the experts argue. While observing that the USChina relationship is undoubtedly the region’s most important, the conference participants said that the context should increasingly be for the region as a whole. “Good ties between China and the US will be good for all, as will good ties between China and other Asian nations,” they said, adding that the US’ ability to engage with ASEAN, in addition to the region’s greater powers, should continue to be encouraged. The trend of engagement since US President Barack Obama took office in 2009 has energised the relationship. Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh acknowledged this reality saying: “No previous administration has given to Southeast Asia and to ASEAN the high priority that this administration has.” In his first public appearance, the newly appointed US Ambassador to ASEAN, David Carden justified this, saying: “ASEAN is a big idea, and the US recognises big ideas”. Although currently struggling itself to find a more meaningful role in regional and international affairs, “ASEAN provides an example and possible foundation for future Asian regionalism,” the SIIA said in a statement. “The role of ASEAN in engaging the emerging powers of Asia deserves recognition and support in this context. A deeper ASEAN engagement with the US can reinforce the importance of established values and norms, and not just a balancing against different powers in Asia.” Experts observed that Asian regionalism is growing but should be supplemented by efforts to engage more deeply with the US and avoid Asian triumphalism. “The Obama administration would be well advised not to seek to overly rationalise the region’s indigenous and overlapping institutions for the present and into the near term,” said Tay. Committed to strengthening US-Asia relations the Williamsburg Conference was founded by John D. Rockefeller III in 1971 and brings together leaders from Asia and the US to explore the greatest challenges facing the Asia- Pacific community and develop creative approaches for addressing them.