Pivot to the Pacific? The Obama Administration’s ‘Rebalancing’ Toward Asia (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
In the fall of 2011, the Obama Administration issued a series of announcements indicating that the United States would be expanding and intensifying its already significant role in the Asia- Pacific, particularly in the southern part of the region. The fundamental goal underpinning the shift is to devote more effort to influencing the development of the Asia-Pacific’s norms and rules, particularly as China emerges as an ever-more influential regional power. Given that one purpose of the “pivot” or “rebalancing” toward the Asia-Pacific is to deepen U.S. credibility in the region at a time of fiscal constraint, Congress’s oversight and appropriations roles, as well as its approval authority over free trade agreements, will help determine to what extent the Administration’s plans are implemented and how various trade-offs are managed.
Areas of Continuity. Much of the “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific is a continuation and expansion of policies already undertaken by previous administrations, as well as earlier in President Obama’s term. Since President Obama’s inauguration in 2009, the United States has given considerable time and emphasis to Southeast Asia and to regional multilateral institutions. Under President George W. Bush, the United States emphasized the strengthening of relations with existing allies in Asia, began moving toward a more flexible and sustainable troop presence in the region, concluded a free trade agreement (FTA) with South Korea, brought the United States into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) FTA negotiations, and forged new partnerships with India and Vietnam. All of these steps have been furthered by the Obama Administration.
Transformational Elements. That said, there are a number of new aspects of the shift. The most dramatic lie in the military sphere. As part of a plan to expand the U.S. presence in the southwestern Pacific and make it more flexible, the Obama Administration has announced new deployments or rotations of troops and equipment to Australia and Singapore. U.S. officials have also pledged that planned and future reductions in defense spending will not come at the expense of the Asia-Pacific (nor of the Middle East). Additionally, underlying the “pivot” is a broader geographic vision of the Asia-Pacific region that includes the Indian Ocean and many of its coastal states.
Benefits, Costs, and Risks. Underlying the “pivot” is a conviction that the center of gravity for U.S. foreign policy, national security, and economic interests is being realigned and shifting towards Asia, and that U.S. strategy and priorities need to be adjusted accordingly. For many observers, it is imperative that the United States give more emphasis to the Asia-Pacific. Indeed, for years, many countries in the region have encouraged the United States to step up its activity to provide a balance to China’s rising influence.
There are a number of risks to the “pivot,” however. In an era of constrained U.S. defense resources, an increased U.S. military emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region might result in a reduction in U.S. military capacity in other parts of the world. Another budgetary consideration is that plans to restructure U.S. military deployments in Asia and minimize cuts in the Navy may run up against more restrictive funding constraints than plans yet assume. Additionally, the perception among many that the “rebalancing” is targeted against China could strengthen the hand of Chinese hard-liners. Such an impression could also potentially make it more difficult for the United States to gain China’s cooperation on a range of issues. Additionally, the prominence the Obama Administration has given to the initiative has raised the costs to the United States if it or successor administrations fail to follow through on public pledges made, particularly in the military realm.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a proposed regional free trade agreement (FTA) currently under negotiation between Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. The negotiating partners have expressed an interest in allowing this proposed “living agreement” to cover new trade topics and to include new members that are willing to adopt the proposed agreement’s high standards. To that end, Canada, Japan, and Mexico recently stated that they would seek consultations with the partner countries about the possibility of joining the negotiations.The TPP negotiations are of significant interest to Congress. Congressional involvement includes consultations with U.S. negotiators on and oversight of the details of the negotiations, and eventual consideration of legislation to implement the final trade agreement. In assessing the TPP negotiations, Members may be interested in understanding the potential economic impact and significance of TPP and the economic characteristics of the other TPP countries as they evaluate the potential impact of the proposed TPP on the U.S. economy and the commercial opportunities for expansion into TPP markets.This report provides a comparative economic analysis of the TPP countries and their economic relations with the United States. It suggests that the TPP negotiating partners encompass great diversity in population, economic development, and trade and investment patterns with the United States. This economic diversity and inclusion of fast-growing emerging markets presents both opportunities and challenges for the United States in achieving a comprehensive and high standard regional FTA among TPP countries.The proposed TPP and its potential expansion are important due to the economic significance of the Asia-Pacific region for both the United States and the world. The region is home to 40% of the world’s population, produces over 50% of global GDP, and includes some of the fastest growing economies in the world. While current TPP negotiating partners made up about 5% of U.S. trade in 2010, Asia-Pacific economies as a whole, made up over 60%.The United States is the largest TPP market in terms of both GDP and population. In 2010, nonU.S. TPP partners collectively had a GDP of $2.3 trillion, 16% of the U.S. level, and a population of 195 million, 63% of the U.S. level. Entry of Canada, Japan, and/or Mexico would increase the economic significance of the agreement on both these metrics. Among the TPP partners, the majority of overall U.S. trade and investment flows are with Australia and Singapore. In merchandise trade, however, the United States imports more from Malaysia than any other TPP country. Considering the TPP region collectively, over 25% of all U.S.-TPP imports and exports are in computers/electronic components. At the bilateral level, top U.S. exports are largely in the same major product categories, but top U.S. imports vary considerably by country.There are four U.S. bilateral FTAs in place with current TPP partners: Australia, Chile, Peru, and Singapore. All other TPP partners except Peru, have agreements in place with five or more of the other TPP partners. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam are members, accounts for much of this existing interconnectedness. Moreover, ASEAN agreements with larger regional economies (e.g., China, Japan, and Korea), present a second possible avenue for Asia-Pacific economic integration, albeit one that currently excludes the United States.
Country Specific Information: Singapore
Source: U.S. Department of State
July 08, 2011
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Singapore is a small, stable, highly developed country with an elected parliamentary system of government. Tourist facilities are modern and widely available. Singapore’s resident population of over five million inhabitants comprises 75% Chinese, 14% Malay, 9% Indian, and 2% others. English is widely spoken. Criminal penalties are strict and law enforcement rigorous; see sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Special Circumstances, and Criminal Penalties below for further details. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Singapore for additional information.