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U.S. Needs Greater Engagement in Asia

Interviewee: Evan A. Feigenbaum, Senior Fellow for East, Central, and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations
Interviewer: Jayshree Bajoria, Staff Writer, CFR.org
November 11, 2009

President Barack Obama is going to Asia from November 13-19, making stops in Japan, South Korea, China, and Singapore. In Singapore, Obama will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in an effort to revitalize U.S. engagement in the region's multilateral institutions. A new Council Special Report warns that U.S. influence in Asia is at risk without a more active role in such organizations. One of the report's authors, CFR Senior Fellow for East, South, and Central Asia Evan A. Feigenbaum, says the president must express his commitment to free trade and follow up with actions on pending bilateral, multilateral, and global trade agreements.

"The business of Asia is business," Feigenbaum says, noting exclusion of the United States from many of the region's most relevant financial institutions and preferential trade agreements that could put U.S. companies at a disadvantage over time. He says Obama must show a commitment to traditional pillars of U.S. involvement in the region. Feigenbaum describes these pillars as primarily economic, driven by a desire to keep American markets open; maintain U.S. economic competitiveness abroad; and continue U.S. leadership globally on trade liberalization. There have been growing concerns in the rest of the world, including Asia, on rising trade protectionism in the United States. Feigenbaum says the United States' role in Asia will become less relevant economically unless it keeps its markets open and pushes back trade protectionism.

Feigenbaum says the United States will continue to play an important political and security role. U.S. alliances with South Korea, Japan, and Australia largely keep the peace in the region, he says. Even China, which periodically complains about these alliances, benefits from the regional stability they provide.

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