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Vice President Biden on Asia-Pacific Policy, June 2013

Speaker: Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Published July 18, 2013

Vice President Joe Biden spoke at George Washington University's Center for American Progress on July 18, 2013, to discuss the Obama administration's continued "elevated engagement in the Asia-Pacific," which is also often referred to as the U.S. pivot, or rebalance, to Asia.

Excerpt from his remarks:

"Our goal is to help tie Asia-Pacific nations together –- from India to the Americas -— through strong alliances, institutions and partnerships.

For the past 60 years, the security we provided has enabled the region's people to turn their talents and hard work into an economic miracle. And now, we want to hasten the emergence of an Asian-Pacific order that delivers security and prosperity for all the nations involved.

In short, we want to help lead in creating the 21st century rules of the road that will benefit not only the United States, and the region, but the world as a whole. The lifeblood of the region, to state the obvious, is economic development. But growth has slowed in India, China and many places in Asia. And each country faces distinct and different challenges.

But from our perspective, the way forward is fairly clear. To spark new growth, there has to be: fewer barriers at and behind our borders; protections for intellectual property to reward innovation; new commitments to make sure everyone plays by the same rules because that's what attracts investment and jobs; as well as greater economic integration.

That's what we're pursuing right now, today in Malaysia as our team negotiates the Trans-Pacific Partnership with countries as diverse as Vietnam, Chile, New Zealand, Mexico, very soon, Japan, and at which point the group will account for 40% of the world's GDP.

The TPP has potential to set new standards for collective commitments to fair competition -- on state-owned enterprises, fair competition on investments, labor, the environment, open markets for automobiles and other industries.

And we firmly believe this will create a strong incentive for other nations to raise their standards, as well, so that they can join. We've already had discussions with some of those very nations both in the Americas as well as in the Pacific.

But not only is this ambitious, this TPP effort of ours, we believe it is also doable. And we're working hard to get this done this year.

At the same time, we're reaching out to the emerging economies of Southeast Asia: partnering with Lower Mekong countries to improve food security, connectivity, water and health; encouraging responsible investments and reforms in Burma; and last fall, the President launched a new initiative for Enhanced Economic Engagement with the ASEAN.

We are addressing the challenges in our economic relationships with China as well. They are not at all inconsistent. We do not view our relationship and future relations with China in terms of conflict or the talk of inevitable conflict. We view it in terms of a healthy mix of competition and cooperation. A competition that we welcome. It's stamped into our DNA. We like to compete. Competition is good for both of us, as long as the game is fair.

It is clear that the Chinese understand that to reverse their declining growth, there are internal reforms they need to make -- not reforms we're suggesting they have to make. They've made their own judgment -- judgments if they follow through on them will not only help China in our view, but help the region and the world. They've concluded China needs to shift to a more consumer-driven economy. They've concluded they have to create a market-based, well-regulated financial system. And they've concluded they need to liberalize their exchange rates. It will be difficult. It's difficult internally for them to do that, but I'm convinced they believe -- and we clearly do -- that it's necessary.

And we are engaging directly with India as it makes some fundamental choices that the Ambassador could speak to more directly than I could about its own economic future.

In the last 13 years, we've increased fivefold our bilateral trade, reaching nearly $100 billion. But if you look at it from a distance, an uninformed person looked at it from a distance, there is no reason, that if our countries make the right choices, trade cannot grow fivefold or more.

Just this week, India announced that it will relax caps on foreign direct investment in certain sectors. We still have a lot of work to do on a wide range of issues, including the civil nuclear cooperation, a bilateral investment treaty, policies protecting innovation. There's a lot of work to do. But we believe doing -- going with an open mind and listening, as well as making our case, we believe it can be done.

As we all strive for greater growth, we have to recognize that the impact of climate change also has an impact on growth as well as security. This is a priority for the President and for me. America now has the lowest level of carbon emission in two decades. And we're determined to move further, and in the process where we can, where our technological capability is available, also help other countries do the same.

That's why we're working with ASEAN to promote investment in clean energy; why we're helping Pacific island nations mitigate the effects of rising sea levels. They are rising. We just concluded an agreement with China to reduce the use of pollutants called HFCs that cause climate change. And there's no reason we cannot do more with India as well. That's why Secretary Kerry agreed to an enhanced dialogue with India on climate change just last month.

Look, economic growth may be at the core of all we're saying. Economic growth critically depends on peace and stability. That's why we have to be -- there have to be 21st century rules of the road not only in the economic sphere, but also with regard to security.

With regard to maritime disputes, it's critical that all nations have a clear understanding of what constitutes acceptable international behavior. That means no intimidation, no coercion, no aggression, and a commitment from all parties to reduce the risk of mistake and miscalculation.

My dad, God love him, used to have an expression. He'd say, Joey, the only war that's worse than one that's intended is one that is unintended. The prospects where they're so close -- cheek-to-jowl -- for mistakes are real. So it's in everyone's interest that there be freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful commerce, respect for international laws and norms, and peaceful resolution of territorial disputes.

That's why I encourage China and ASEAN to work even more quickly to reach an agreement on a code of conduct in the South China Sea. Setting clear rules is the first step to managing these disputes. And the U.S. has a strong interest in seeing that happen as well.

With regard to North Korea, the one thing I think everyone now agrees on -- we agree that its nuclear and missile programs present a clear and present danger to stability in the area, in East Asia in particular. That's why we're working closely with our allies, Japan and South Korea. But we're also working more closely than the 40 years I've been engaged with China and with Russia.

In light of North Korea's recent provocative behavior, we welcome President Xi's important statement: achieving a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, as that being a Chinese priority. Not just something they wish for, but a priority. We welcome that firm assertion.

Now, North Korea is calling for dialogue. As my mother would say, I've seen this movie before. (Laughter.) We've been there before. But we are ready. We are ready, but only if North Korea is prepared to engage in genuine negotiations. We will not countenance North Korea's pattern of provoking a crisis and then insisting they be rewarded in order to cease and desist from the actions they are taking. We've been there before, only to find that once they're gotten the space or the aid they need, they return to the same provocative, dangerous behavior and continue their nuclear march.

North Korea can have peace and prosperity like the rest of the region, but only without nuclear weapons. North Korea has a clear choice: It can choose a better path for its people, or continue down the road they're on.

Make no mistake about it, though. We are open to engaging with any nation that's prepared to live up to its international obligations. That's what we did in Burma. And I think most would say we're already seeing some tangible benefits from that engagement.

So we've got a full agenda ahead of us in Asia. And we're committed to seeing it through. But as I travel around the world, and I'm heading to India -- I'm about to cross the 700,000-mile barrier since Vice President, not counting the previous 36 years -- but I hear questions wherever I go, questions in Asia about whether we're truly committed to this rebalance. I've also heard questions in my recent trips to Europe, with European leaders, about whether or not we're going to be leaving Europe behind.

It should be clear on its face, we're not leaving Europe. I recently spoke to the European nations, NATO members and EU members, in Munich. And I said that Europe remains "the cornerstone of our engagement with the rest of the world." That is a fact. We're not going anywhere.

As a matter of fact, we're absolutely convinced that our engagement in the Pacific is in the overwhelming self-interest of Europe. We're convinced the combination of new transatlantic economic agreements that we're now negotiating and the Trans-Pacific Partnership I've discussed, they reinforce one another. They are not at odds with one another. Together, they're designed to update and strengthen the global economic rules of the world in the 21st century.

Europe, just like us, will benefit greatly as well from stability in the Pacific, in Asia. And by the way, there is no reason why we cannot bring greater focus to the Asia-Pacific and keep our eye on the ball in the Middle East. Folks, that's what big powers do. To use the vernacular, we can walk and chew gum at the same time. That's what big powers do.

And there is no evidence that we are taking our eye off the ball -- as we should [sic] in the Middle East, leaving Europe or not intending on following through on our rebalance in the Asia-Pacific area.

Folks, we're better positioned than any time before to be able to do it all. I know you'll think it sounds like a campaign assertion I've been making for years, but America is back. When I was last in China, as I pointed out to the Chinese leadership, it's never, never, never been a good bet to bet against America. The resiliency of the American people and the nature of our system -- America is back."

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