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Media Conference Call: President Obama's Trip To Asia

Speakers: Evan A. Feigenbaum, Senior Fellow for East, Central and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations, and Joshua Kurlantzick, Fellow For Southeast Asia, Council on Foreign Relations
Presider: Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow For Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
November 12, 2009

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SHEILA A. SMITH: Thank you very much, Chantelle (sp).

And welcome, everybody, to the Council on Foreign Relations' Media Conference Call on President Obama's trip to Asia. I'm Sheila Smith, senior fellow for Japan studies here at the Council.

And I'm joined today by Evan Feigenbaum, senior fellow for East, Central and South Asia. Evan is a former deputy assistant secretary of State for South Asia, and deputy assistant secretary of State for Central Asia. He's also the author of the recent, November, 2009 Council special report entitled, "The United States in the New Asia."

We're also joined by Joshua Kurlantzick, CFR fellow for Southeast Asia. He's a former foreign correspondent and journalist who's covered the region extensively, and specializes in Southeast Asia. He is the author of, "The Charm Offensive: How China's Soft Power is Transforming the World."

Without further ado, I think I'll turn to our experts and ask them to help us understand what the issues are with the president's visit.

First, Evan Feigenbaum, please.

EVAN A. FEIGENBAUM: Well, terrific, thanks Sheila. I appreciate everybody being on the call, and thanks for the opportunity to talk a little bit about the president's trip.

Sheila introduced my South and Central Asia background. And of course the president's going to East Asia, so I should mention that the bulk of my background is, in fact, on East Asia. I'm a China specialist by training, and most of my early jobs at the State Department involved East Asia, including handling China, Japan and Korea for the policy-planning staff at State.

I know there have been a lot of briefings around Washington and other places on the trip, and so I thought what might be most useful is to talk not at a 50,000-foot, but maybe at a 10,000-foot level, and talk a little bit about some of the big trends in the region: what's going to face the president; what the president can do to assure America's position in the region for a long term; and what I think, really, he's walking into as he heads for his first trip to Asia.

At first glace, you know, the challenges that face President Obama are very similar, on the surface, to those that faced his predecessors: Korea is still divided between North and South Korea. China is emerging quite steadily as a more global player. North Korea is continuing to purse its nuclear weapons program. You know, and America's Asian alliances are still very important and, in many ways, provide the security backbone of the region, and certainly in Northeast Asia.

But I thought I would make four very quick points: First, despite all that, I think a lot is changing in the region and so I want to talk for a second about what's changing, and, in many ways, why I think some of what's changing is changing quite dramatically.

Second, I'll make a quick point about things that -- things that really reflect continuity in the region and where I think the president's is challenge is to reaffirm longstanding American policies.

Third, since Sheila said I just wrote a report on Asian institutions, and the president, of course, is going to the APEC summit, I'll just say something quick about institutions.

And then finally, I'll just make a quick point about China, since I'm China specialist by training, and he's going to Beijing.

First, on change: As I said, you know, on the surface, many of the longstanding issues and challenges in East Asia and the Pacific really continue to exist -- and they're going to be high on the president's agenda, and they'll be high on the agenda for discussion -- but I would argue that it's really been over the last five to 10 years, and particularly in recent years, a time of enormous change, even ferment, in the region.

Asia, in many ways, is becoming the center of gravity of the global economy, and you have Asians really trying to translate their enormous economic success into greater clout in the global system -- whether it's in international institutions, and a seat at the top table in institutions like the G-20; or it's just in pursuing their interests in a world that really has changed a lot through globalization, and has changed in some interesting ways through the current economic and financial crisis. So there's a longstanding search for identity in this part of the world.

Regionalism in Asia: The desire to stitch the region together has very deep roots. We all remember Prime Minister Mahathir and his ideas. There have been other ideas about creating a greater sense of regional identity in Asia. But 1997-98, in the last financial crisis -- and we need to remember that Asia has been hit with two financial crises in just over a decade. That first financial crisis was really, I think, in many ways, a turning point in the region, one that began to change it in ways that increasingly are going to pose challenges to American interests.

There have been efforts, particularly since 1997-98, to find new solutions to the region's problems. You know, the United States didn't play it very well back in the 1990's, so I think, in many ways, still pays a price, particularly in Southeast Asia, for its choices and decisions at that time. The U.S. was widely perceived across Southeast Asia as kind of arrogant and aloof -- you know, dictating very cliched solutions at a time when Asians were really wrestling with big economic challenges.

And so Asians have been groping, in many ways, for their own solutions since then, and you've had a raft of ideas, whether it's pan-Asian bond funds, or pan-Asian currency swaps, or Asia-only institutions, and especially, preferential trade agreements among Asian countries and within Asia itself -- for instance, in the ASEAN Plus Three, that really, I think, are changing the region in potentially very dramatic ways.

Most of the new institutions in the region don't do much, frankly. They are quite modest. But the ones that are gelling in ways that are changing the landscape in the region tend to be economic and financial. They're not in the political and security realm, they're much more in the economic-financial. And ultimately, I think they could put American firms at a competitive disadvantage over the long term.

Take something like this proposal for a China-Japan-Republic of Korea free trade agreement, if you can imagine a scenario in which those three countries engage in tariff reduction on manufacturers, while American firms still face the average "most-favored nation" tariff rate, which is about 9 percent, American firms would be at a very significant disadvantage.

And so Americans need to be aware that there's a lot of discussion of things like tariff reduction going on in the region. But on a regional basis -- and whether it's in ASEAN Plus Three or it's in this China-Japan-Korea setting, this is really, in many ways, a big change. And so this poses interesting questions from the president that, in many ways, his predecessors didn't face.

And I've argued in this report -- and I would argue if the president were to ask me, that there's simply no substitute for vigorous economic engagement by the United States and, really, trade leadership in the region. But if you look at what -- as others around town have said the president is bringing to the region:

We have a Korea-U.S. free trade agreement that hasn't yet moved to Congress.

We had this idea for a trans-Pacific partnership of free trade liberalization among those within APEC that were ready to move forward, whether it was Singapore or New Zealand. The United States, at the end of the Bush administration, had made some noises about moving forward with that. That's now on hold.

And then, of course, there really hasn't been any movement, at a global level, on the Doha Round.

And so Asians, in many ways, aren't going to wait for the United States. As the Korea-U.S. agreement is stalled here, let's face it, South Korea has just ratified an agreement with India; and they're moving now with the European Union, with an agreement that, in many ways, is modeled, ironically, on the American agreement.

So the punch-line about change is really that the region is changing, especially in an economic and financial sense; and there's no substitute for vigorous American economic engagement. And I think people are going to be looking to what the president says, but also what he does on that score.

Now, the second point is really that, despite the change, some things remain the same in the region. And I think the fundamentals of American presence, power, credibility and influence in Asia are still the ones that they've all -- always been, both on trade and security. But, as I said, the United States is going to need, in my view, a much more active posture on the economic side in particular.

If you think historically, the United States became a Pacific power in the 19th century, really, as a trading power. We remember the clipper ships; we remember the great history that linked, you know, seaports in Massachusetts to seaports in China and Japan. So trade and economics has really been one of the fundamentals of the American presence in the region.

And the fundamentals of that, as I see it, have really been three: One is a commitment at home, in the United States, to maintain an open market, and a market open to Asian exports; second, has been a faith in American competitiveness abroad; and third, has been really leadership, at regional and global level, on trade. So, openness at home; competitiveness abroad; leadership, regionally and globally, on trade.

And especially in a political sense, all three of those pillars are really under challenge here in the United States. There are, in some quarters, rising protectionist voices. There are also voices who argue that America is becoming less competitive internationally, that our competitiveness, over the long term, is under threat. And we just talked a little bit about the challenges on Doha, on the Korea agreement, and on things like the trans-Pacific partnership.

So one challenge for the president is: Talk to Asians about -- is to talk to Asians about the fundamentals of America's posture in Asia in ways that reflect the past. Bring it up to date into the present, but also are forward-looking, but maintain, in many ways, some of the economic pillars that have sustained our presence.

Likewise on security: The United States has an enduring role in the region as a kind of strategic balancer. And I think, particularly the American allies in Tokyo and Seoul will be looking for him to recommit, in very tangible ways, to those alliances. Sheila can talk a little bit more about this. And I think Sheila would join me in expecting him to do that in a very robust and full-throated way.

But we need to remember too that those alliances were forged during the Cold War. And so, to me, the question is whether those alliances can be, not just against something, but, over time, really come to stand for something: How do we articulate an affirmative vision of what the U.S.-Japan alliance and the U.S.-Korea alliance are about?

And so one challenge is to define more global partnerships with both Tokyo and Seoul. And as I think Sheila can speak to, that'll be a challenge at a time of transition and some political tension in Tokyo. But a recommitment by the president to the fundamentals of American involvement in Asia is going to be key.

A third point, about institutions: We have this new report out from the Council called, "The United States in the New Asia," and the focus is on Asian regionalism, and we talked about that a little bit. But since he's going to APEC, let me just make a special point about institutions, since multilateralism is a big focus of the report.

APEC, where he's going, is, in many ways, the leading trans-Pacific institution. But there are some structural limitations to APEC's effectiveness that have emerged over the years and I think these are very clear for everyone to see. To put it very bluntly -- and I'll put this pretty bluntly, there are too many players in APEC, and sometimes the wrong ones:

The organization really mismatches countries of very widely-varying sizes -- in dominance and capabilities. So, you know, you have India, which is on track to be a top-five global economy, is increasingly integrated into East Asia and yet is not a member of APEC; but on the other hand you have Papua New Guinea, which is a small economy by anyone's standards, that is a member of APEC. You have Latin American economies that are -- whose links to Asia, in some cases, are very -- are very tenuous, that are members of APEC.

So this vision of a Pacific community that emerged around the APEC idea in the early '90s, in many ways, has been transient. And so I think if the president is going to make anything out of APEC, we really are going to need -- and he's going to need to try to return it to its economic roots. But more -- as I said when I talked about change, Asians are forming pan-Asian groups like ASEAN Plus Three, and it's going to matter greatly, over time, whether Asian countries envision for themselves a pan-Asian future or the trans-Pacific future.

So I talked a little bit about some of the economic and financial trends, in particular, are driving the region toward a more pan-Asian identity. But, remember, the U.S. is a Pacific power, but not an Asian country, and so that debate within Asia is going to matter. And I think, at the end of the day, there ought to be a sense of experimentation, a vision in all of these institutions. If APEC has outlived its usefulness, let's think about how to consolidate regional architecture.

Our report offers a few ideas: things like ad hoc institutions, rather than just big formal ones; putting economics, but not security issues at the core of regional multilateralism; merging and consolidating some structures. We have a few ideas, but they're not the only --

SMITH: (Inaudible.)

FEIGENBAUM: -- ideas, but the point is that there ought to be a sense of experimentation.

SMITH: (Inaudible) --

FEIGENBAUM: A final point I'll make is just -- if I could just say one thing, Sheila, on China --

SMITH: Quickly on China, if you could, yeah.

FEIGENBAUM: Okay, and then I'll stop.

I think, you know, if you go back 30 years, China was a country that really stood outside the international system in many ways -- it was outside every structure; it was opposed to every aspect of globalization. And now, structurally, it's very well integrated -- it's a permanent member of the Security Council; it's in the WTO; it's in every protocol on everything from ozone to chemical weapons. And so the president is going to be looking to define a more global relationship with a more globally-oriented China.

But the good news is that we have common interests, but we don't always have complementary policies. And so his challenge is to turn common interests into complementary policies, and that's going to be hard.

And so I'll conclude just by saying that the good news, it seems to me, is that the U.S. and China are really talking about the fundamentals of world order, but the bad news is that we don't always agree on how to get from point-A to point-B, much less point-C or point-D.

The big issues on the strategic side are North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. On the economic side, it's the stimulus packages of both countries -- restoring the world to global growth, the growth models in each country, and international economic governance. I think the administration's got that agenda. I think it's the right agenda. And I think it'll be interesting to see how the president's discussions go in Beijing. I'll stop there.

SMITH: Terrific. Thanks so much, Evan.

Joshua.

JOSHUA KURLANTZICK: Okay, thanks.

Well, just briefly, (I'll) just talk about, specifically about Southeast Asia -- what I think Obama wants to try to emphasize; and how, I think, in some ways, he's going to perhaps fail. And that's, sort of, my general theme.

Obviously, they want to emphasize that the United States is back and reengaged in Southeast Asia: Hillary Clinton said that they're going to emphasize the signing of the TAC; and the new U.S. ambassador to ASEAN; and just the fact that the U.S. is having a summit with the ASEANs.

Part of that, I think, has been -- and the Obama administration would like to, basically, get Myanmar, or Burma, off the table in their interactions with the ASEANs so that they can have a more robust relationship with the ASEANs. And I think perhaps, long term, that's possible. But actually the attempt to get (the) Myanmar issue off the table at this first summit is actually going to put it on the table more.

And so Obama would like to not take any questions about Myanmar, or take as few as possible, and talk about how the U.S. is back, the value that the U.S. brings to Southeast Asia -- the things the U.S. does that in some ways China can't yet provide and many other issues.

I think he's probably going to wind up answering a lot of questions about Myanmar, specifically because it's going to be the first time he's in the room with the ASEANs and Myanmar is also there -- or Burma's also there.

Secondly, I think that they've tried really hard to emphasize that the United States is going to view Southeast Asia through a prism beyond just Singapore. That Singapore, although a close partner with the United States -- and in some ways, the most complementary country in the region in the United States -- has perhaps too long been a prism the United States views the region through. And I think they are clear to have a bilateral with Indonesia and Obama's made clear that although he's not going to Indonesia on this trip -- he wants to go next year; he wants to bring his daughter, et cetera, et cetera. He wants to show her where he grew up.

Again, I think that in some ways that's wise policy, but at the same time, he runs the risk of the downside of that, which is -- it's wise, I think, to try to get away from Singapore as the prism. At the same time, the United States doesn't really have the relationship or deliverables to a number of the other countries in the region, such as Indonesia, to build that relationship.

The third -- and Evan mentioned this a little bit -- but this is really critical with the ASEANs in particular is Obama would like to, I think, bring the idea that the United States -- as it has for a long, long time, as those of you in the region know -- would really like ASEAN to be one much closer and more integrated block.

The ASEANs have been slow, I think, on moving toward real trade and investment integration and the global financial crisis has only allowed more backsliding. And that's a message that's been delivered for years and years and years -- both by administrations and by American businesses, other Western businesses, Japanese businesses that would like greater trade and investment integration in ASEAN.

The problem is that Obama's coming to the region -- and I think it's going to make this point, because it's a good point. It's particularly critical at a point when there is a rise in protectionism in some of the ASEAN countries, but he himself doesn't really have much to offer. And many of the same problems with the United States that sort of lecture the ASEANs on trade and investment and on protectionism for years and years and years. And I think there is quite a high degree of frustration that has been going back several administrations.

Now, I think, for the first time in some time the ASEANs can turn around and say, essentially, your own house looks the same to us so what are you lecturing us about? And I think that's a major challenge, because if ASEAN is going to exist long term, as opposed to (other institutions ?), that's the critical component. Some real trade and investment integration that has been so slow. The United States has really, I think, sort of lost the ability to play any sort of driving role in that, because of our own trade flaw.

And so I'll stop there, but I think those are the three major issues that I think Obama would like to address with the ASEANs. And all of them have potential stumbling blocks as well.

SMITH: Terrific. Thank you so much.

It's clear, you know, that the expectations in the region -- expectations in Asia are really high for this trip. And I think Josh used the phrase that was very resonant in terms of my understanding of expectations in Tokyo, but the administration has been trying to take off of the table some of the more difficult tasks -- the tasks that require the working every day tackling of things like North Korea, Burma, trade -- right? And in Japan, clearly, the base issue.

But I think there is going to be an awful lot that people of Asia and the governments of Asia are going to want to talk to the president about that may not be on the agenda of Washington at the moment.

Let me talk a little bit about Japan. You know, I will just step back to the big picture, which is the potential for this partnership -- the bilateral partnership -- is great. You know, we are the two largest economies; we're arguably the two most technologically successful economies. We're dedicated democracies. You know, this is a democracy that has also got a deep and very, very solid foundation in the military alliance.

And yet, we're stumbling right now, I think. And I think part of it is transitions -- political transitions first here in Washington, but more obviously the more recent political transition in Japan -- are shaking up, I think, the policy management process, I think. And there's a little bit of unpredictability in terms of the day-to-day coordination on policy issues.

But we should be -- and the president should be talking in Tokyo about economic coordination, the G-20 process. Japan's role has been significant -- quiet, but significant. We should be talking about what's high on the priority list of both new governments, which is climate change and what's going to happen in Copenhagen next month, but also what's going to happen down the line in terms of new technology development.

We should definitely be talking about nonproliferation both globally and in the region with the challenge of North Korea. And I think Japan has continued, even though there is some criticism of some of the specifics, Japan has been a very engaged supporter of a global effort at non-post conflict reconstruction efforts, and especially in Afghanistan and now increasingly in Pakistan.

So this should be a very positive meeting, but I'm saying this with a suggestion that I don't know that we're going to have, you know, all of these large issues be the focal point. I think many in Japan are very focused on Futenma relocation. It's an important issue in the alliance. It's a deeply complex political issue and the U.S. and Japanese governments have just created a working group at the Cabinet level to discuss the stalled conversation on -- (inaudible) -- so this is pretty critical.

I think we're also going to be watching the new Hatoyama government. You know, this is their first big major alliance -- (inaudible) -- challenge here and they're a little bit confused in terms of what they're communicating both in external statements and also with us.

I think there's also rising sentiments again in Okinawa that are going to have to be brought into play here. And a better understanding of those is partly what I hope we're going to have to -- what we're hoping to get out on the floor here at the council when we're starting our new Asia blog.

But the president yesterday was on NHK. He did an interview with NHK that I thought was very successful. He addressed some of these fundamental questions on the part of many people in Tokyo -- questions about his expectations of Japan, about the base relocation, the refueling mission, and of course, the large issue of whether or not he may want to go to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

So I think the president's very concerned to what -- the concerns in Tokyo. And I'm hoping that this first summit meeting in Tokyo will bring both sets -- both the U.S. priorities, as well as the Japanese priorities to the table and we can have a fairly constructive working conversation over the next year, before he comes back to Tokyo next November.

So with that brief introduction on Japan, I'm going to open the floor to our questions and I think we're ready for our first caller to please remember and state which newspaper, which media you're coming from.

Thank you very much. Can I get the first question, please?

OPERATOR: Thank you.

Ladies and gentlemen, at this time we would now like to open the floor for questions. If you would like to ask a question, please press the star key followed by the one key on your touch-tone phone now. Questions will be taken in the order in which they are received. If at any time you would like to remove yourself from a questioning queue, please press star two.

Again, to ask a question is star one on your touch-tone phone now.

Our first question will come from Alexander Duncan Flats (sp).

QUESTIONER: Hi, everybody. Thanks for doing this call.

I wanted to ask: Given the size of the region, what are some of the critical energy and climate-change issues that you anticipate being brought up? And as part of that, how do you think Obama goes about assuaging his counterparts that there won't be some sort of carbon tariff initiated from the U.S. government?

SMITH: Evan -- or Josh?

KURLANTZICK: I just wanted to say -- I'm not an expert on carbon tariffs from the U.S., but in Southeast Asia --

QUESTIONER: Is this Josh?

SMITH: This is Josh.

KURLANTZICK: Yeah, this is Josh. Sorry.

QUESTIONER: That's okay. Thank you.

KURLANTZICK: The climate-change issues are, I think, higher -- I mean, energy isn't not on the agenda, but the climate change issues are much higher on the agenda, because you have a lot of directly effected populations in a number of these countries. And whether or not these linked, but people link them in their mind. There have been several major natural disasters in the region in the last five years. And then going back 10, 15 years you obviously have a longstanding history of major forest fires and haze.

So the ASEANs are very leadership -- as well as the NGOs, which are starting to play a slightly larger role in the ASEAN -- are really attuned on climate-change issues. And I know, for example, in the regular U.S.-Vietnam bilateral with the State Department, climate change is a major issue; in the Singapore bilaterals climate change is a major issue; with Indonesia it's a major issue.

And whether that's going to be brought up as a major issue with the ASEAN 10 it's hard to say, because much of the summit is sort of like a photo opportunity just to show that Obama is engaged with them. But I know that the major countries in the region -- that's a very high-priority issue. And if you want, I could maybe talk about some of the details of what I think the United States would like to bring to the table.

The energy security is, I think, a lower-ranking issue, simply because a number of these countries have overlapping energy claims with each other. Thailand and Cambodia -- that's in the news; Vietnam, obviously, with the Philippines and China; Burma with a couple of other countries. And so the U.S. isn't in a role to adjudicate any of those and tends to not. And the larger scale energy-security issues that would exist with a country like China or India the ASEANs don't weigh into as much.

FEIGENBAUM: I'll just add an observation on climate, and then an observation on energy more broadly.

On climate, of course, I think this is going to be a big theme of the trip, because the immediate challenge is the Copenhagen Conference which is coming up right around the corner. And it's very clear that they have made getting a U.S.-China understanding on the demand-side issues -- things like emissions reductions -- a big part of their administration's agenda with China in recent months. We saw it both at the (SNED ?) when they did this MOU. They did this memorandum of understanding on the margins of that dialogue, but also on all of the trips that Todd Stern and others have made to Beijing.

I think it's going to be very interesting to watch, because I would frankly be surprised if they have an understanding that produces a breakthrough at Copenhagen. But that doesn't mean that they won't be able to do some positive things on climate.

So one observation I have on climate is that the demand side is controversial, but the supply side -- technology-based initiatives -- is utterly uncontroversial. And whether it's China or it's India or it's the United States, the idea of looking at green technologies, whether it's carbon sequestration or carbon capture or you think of all of the major multinational technology initiatives of the last few years -- international thermonuclear reactor; international partnership with the hydrogen economy. Even during the Bush administration where people argued that there wasn't a lot of enthusiasm for climate change issues, on the supply side those technology-based issues were not especially controversial. So on the supply side, I expect they'll announce all kind of things on that, but I think the demand side's going to be much more difficult in terms of reductions. And I don't expect a big breakthrough on Copenhagen.

On energy more broadly, you know, what's always struck me about reporting on energy -- whether it's China or the United States -- is that so much of the writing about energy issues seems to argue that there's this competitive dynamic. But if you think at a global level, the interest of the big energy consumers -- China, the United States, Japan, India -- they're almost identical. It's essentially low price, expanded supply, secure supply and diversification into alternative and renewables.

So at a very macro level, all of the major consumers have common interests. And in fact, the major consumers have more in common with each other than big consumers and big suppliers do -- even if you just at something like price. But the problem, as I said at the outset, is turning those common interests into complementary policies can be a real challenge. And so we sometimes have a kind of competitive dynamic or competitive rhetoric, in part because I think, you know, countries need to unlearn some of the lessons of the past.

I mean, there are things about Chinese energy policy -- buying group equity oil investments in Africa and other places -- that remind of Japanese energy policies in the '70s; that remind me, frankly, of French energy policy and what French oil companies were doing up until fairly recently.

So you know, more broadly, they ought to be able to recognize their common interests at a very global level and then try and turn those things into agendas that are complementary. One way to do that, maybe, is to try to get China more integrated into the International Energy Agency, which is not, you know, a cartel like (into APEC ?) to OPEC -- you know, what OPEC is to producers it's not what that is -- it's not a cartel for consumers. But the idea in the 1970s was to be able to get consumers to coordinate in the event of a price shock. China's not a member. So you know, what kind of international energy agency doesn't include one of the fastest growing energy consumers in the world?

So during the Bush administration there was an effort to try to get China and India more integrated into the IEA, for instance. But that's going to require, in the first place, overcoming some European anxiety about what that would mean for the governance of these institutions.

And I think, you know, all of these issues should be important in the U.S.-China relationship.

QUESTIONER: You mentioned the rhetoric. The carbon tariff is actually in the House Energy and Climate Bill.

FEIGENBAUM: I wasn't talking about climate; I was talking about energy more broadly. I just mean --

(Cross talk.)

SMITH: Can you restate the question? Did you want to ask the question about the U.S.?

QUESTIONER: Yeah. The carbon tariff that's within the House energy and climate bill. Evan was talking about, you know, some of the rhetoric; however, some of that rhetoric has -- it's manifesting itself into legislation and I was wondering how Obama would see to, you know, ease some of the concerns that the Chinese might have over that.

FEIGENBAUM: You know, I'm not an expert on the legislation, so I'm not the right person to address that.

SMITH: Okay. Let's move to the next question then. Thank you.

QUESTIONER: Okay. Thank you.

OPERATOR: Thank you.

Again, to ask a question is star one on your touch-tone phone now.

Our next question will come from Zeba Khan, Washington Post.

QUESTIONER: Hi. This question's for Evan. I'm wondering if you can talk a bit about the strategic reassurance policy with China and your thoughts on its likelihood for success and potential pitfalls for implementation.

FEIGENBAUM: Oh goodness. I mean, I think, you know, Jim Steinberg articulated that phrase in his speech. You know, there seems to be all this debate on OpEd pages about it. I mean, I think what's important is not what we call the U.S.-China relationship, but what the U.S. and China do together. So whether it's Zoellick talking about responsible stakeholders, or Steinberg coming up with another phrase; I think the phrase of the day is positive, cooperative and comprehensive.

I worked in the Bush administration and it used to be candid, constructive and cooperative. I think the place to focus is not so much on the concepts as on the actions. And as I said, I think the challenge is going to be -- even when there has been not just a sense of, but the reality of common interests. There have too infrequently been complimentary policies. And so, I mean, I think what's really important is to think a little bit about how to define an actionable agenda between the two countries that, you know, actually reflect some cooperation on some of the core global issues around the world. So, you know, I wouldn't want to parse Steinberg's speech too much.

SMITH: Thank you. All right, next question.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will come from Satoshi Ogawa with Yuri Shimbun.

QUESTIONER: Hi, I'm Satoshi Ogawa with Yuri Shimbum. My question is about the Futenma relocation in the -- (inaudible). Prime Minister Hatoyama announced that he has no intention to set any deadline to solve this issue. But I heard that the U.S. officers are concerning about that because they suspect the current relocation plan would corrupt, if the opposition candidate will win in Nago mayoral election held in this coming January. So how do you estimate the prime minister's intention on the current situation?

SMITH: Thank you Ogawa-san. I'm assuming that question is for me. (Laughter)

For those of you who don't follow the details. The question of stemma relocation, of course Futenma is in Okinawa. And it is to be relocated up to the northern part of the island to Camp Schwab, which is in Nago city. And Nago will have a mayoral election in January.

So the prime minister's statement that he will not set a deadline on the decision making raises some questions, I think, about whether or not we're going to find ourselves next year in an electoral process, not just in Nago, but then in the summer the upper house. And then, in the fall of next year, the gubernatorial election in Okinawa Prefecture is set to happen.

The next year 2010 is an electoral cycle that many people think will be disadvantages to implementing the current realignment plan. So Hatoyama-san's statement about deadlines is -- in some ways you can read it as, you know, he's basically saying Japan will make its decision on its own timeline; not by pressure or any setting of deadlines by the United States.

The key issue here of course is budget. And the Japanese government is currently considering the budget for the Japanese fiscal year, which begins on April 1 next year. They have to decide that budget by the end of December. And so, that's the real deadline, if you want to use the word deadline -- is whether the money is appropriated to implement stemma relocation next year, to begin that process next year or not.

Contingent on that I believe is the U.S. decision making process as well, and again, the focus is on budgets. The House and the Senate will be approving a budget that will or will not incorporate money for a relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps, who will be leaving Okinawa as part of the current realignment package to go to Guam. The Senate has already indicated some willingness to cut some of that funding, but we're still in the U.S. process, in the middle of the budget conversation between the Senate and the House.

So we're not -- I don't think the U.S. decision is going to happen until early next year. But I think the Japanese budgetary decision is really the key moment where the prime minister will really have to have either a decision or a non-decision. Either way, it is a decision in terms of budget. So that's the concern I think here in Washington.

SMITH: Next question please.

OPERATOR: Thank you.

Again ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to ask a question, please press star 1, on your touchtone phone now. Again, that is star 1 on your touchtone phone now.

Our next question will come from Christina Bergman (ph), D. W. German International.

QUESTIONER: Yes, hello, and thanks for doing this again. I have a sort of general question for everybody. What significant policy changes do you see under the Obama administration in contrast to the Bush administration towards Asia?

SMITH: Josh, do you want to take this one first?

KURLANTZICK: Yes, sure, I mean, the most obvious one is that Obama has had somewhat significant reassessment of Burma policy or Myanmar policy. But I think that what's kind of important to think about in the way that he has approached Burma, is that it's sort of a piece with the way he has decided to approach a number of countries where the United States is having either no formal relationship or a very poor formal relationship, including Sudan, Iran, North Korea, in which they've essentially decided -- and you could list some others too.

You know, they've essentially decided that the United States is going to sometimes take the first step, even when there is not really any signals from that government of a reason to take the first step and see where the guideline goes to some extent. Some people would say that with Burma there is some sign that the Burmese government is looking for a better relationship with the United States. I'm not sure it's actually true. But the Obama administration's decision to engage to some extent is I think of -- a piece of the other changes, and it is significant just in that it signals a different approach to some of these countries. And Burma like North Korea is a country where that approach will be tested out.

Beyond that, I don't think that Obama's approach at least to Southeast Asia is that much different than Bush or even Clinton. I think that they have tried to get the idea that face time and diplomacy of face time is valuable in Southeast Asia and the rest of Asia. And just showing up you get some points for that, which there was a lot of complaints about in the previous administration. But I don't think the actual meat of the policy toward Southeast Asia is that different. But the Myanmar policy is quite different.

SMITH: Thank you.

FEIGENBAUM: Can I add something to that?

SMITH: Evan, please yes.

FEIGENBAUM: Yes, I mean I have to say I'm one of those who believes there's quite a lot of continuity between the Bush administration and the Obama administration's policies toward Asia. I think that's a good thing. And I think in many cases, it reflects the basically bipartisan consensus toward Asia that's been at the core of American policy in the region through several administrations over several decades.

You look at China policy there has been a thread that has basically united the China policies of eight presidents now, since President Nixon's visit in 1972. You look at Japan policy, I think the recommitment to the alliance that you're going to hear from the president in Tokyo will be very much of a piece. Sheila can talk about the specifics, but I mean, all this talk about Futema relocation reminds me so much of discussions of Futema relocation that go back to the Clinton administration. It also reminds me of things from the DPRI initiative that came out during the Bush administration. So there is a great deal of continuity.

And I think, you know, as Josh said, Burma policy in many ways is a big change. But I think there has been a tendency to exaggerate the - (inaudible) - with Southeast Asia policy for instance is changing. All of this talk about being back in the region I think really belies the fact that even with ASEAN; much less bilaterally the Bush administration was really looking for ways to enhance America's involvement there. I think of things like the U.S.-ASEAN Cooperation Plan from 2002, the ASEAN-U.S. Technical Assistance and Training Facility that the U.S. set up inside the ASEAN secretariat in 2004.

There was an ASEAN-U.S. Enhanced Partnership Agreement in 2005, A Plan of Action in 2006, a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement in 2006. I mean, a big change was signing the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, which was something that America's Asian partners urged for years and frankly, having served in the Bush administration, I wish that administration had done. But broadly speaking, I think what's really changed, as I said at the outset of the call, are the dynamics in Asia that are going to confront the president.

He has a different set of economic circumstances. He has an Indonesia, for instance -- and Josh can speak more to this -- that's emerging within the G-20 and more generally as a regional player. He has opportunities with this -- with the government in South Korea that I think were not available to the Bush administration because the political configuration of the -- (inaudible) -- government was so different from -- (inaudible) -- government.

So what's really changed is in Asia. And I think the question is going to be how he adapts the fundamentals of American posture, policy and presence to that set of changes while also recommitting to some of the fundamentals that would be consistent with his predecessors.

SMITH: I think I will agree with both speakers that continuity is probably the larger theme here. I do think that the issues that the U.S. confronts in Asia are pretty consistent. And you've heard them by all of us I think here. The venues -- you know, the preference for a little bit more multi-lateral engagement, the opportunity to conclude the tact (ph) for example. These are slightly different, but they are not inconsistent I think with previous U.S. policy either under the Bush administration or the previous Clinton administration.

I think, too, that some of the events -- you know, the North Korean second nuclear test, for example -- have brought us right back to where we were in, you know, in 2006, about how do you deal with North Korea, what is the proper venue and how do we merge the United Nation's role with the six party talks and with the bilateral U.S. conversation with Pyongyang.

So I think, in many ways the agenda looks remarkably similar. I think our speakers have noted that. But I do think, and I'll agree here, I think it was Evan that said this. I think the region is changing and the United States is going to have to find ways, perhaps to deal with some of these issues in a slightly different manner as we go forward. We have to be, in one way, especially in the economic realm, much more proactive than I think we've been.

And on the security realm, I think there's adjustments coming, and I think the U.S.-Japan conversation alerts us to the fact that some of the public sentiments in Asia are shifting. They're not necessarily anti-United States. I don't think that at all, because the security alliance is very strongly supported in Japan and South Korea both, perhaps more today than a decade or more ago. But the way in which we operate in these two alliances, for example, on the ground, is going to have to adapt to citizen complaints and citizen interests. So let's go to the next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Thank you. Again, as a quick reminder, star one on your touchtone phone to ask a question. Well, speakers, at this time, we have no further questions in the queue.

SMITH: Well, I wanted just to ask Evan and Josh both, you know, what would you think would be a successful Obama visit? How would you, if you were going to rate him in advance, what would you like to see him come home with, or come home having done? Evan would you like to go first?

FEIGENBAUM: Well, I guess I would say three things. I mean, it's his first trip to Asia and so I think the first thing he can do is, especially in the speeches that he makes, the things that he says about America in the region, he can really convey to Asian audiences, especially leadership audiences, but frankly Asian publics, that the United States is committed to the region, is in the region to stay, understands the dynamics of the region and is committed to come of the fundamentals. So, I would watch very closely what he says and I think, you know, he's probably going to give a terrific speech in Tokyo that really commits his administration to a robust policy in Asia. That would be a good thing.

The second thing he can do is, but I'm not sure he's going to do this, is talk about trade in a forward looking way. And I wouldn't expect there's going to be a big breakthrough in the Korea-U.S. agreement, but I have no doubt that President Li is going to ask him what his plans are for it. And I think that's something that the president's going to be on the spot in a few places, to talk about what the American vision of the economic future of the region, and America's economic future in the region will be.

He'll need to address questions like rising protectionist sentiment in the United States. How the United States envisions the future of the global trading regime in Doha. He may or may not what to take that on, but I think he would significantly strengthen his hand if he took it on in an affirmative way that suggests he has plans to move forward on all of those kinds of things. And then, the last think he can do, frankly, is begin, especially in China, defining a much more global agenda with Asian powers that really have interests and influence that has exploded the boundary or East Asia.

I mean, as I said at the outset, and I think as Sheila and Josh have said, Asian countries increasingly have interest in what happens around the world, and countries like China, like Japan, even Korea, which is a smaller country, but, you know, a top 15 economy, have capacities to think and bring to bear now in a whole variety of global problems, not just regional problems. So defining an affirmative set of issues for a more global partnership is something that he can do, both in word and in deed.

When I say deed, I mean things like the aid program that the Japanese government has just announced for Afghanistan. How is China thinking about what it might do? One test, for instance, with China will be Afghanistan and Pakistan. China has a very unique relationship with Pakistan. What can the United States and China do, not just in a common way, because that's very unlikely, but in a complimentary way.

So, I think, watch what he says, watch what happens on trade, and finally, let's see if he can define a more global basis for these relationship with emerging Asian powers. That's what I would watch, but I don't think there'll be a lot of very specific deliverables out of this trip.

SMITH: Thank you. Josh?

KURLANTZICK: I would think he would be successful if, in a couple of ways, if he can make some of the points to the Southeast Asians that there's still a lot of value in the U.S. role in the region, on nontraditional security issues that are critical in the region, like pandemic disease, to some extent, climate change, terrorism, and on traditional military alliances as sometimes get forgotten, like with the Philippines and Thailand.

And the point that some of this value is still only provided in the region by the United States in terms of, for example, if there is a terrorism suspect crossing from Thailand into Malaysia, they still call them U.S. first actually, rather than calling each other, which is not necessarily a good situation to be in, but unfortunately, the United States is still playing that role. Or when there has been pandemic disease outbreaks going back eight years, really, or natural disasters, really the only country able to play that role is the U.S.

So I think, if he can emphasize that, not in a boastful way, but just emphasize the value the U.S. still brings, which neither China nor India bring at this point, that's a value that he can bring home. I think he'll be happy if he uses his bilateral with Indonesia to set the stage for a very successful visit next year, in which he could possibly mark that visit as sort of one of those landmark visits that changes the whole relationship with a country, which he has the opportunity to do with Indonesia, which no president has had to do in a long time, both because of his own personal history, because of the changes that happened in Indonesia, and because of the United States' need for a new partner in the region.

He could set the stage for that. And then Evan mentioned this a little bit, but I think that if he comes home or just longer term with some better ability to think about how the United States, China and India are going to interact with each other in Southeast Asia, how they're going to play off each other and what their various strengths are on some of these important issues like nontraditional security issues in particular, that's something to come home with, at least thinking about that, I think he would be happy with.

SMITH: Correct.

KURLANTZICK: Doing those three things I think it would be great. I don't know that they're going to happen, though.

SMITH: But they would be great.

KURLANTZICK: They would be great. Yes.

SMITH: We're all wishing for a successful trip. Are there any more questions?

OPERATOR: At this time, we have no further questions.

SMITH: All right. Then I think actually, I thank you all for a very good discussion. I'd like to alert our listeners also to CFR.org, the top of the home page, we have a commentary on the president's trip from both our experts here, as well as others at the council. The CFR special report authored by Evan Feigenbaum and Robert Manning is also at the top of our CFR.org page, and as I mentioned in my remarks, our Asia team here at the council will be beginning a blog on Asia shortly, and so keep your eyes alert to the CFR.org for that as well.

But on behalf of everybody, thank you all for coming and listening, and I enjoyed the conversation very much. Thank you.

KURLANTZICK: Thank you.

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