US 'pivot to Asia': Is John Kerry retooling it?
A focus of American resources on Asia was a major priority when Hillary Rodham Clinton was secretary of State. But it is unclear if John Kerry will follow her approach exactly, many regional analysts say.
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"I'm not convinced that increased military ramp-up [in the Asia-Pacific] is critical yet," Mr. Kerry said at the January hearing. "That's something I'd want to look at very carefully."
The "rebalancing" of America's focus and resources – away from the Middle East and toward a rising Asia – was considered part of the legacy of Kerry's predecessor, Hillary Rodham Clinton. China had been put on notice that the United States was reasserting itself as an Asia-Pacific power. But was Kerry suggesting, as some surmised, that the US would now focus more on engagement with a rising China? Was he signaling that the "pivot to Asia" is no longer a guiding priority?
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Or, as a senior State Department official suggests, was Kerry simply saying that the US, which has played a key role in Asia's security and prosperity for decades, will be cautious not to do anything that might jostle the region? "Anything that could upset [what we've helped accomplish in Asia] has to be looked at very carefully" – including a potentially unsettling military buildup, says the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Whether the Asia pivot is "real or rhetoric" will be answered in the coming months, regional analysts say – as the US addresses the simmering territorial disputes in the seas of Southeast Asia, as it signals the diplomatic attention it intends to give the region, and as it moves ahead, or not, on an ambitious regional trade pact called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
For US officials, the pivot never meant turning toward something new, since the US has been a Pacific power for more than a century. Rather, they describe it as "refocusing" on the world's most economically dynamic region. And they say the US is taking concrete steps to make the pivot a reality.
In November 2011, Mr. Obama announced plans for up to 2,500 US Marines to be stationed in Australia – a first for the US. And by 2020, 60 percent of the US naval fleet will be deployed to the Asia-Pacific, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced last June.
On the diplomatic front, Mrs. Clinton pressed ahead with building up "institutional architecture" for US-China relations, establishing regular high-level meetings.
She also ramped up US involvement elsewhere in the region, particularly with Southeast Asia – a strategic focus for both the US and China. Clinton made a point of attending forums of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) every year of her tenure – a first for a secretary of State.
In addition, Obama had the US join a new grouping – the East Asia Summit (EAS) – and he attended the summit two years in a row. Obama also hosted the first US-ASEAN Summit, held in Singapore in 2009, and then attended annual ASEAN summits, as well as Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summits.