Circles and Squares

Insights into Korea's Sudden Rise

America’s Future Role in Asia (Chosun Ilbo, January 1, 2014)

Chosun Ilbo

January 1, 2014

 America’s Future Role in Asia

(translation of article published in the Korean language)

During his recent visit to Korea, Vice President Joseph Biden remarked, “America is a Pacific power – a resident Pacific power – and we are going nowhere.”

I could not agree more with Vice President Biden. The United States should be a “resident Pacific Power.” Since I started studying Chinese language at Yale University I felt that the future of the United States lay with Asia. I have had the opportunity to learn about that vision of a United States committed to a Pacific age from such Asia experts as Edwin Reischauer, James Laney, Donald Gregg and Ezra Vogel.

But as I imagine the future role of the United States in Asia, I am reminded of what my father told me as a young boy. My father said repeatedly, “Never do the same job for more than one year.” He did not mean you should quit your job every year! What he meant was that although one has the same title in the same organization, one must constantly innovate, transforming how one works and adapting to new issues and circumstances. That advice applies to the role of the United States in East Asia today. That role is vital and increasing in importance. But the nature of that role must shift fundamentally in response to demands of this age.

Above all, United States should take the lead in working together with Korea and Japan to come up with a comprehensive, long-term, strategy to address the overwhelming threat of climate change in East Asia. The spreading deserts in Northern China threaten to destroy the regions ecosystem. The risk caused by dust and fine-particles has reached crisis levels and will require a complete restructuring of our economies.

The United States can reassert its leadership in East Asia by asserting unequivocally that the threat of climate change is the primary threat in the region and building global coalitions for response. This move will require us to fundamentally restructure our concept of security; there is not much time left.

Moreover, the United States needs to work together with the nations of East Asia to plan in advance for a response to crippling super storms like Haiyan that devastated the Philippines. Those storms will  be eventually a direct threat to Tokyo, Pusan and Shanghai. We must start to plan our responses to these dire threats. We will need to prepare emergency response policies and strategies together for such disasters. We will also have to commit ourselves to eliminating the fundamental sources of destruction to the environment in the form of emissions and the misuse of natural resources.

The United States military has already launched the ambitious SPIDERS (“Smart Power Infrastructure Demonstration for Energy Reliability and Security”) program to create a next generation of energy efficiency effective use of renewable energy sources. The US military has the expertise and the economy of scale to transform the energy infrastructure in East Asia to make it highly efficient and non-polluting. As we restructure security concerns, the United States military can increasingly play this positive role.

So also the United States and Korea can lead the way in creating a truly transparent and international coalition to develop the required new technologies and creative strategies required to achieve a permanent solution to the environmental crisis resulting from the melt-downs of the nuclear reactors at Fukushima in Japan. That disaster has already expanded beyond the range of what Japan, let alone TEPCO, can handle by itself and demands a truly international response.

Finally, any serious approach to security in Asia cannot leave out China. Only when we recognize China as a diverse nation that includes many people deeply committed to building a better world, and only when we join with China in setting forth a century-long plan for a civilization prepared for the true threats of our age, can we assure American leadership in the region. There is broad support for such an American vision and it can inspire and transform the region. Moreover, shifting our security focus to the environment itself is essential to assuring that the recent increases in military spending in the region do not result in geopolitical instability.

The Pacific era can most certainly be shared fully by the United States, but only if the United States engages with East Asia in tackling the most serious threats of our age.

Link to original article “미국이 아시아에서 맡아야 할 새 역할”in the Chosun Ilbo (January 1, 2014)

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