After Mitt Romney barely addressed Asia during his Friday speech, Jon Huntsman’s emphasis on Asia’s centrality to the 21st century was a breath of fresh air. However, Huntsman glossed over the difficult hurdles facing the U.S. and China if they are to progress towards further cooperation.
In his speech, Romney gave the impression that Asia would not be a priority in his administration. He never mentioned the importance of the region to U.S. global strategy. He spoke only in passing of how China’s rise might shape the Asian strategic landscape (and seascape) negatively.
His white paper certainly does go into greater depth. It outlines the importance of a U.S. military presence to deter potential Chinese coercion of our allies and highlights the need to increase the scope of U.S. partnerships through reaching out to India and Indonesia. But otherwise, he left out some key elements. What about Japan and South Korea? New partnerships are important, but Romney does not explain what he will do to strengthen relationships with our bedrock allies in Asia. This is representative of a larger failure on Romney’s part to convey how he will engage Asia as a region.
Huntsman, on the other hand, was adamant about the centrality of the Asia-Pacific in this century. He went beyond Romney’s vague language on free trade by pushing for FTAs with South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and by promoting the Transpacific Partnership. His emphasis, though, was on the necessity of focusing on future opportunities for cooperation with China. In the Q&A, Huntsman said the U.S. should look for areas ripe for collaboration with China since we already know where we disagree. But he was silent on how he would handle China’s increasing assertiveness and the security issues facing the region today. China’s recent actions regarding Taiwan, the South China Sea, and other issues must be dealt with. Cooperation on piracy and pandemic diseases is no substitute for hard policy choices.
Many say that the 21st will be an “Asian century.” However, as president, Romney hopes to usher in an “American century.” To accomplish this, he will need Asia. Huntsman, on his part, must evaluate the limits of U.S.-China cooperation and spell out his plans to achieve balance in the U.S.-China relationship. Their shortcomings on policy should highlight the need for the GOP nominee to articulate a foreign policy in which Asia plays an integral role.