The Foreign Policy Association has just released preliminarily results of its 2012 National Opinion Survey and there are some interesting tidbits in there regarding the Asia-Pacific. However, for all the dynamics that are unfolding in the region there is not a lot of debate in this survey on the importance of Asia to U.S. interests, both in terms of economics and security. Acknowledging that the global economy is still fragile, the October World Economic Outlook published by the IMF still forecasts that Asia’s GDP will grow by 5.4 percent in 2012, compared to 2.2 percent for the United States, -0.4 percent for the Euro Area and 3.2 percent for Latin America and the Caribbean.
The United States has a vested interest in remaining proactive throughout the Asia-Pacific, and the American people should be informed about these interests. Ernie Bower makes an excellent point about the importance of Asia to U.S. interests in a recent article entitled “Asia Will Believe the United States Is in the Game for the Long Term When…” Bower explains why it is vital for U.S. leaders (aka presidential candidates) to explain to the U.S. public the importance of Asia to U.S. interests: “A real leader would have the political courage, national interest at heart, and capability to paint a realistic picture of the importance of Asia today—its vibrancy, dynamism, economic growth, and, indeed, its risks—and tell Americans why they have to raise their game, move to a new level of competitive acumen, and be part of Asia.” This was not at all evident in the final presidential debate last week on foreign policy. The Asia-Pacific region was barely referred to, with the exception of China. U.S. engagement with Australia, South Korea (President Obama has visited Seoul more times during his presidency than any other foreign capital), Japan, Indonesia, and Singapore, amongst others, were sadly all overlooked.
Admittedly, the Foreign Policy Association opinion survey does highlight some areas that are pertinent to Asia. Indonesia, the only Southeast Asia nation to be a member of the G-20, a leader in ASEAN and a growing partner of the United States gets a well deserved chapter. The issue of ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea was also highlighted. This is a topic that both the secretaries of state and defense, Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta respectively, have requested Congress to ratify at the earliest possible moment to strengthen the US position in upholding international law regarding territorial disputes in the South China Sea and elsewhere. This case for ratification has also been made by the U.S. Navy and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey. Finally, cyber security also received due attention, an issue that is of growing concern to U.S. businesses, lawmakers and government officials. Secretary Panetta has repeatedly made reference of the possibility of a “cyber-Pearl Harbor”attack against the United States, from state and non-state actors emanating from China, Russia and Iran. If the United States public is engaged and informed about U.S. foreign policy choices accross Asia, it could also be beneficial to U.S. foreign policy decisions elsewhere. Maybe it is time for Foreign Policy Association to include a specific topic area on U.S. foreign policy towards the Asia-Pacific in a future National Opinion Survey?