Renewing the Pacific Partnership

Charles E. Morrison

Peter A. Petri

By Charles E. Morrison and Peter A. Petri

In key economic areas, Asia is about to overtake the United States.

Unhappily, this sea change in the global economic picture is happening just as the climate of U.S. relations with this surging region is cooling. The United States and Asia have yet to find a way to cooperate effectively on any significant global issue.

In short, the chemistry of the Asia-U.S. relationship is failing. While government-to-government relations have been positive, public attitudes have soured.

Time is limited. The United States still has great influence in the region, but it won’t last forever.

Without strong and innovative efforts by American interests, both public and private, to build true Pacific Partnerships, the United States could well be left behind.

This does not have to be.
The vision of a world economy led by Asia and the United States as partners is entirely possible. The effort will not be easy, nor would it quickly eliminate tensions in the region, but it is enormously worthwhile.

What must be done?

--Build a true, strong trans-Pacific framework for cooperation that goes beyond one-to-one relationships with Asia’s economic powers. What’s needed is a truly equal partnership between the United States and major Asian countries that spans the region.

--Build on the potential of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, established in 1989, as a key instrument for broad and inclusive cooperation. President Clinton helped elevate APEC to a true leader’s level institution, but it has since been weakened by over-expansion and poor economic results.

APEC remains the most logical vehicle for region wide cooperation and should be central to America’s strategy for an Asia-Pacific partnership.

It is important not to think too grandly. While APEC’s proposal for a Free Trade Area for the entire Asia Pacific is appealing, it is not likely to gain traction in the immediate future for a variety of reasons, including the fact that Congress has failed to renew the President’s trade-negotiating authority.

Realistic goals, with robust participation by the United States,are the key.

--Recognize that not everything has to be handled by government and major quasi-public institutions. Public diplomacy can assume a large role in sustaining the Pacific Partnership.

We would usefully borrow a page from China’s playbook and launch a U.S. “charm offensive” in Asia. The emphasis should be on civil institutions – America’s highly regarded business, cultural and educational assets. The Fulbright program, while sadly under funded, is a good example of how public diplomacy can work.

This is, in short, no time to be shortsighted. Given Asia’s trajectory and the potential costs of a breakdown in the relationship (between the United States and Asia), there is little time to waste.

This article is based on the premier issue of East-West Dialogue, a publication designed to stimulate discussion and commentary. To participate in this discussion and read comments from others, visit

Charles E. Morrison is President of the East-West Center in Honolulu. Peter A. Petri is senior fellow at the East West Center. >