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The Importance of the Asia-Pacific Region

A container ship from China is offloaded at Massport's Conley Terminal in the port of Boston.

“The United States has long been a Pacific power, whose interests are inextricably linked with Asia’s economic, security, and political order."

“U.S. President [Barack Obama] and Vice President [Joseph Biden] came into office convinced that the United States was underinvested in the Asia-Pacific region, and therefore a key strategic priority was to renew and intensify the U.S. role in the region,” Julianne Smith, Deputy National Security Advisor to Vice President Joseph Biden, said recently at a conference in Riga, Latvia. “The United States has long been a Pacific power, whose interests are inextricably linked with Asia’s economic, security, and political order."

What is the strategic basis for embracing the importance of the Asia-Pacific region, an approach that has been described as “rebalancing”? The region is a key engine for the global economy. Its 21 economies have a combined GDP of $39 trillion – 56 percent of world economic output. The region also represents 56 percent of total U.S. trade, and contains the world’s most dynamic trade and energy routes. The Asia-Pacific region has half of the world’s population and some of the world’s largest militaries.

What does the rebalance mean in practice? “We are implementing a multi-faceted, whole of government approach to the Asia-Pacific that includes substantial diplomatic, economic, and strategic investments,” Deputy National Security Advisor Smith said. “This approach seeks to sustain the regional order that has contributed to security, stability and prosperity in Asia for decades.”

These include modernizing security partnerships with our allies: Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, and Australia; as well as broadening engagement with emerging partners and power centers such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, and India; maintaining a positive and constructive relationship with China; and investing in the region’s multilateral institutions, including the Association of South East Asian Nations, East Asia Summit, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

What does this all mean for Europe? As President Obama has said, “Europe is the cornerstone of our engagement with the world and a catalyst for global cooperation.”

“The United States and Europe have never been more strategically aligned than we are today. This is the result of a deliberate and conscious strategy to invest in a partnership with the world’s most advanced, military-capable, and democratic peoples who share our values and ideals – our Atlantic partners,” Deputy National Security Advisor Smith said. “Rebalancing is not at Europe’s expense, but rather improves our ability to address 21st century threats and our collective security together.”